Maize, or corn, is common in local markets. Locally known as ‘Ibigori’, one can buy them at Rwf100 apiece, roasted or boiled. For people who prefer to prepare them at home, they can be accessed raw as well.
It would be wise for anybody to add maize to their diet. Why? Nutritionists say that it provides a range of nourishing benefits essential for our wellbeing.
Among these nutrients, they say, are fibre, which aids in digestion, plus folate, thiamine, phosphorus, vitamin C, and magnesium, just to name a few.
According to Rene Tabaro, a nutritionist and dietician at King Faisal Hosipital, maize is a high-antioxidant and it provides the necessary calories for a healthy, daily metabolism, and is also a rich source of vitamin A, B, E and many other minerals.
Maize is rich in vitamin E, a natural antioxidant that is essential for growth and protection of the body from illness and diseases.
“Due to its high fibre content, when consumed, it ensures that it plays a significant role in the prevention of digestive ailments like constipation, haemorrhoids, and colorectal cancer,” he says.
On the other hand, the antioxidants act as anti-carcinogenic agents and prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
According to studies carried out at Cornell University, New York, maize is a rich source of antioxidants which help fight cancer-causing radicals. It indicates that unlike many other foods, cooking maize actually increases the number of usable antioxidants in sweet corn. And that it is a rich source of a phenolic compound called ferulic acid, an anti-carcinogenic agent that has been shown to be effective in fighting tumours that lead to breast and liver cancer.
Tabaro notes that the corn is also rich in phytochemicals and provides protection against a number of chronic diseases.
He says that the fibre content found in the corn aids in alleviating digestive problems including constipation and haemorrhoids, as well as lowering the risk of colon cancer. All this, he says, is because corn is among the foods that are whole grain.
Another important aspect when it comes to fibre in maize, Tabaro says, is that it helps bulk up bowel movements, which stimulates peristaltic motion and the production of gastric juice and bile.
“It can also add bulk to overly loose stools, which can reduce the chances of irritable bowel syndrome and diarrhoea,” he adds.
Dieudonne Bukaba, the nutrition programme coordinator at Africa Humanitarian Action (AHA) Rwanda, says corn is also rich in vitamin B, especially thiamine and niacin, which are essential for maintaining nerve health and cognitive function.
He, however, notes that the corn is also a good source of pantothenic acid, which is an essential vitamin for carbohydrates, proteins, and the lipid metabolism in the body.
Bukaba explains that deficiency of folic acid in pregnant women can lead to the birth of underweight babies, and may also result in neural tube defects in new-borns.
“When a pregnant woman consumes corn, it provides a large percentage of the daily folate requirement, thus preventing this condition,” he says.
Some research indicates that corn oil has been shown to have an anti-atherogenic effect on cholesterol levels, thus reducing the risk of various cardiovascular diseases. Corn oil, in particular, is the best way to improve heart health and this is derived from the fact that corn is close to an optimal fatty acid combination.
Further, they explain that this allows omega-3 fatty acids to strip away the damaging LDL or bad cholesterol and replace them at the binding sites. This will reduce the chances of arteries becoming clogged, reduce blood pressure, and lower the chances of heart attack and stroke.
Private Kamanzi, a nutritionist in Kigali, says there are different types of corn, and that the yellow ones are a rich source of beta-carotene (a strongly coloured red-orange pigment abundant in plants and fruits) which forms vitamin A in the body and is essential for the maintenance of good vision and skin.
“Beta-carotene is a great source of vitamin A because it is converted within the body according to the amount required by it,” Kamanzi says.
However, he warns that vitamin A can be toxic if too much is consumed, so deriving it through beta-carotene transformation is ideal. It will also benefit the health of skin and mucous membranes, as well as boost the immune system.
Kamanzi further notes that the amount of beta-carotene in the body that is not converted into vitamin A acts as a very strong antioxidant, like all carotenoids, and can combat terrible diseases like cancer and heart disease.