Cornstarch: Facts, Nutrition, And Potential Substitutes

Written by Sindhu Koganti, BTech (Biotechnology), Diploma In Nutrition

Cornstarch is one of the most widely used ingredients in the food industry and in most households. It comes to mind when you think of making thick gravies and soups. It is used in many industries, including health and bioplastics, for its adhesive properties. However, extensive use of cornstarch may have negative effects on health.

This article discusses the positives of cornstarch consumption, the risks, and other important information. Keep reading to find out.

What Is Cornstarch?

Cornstarch is a fine powder derived from the endosperm of corn kernels.

The food processing industry uses it as a dairy substitute. It is also used to coat fried foods due to its crisp texture.

Nutrition Profile of Cornstarch

Cornstarch does not possess a great nutrition profile as the corn kernels lose most nutrients while being processed to make cornstarch. The nutritional content in 100 g of cornstarch includes (1):

NutrientAmount
Energy381 kcal
Protein0.26 g
Total fat0.05 g
Carbohydrates91.3 g

Cornstarch contains less amount of iron, selenium, calcium, magnesium, manganese, sodium, phosphorus, potassium, and vitamins. Excess use of cornstarch can cause side effects. We have discussed them in the next section.

Side Effects

Cornstarch is high in carbohydrates and energy, but it lacks essential nutrients. Using cornstarch in the diet is not advisable as it may cause the following side effects.

1. May Harm The Cardiovascular System

Cornstarch contains a good amount of carbohydrates and has a high glycemic index. It negatively affects cardiovascular health. Consuming ingredients with a high glycemic index may even lead to hypertension and blockages in the heart (2).

2. May Spike Blood Sugar Levels

The high glycemic level of carbohydrates and low fiber may increase blood sugar levels. A high glycemic index reduces insulin resistance, which results in the conversion of carbohydrates to glucose. Thus, blood sugar levels rise (2).

The fiber in the gut promotes good gut bacteria. It helps maintain proper glucose absorption into the bloodstream. Cornstarch does not contain good fiber. It gets easily digested and can spike blood glucose levels (3).

These are the major adverse effects of cornstarch. But cornstarch may also have certain advantages. Let’s explore them in the next section.

Benefits Of Cornstarch

1. Natural Cornstarch Is Gluten-free

Corn is naturally gluten-free. Since no other ingredient is added in its making, cornstarch is also gluten-free (4). It may help in preparing foods for those allergic to gluten.

2. May Help Improve Low Sugar Levels

Cornstarch contains carbohydrates with a high glycemic index. These could be good for those with low sugar levels. The carbs may help stabilize low sugar levels.

Note:  Corn syrup is made from cornstarch. It also can stabilize low sugar levels (5). However, corn syrup (or cornstarch) alone may not exhibit this effect. One must also follow a diet containing the right nutrients to get the desired results.

Can Cornstarch Help In Reducing Weight?

No, cornstarch does not seem to help reduce weight. In fact, only slowly-digestible starches may help reduce weight (6). Cornstarch, especially when consumed in excess, may lead to weight gain in the long run.

While cornstarch can be a good addition to thickening broths or soups, frequent and high use of cornstarch must be avoided.

5 Healthier Substitutes For Cornstarch

A few healthier substitutes that can replace cornstarch as a thickening agent are:

1. Arrowroot Powder

Arrowroot-Powder

Shutterstock

Arrowroot powder is the most commonly used substitute for cornstarch. It has medicinal properties. It contains dietary fiber that helps ease the gut and improve the digestive system. In addition, it also has nutrients like folate, potassium, and calcium, which can promote one’s overall health (7).

2. All-Purpose Wheat Flour (Unrefined)

All-purpose wheat flour is rich in carbohydrates and nutrients like protein, calcium, nitrogen, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium. In addition, wheat flour also has vitamins such as folate, riboflavin, thiamin, and niacin, which are required for many metabolic functions (8).

For example, folate is a very important vitamin that has a role in making genetic material and in the reproduction of cells. It is also essential for the proper growth and development of fetuses during pregnancy. Thus, it improves the health of both the mother and the baby (9).

3. Sorghum Flour

Sorghum flour is another great substitute for cornstarch as it is richer in protein. It also has antioxidants essential for fighting oxidative stress in the body’s cells, tissues, and organs (10). Sorghum flour also contains other minerals like iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium. It has vitamins C and B6, thiamin, pantothenic acid, niacin, and riboflavin too (11). Magnesium is a very important mineral needed for calcium uptake by cells.

4. Tapioca Flour

Tapioca or cassava root flour is an excellent replacement for cornstarch. Tapioca in itself is filled with carbohydrates (approx. 88.7 g per 100 g of tapioca), nutrients, and has a small amount of dietary fiber (0.9 g per 100 g of tapioca).

In addition, the presence of essential nutrients like calcium (20 mg), iron (1.58 mg), potassium (11 mg), phosphorus, zinc, and selenium (in trace amounts) makes tapioca flour a healthy addition to the diet (12).

Carbohydrates in tapioca flour have a low glycemic index. Tapioca may help regulate the sugar levels in people with diabetes. It may help in weight loss, too, as the fiber promotes good gut bacteria. The bacteria promote the proper digestion of carbohydrates. Hence, tapioca can help reduce the storage of undigested carbohydrates in the body’s fatty tissues (13).

5. Rice Flour

Rice flour is often used as a substitute for cornstarch in many Asian countries. Besides being a staple in these countries, rice also has many essential nutrients.

Unenriched, white rice flour has phosphorus (94 mg), potassium (75 mg), magnesium (22.9 mg), and calcium (6 mg). It also has vitamins B1, B3, B6, B9, and B12, along with riboflavin.

Riboflavin is essential for producing red blood cells in the body and releasing energy from proteins (14). It also acts as an antioxidant in the immune system and helps in reducing oxidative stress on cells.

Conclusion

Cornstarch is a good thickening agent, but does not carry any nutritional value. It could increase the risk of cardiovascular disease if consumed in excess. In addition, it is not good for people with diabetes because of its high glycemic index.

If you think of replacing cornstarch with another plant-based thickener, you may consider arrowroot, sorghum, rice, wheat, or tapioca flours. Let the thickener you choose also add some nutritional value to your dish.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is cornstarch addiction?

Cornstarch addiction is caused by a condition called pica. It causes a craving for ingredients, like cornstarch, that have no nutritional value or It can develop in anyone but is most commonly seen in pregnant women. Taking vitamins is one of the proven ways to treat pica.

Is cornstarch bad for your skin?

Cornstarch is used in the cosmetic industry to produce talcs and other powders. It has been proven to reduce the friction and moisture build-up on the skin. It may reduce the risk of rashes on the skin of babies and adults (15). The cornstarch used in cosmetics is clinically treated to be used on the skin.

Is cornstarch bad for your lungs?

Exposure to cornstarch nasally could be harmful to the lungs. According to a study, exposure to cornstarch glove powder could cause inflammation of the airways in the lungs (16).

Can cornstarch cause cancer?

There is limited research in this regard. Cornstarch does not seem to increase cancer risk. It is replete with carbohydrates and may instead affect your blood sugar levels.

Key Takeaways

  • Cornstarch does not have a great nutritional profile as most nutrients are lost during processing.
  • It may harm the cardiovascular system and increase blood sugar levels.
  • The benefits of cornstarch include improving low sugar levels and being gluten-free.

Sources

Articles on StyleCraze are backed by verified information from peer-reviewed and academic research papers, reputed organizations, research institutions, and medical associations to ensure accuracy and relevance. Read our editorial policy to learn more.

  1. Cornstarch
    https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/169698/nutrients
  2. Dietary Carbohydrates and Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors in the Framingham Offspring Cohort
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5062606/
  3. Effects of Dietary Fiber and Its Components on Metabolic Health
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3257631/
  4. Starch Characteristics Linked to Gluten-Free Products
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5409317/
  5. Low Blood Glucose (Hypoglycemia)
    https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/preventing-problems/low-blood-glucose-hypoglycemia
  6. Starches, Sugars and Obesity
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3257742/
  7. Arrowroot Flour
    https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/170684/nutrients
  8. Flour, wheat, all-purpose, enriched, unbleached
    https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/789951/nutrients
  9. Folate
    https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Folate-Consumer/
  10. Effect of sorghum consumption on health outcomes: a systematic review
    https://pubmedFolate – Consumer.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27694643/
  11. Sorghum flour, refined, unenriched
    https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/173262/nutrients
  12. Tapioca, pearl, dry
    https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/169717/nutrients
  13. Attenuation of glycaemic and insulin responses following tapioca resistant maltodextrin consumption in healthy subjects: a randomised cross-over controlled trial
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7372190/
  14. Riboflavin
    https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002411.htm#:~:text=Riboflavin%20(vitamin%20B2)%20works%20withrelease%20of%20energy%20from%20proteins.
  15. Corn starch, Candida albicans, and diaper rash
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/6387672/
  16. Lung accumulations of eosinophil granulocytes after exposure to cornstarch glove powder
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12762351/
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