Health and nutritional benefits of maize

Introduction

Maize is a Central American cereal plant which yields large grains (corn or sweetcorn) set in rows on a cob. It is derived from the ancient word ‘maliz’ from Taino language and its known as corn in some English speaking countries while in United Kingdom is known as sweetcorn(Borberg & Charles, 2010). Maize is a large grain plant domesticated by indigenous people. In terms of cultivation and uses, maize is referred to as the second most important plant cultivated. It is cultivated in areas where we have wide range of rainfall. There are different varieties of maize which include; flint, dent, sweet, pop, flour etc (Borberg & Charles, 2010).

Maize (Zea mays) is an important cereal grain in the world providing nutrient for humans and animals (FAO, 2012; Vasel, Srinivasan, Pandey, Gonzalez, Crossa & Beck, 2013). In sub-Saharan Africa, maize is a staple food for an estimated 50% of the population and it remains one of the most important agricultural crops for over 70million farm families worldwide. Of the 22 countries in the world where maize forms the highest percentage of energy in the national diet, 16 are in Africa (Nuss & Tanumihardjo, 2011). Estimated annual production of maize in Nigeria is about 5.6million tones (Central Bank of Nigeria Report, 2012).

Maize is a multipurpose crop providing food and fuel for human being and feed for animals (poultry and livestock). It grain has great nutritional value and can be used for raw materials for manufacturing of industrial products (Afzal, Nasir, Bashir & Khan, 2009). Due to nutritional composition of maize, it serves as a substrate for fungi development that may cause nutritional looses and production of toxic substances known as mycotoxin (Lancy, 2008). Information of food composition data and its chemical components is important in nutritional planning and source of data for epidemiological studies (Ali, Ahmed & Ullah, 2008).

Proximate composition of maize

The percentage range of the proximate composition of maize and maize products obtained from sample areas is as follow in the table below;

 

Nutrient content

 

Percentage (%)

Carbohydrate 44.8-69.6
Moisture 11.6-20
Protein 4.5-9.87
Fat 2.17-4.43
Fibre 2.10-26.77
Ash 1.10-2.95

Types and uses of maize

There different types of maize according to Ali et al, 2008 and it include the following:

  1. Field corn: In U.S. it used mainly to feed livestock, but in other countries is used for human consumption as well.
  2. Sweet corn or maize: This is the type most commonly eaten in U.S. It is a genetic variation that accumulates more sugar and less starch in the kernels; it is usually shorter than field corn.
  3. Baby corn: It is popularly used in Asian. It is a variety of maize developed to produce small ears, rather than a few larger ones.
  4. Popcorn: It is ability of maize kernels to pop and expand upon heating

 Maize or corn products and their uses

According to Vassal et al (2013), there are different types of maize or corn products and their uses which include the following:

  1. Cornmeal: It is made by grinding whole corn. The coarsest meal is called grits which is used to make cornflakes. A somewhat finer grade is sold in stores to make cornbread, deep fry-batter and hushpuppies. Even more finely ground meal is called corn cones and is used for baking and for dusting pizza though. The finest grade of ground corn is corn flour or maize flour, used for pancakes, donuts breeding and baby food. It can also be fortified with melon and groundnut flour. Another type of cornmeal is called masa flour which is made by treating corn with lime (alkaline). This releases the corn’s niacin into a form the body can use.
  2. Penicillin: Corn or maize steep liquor is a by-product of the process of separating the various parts of maize. It the water used to soak the various components and it is reused in several steps. Maize steep liquor contains acid, yeast, gluten and plenty of nitrogen and partially fermented by the time it leaves the mill. It was discarded as a waste until 1940s when scientists determined that corn or maize steep liquor is a perfect medium in which to grow large quantities of penicillin.
  3. Starch: Maize starch is made from the endosperm of the maize , the part of the seed that exists to nourish the potential new plant. After the hull and germs are removed, the endosperm is ground up and gluten is separated from the starch leaving nothing but carbohydrate. Maize starch is used as a thickening agent for liquid food.
  4. Sugar: Maize syrup is made from maize starch. Starch is a carbohydrate, a molecular chain of sugar. Enzyme are added to the starch to break the chains into sugars mainly glucose. Further processing can change the sugar into high fructose corn syrup. HFCS is used to sweeten a variety of products mostly notably soft drinks. Corn syrup is much cheaper and sweeter than cane sugar.
  5. Cornsilk: Tea brewed from corn silk is used as a remedy for urinary tract infections as it has diuretic properties. The tea has been marketed to help everything from bedwetting to diabetes to cancer, but the medical community says there is insufficient evidence for such claims. Corn silk is not harm to most people but there are some warnings for those with some health conditions or who are taking certain medication.
  6. Corn Cobs: It might seem like the throwaway part of corn, but have their uses and more uses and more uses are discovered or developed all the time. Ground cobs are used for livestock feed. Traditional farm uses include animal bedding, toilet paper substitute, landfill fuel and to make corn cob jelly. Modern industrial products made from corn cobs include absorbents for oil and hazardous waste, insecticides, fertilizers and grit for tumbling and blasting. Cobs as well as corn stalks are starting to be used to produce ethanol.
  7. Oil: Oil is produced by squeezing the germ of the corn. It is used as a food ingredient and for frying food in most appropriately for popping (popcorn). Margarine is often made from corn oil althoughother oils are used as well. Corn oil is also used in many cosmetics, soaps, medicines and other products.

 Functional properties determination of maize

The functional properties such as bulk density, water absorption capacity, swelling capacity, oil absorption capacity were determined according to the method described by Okezie and Bello (2012). Viscosity and consistency were assessed according to the method described by Marero, Paynmo, Librando, Lainez, Gopes and Homma, 2011

Nutritional components of maize

One of the reasons maize is a staple food across the world is its high nutritional value with high level of starch and also valuable protein and oils. Depending on the variety, maize may contain a number of important B vitamin, folic acid, vitamin C and pro vitamin A (precursor to vitamin A). Maize is also rich in phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, zinc, copper, iron, and selenium and has small amounts of potassium and calcium. Maize is a good source of dietary fibre and protein while being very low in fat and sodium (salt). However, maize is naturally deficient in lysine and tryptophan which are two of eight amino acids regarded as essential for humans, so it needs to be part of a balanced diet (Breadley, 2007).

Maize has tremendous variation in content and composition of several coloured pigments collectively known as carotenoids. Notably, carotenoids beta carotene (or pro vitamin A) is converted to vitamin A by normal metabolic processes in the body. Vitamin A is very important to human health but most especially for vision and as an antioxidant. Therefore, maize can be especially important to people who cannot get fresh vegetable year round. Different types of maize may vary in their nutritional content while sweet corn types have more sugar, while darker yellow varieties may have more Vitamin A (Breadley, 2007).

Nutritional value of maize

Pollens and seeds are the nutritious and edible parts of maize seed are consumed in raw and cooked and that serves as good source of carbohydrates. Maize contain vitamin B complex such as B1 (thiamine), B2 (naicin), B3 (riboflavin), B5 (pantothenic acid) and B6 that makes it commendable for hair, skin, digestion, heart and brain. It contains vitamin C, A and K together with large amount of beta carotene and fair amount of selenium that helps to improve thyroid gland and play important role in proper functioning of immune system. It has high content of protein and fat as compared to other cereals. Maize silk contains maizeric acid, fixed oil, resin, sugar, mucilage, salt and fibres essential for our diet.

Corn syrup is useful in manufacturing of jams, jellies and other sweets and as an additive for cane sugar and maple syrup. Edible oils obtained from seeds are useful in salad and for cooking. Roasted seeds are useful as coffee substitute (Breadley, 2007).

Table on amino acid composition of maize

S/N AMINO ACID AMOUNT(per 100g protein)
1 Argentine 3.20
2 Cystine 1.70
3 Histidine 2.60
4 Isoleucine 4.40
5 Leucine 18.90
6 Lysine 1.50
7 Methionine 6.60
8 Phenylalanine 6.60
9 Thronine 3.50
10 Tryptohan 0.40
11 Tyrosine 5.20
12 Valine 5.50
13 Alamine 10.10
14 Aspartic acid 7.20
15 Glutamic acid 26.40
16 Glycine 3.10

(Source: Marero et al., 2011).

Mineral composition of maize grain

S/N Minerals Amount(mg/100g)
1 Calcium 2.20
2 Potassium 757.00
3 Magnesium 377.00
4 Iron 5.30
5 Manganese 2.10
6 Copper 0.80
7 Zinc 0.38

(Source: Afzal et al., 2009).

 

Vitamin composition of maize

S/N Vitamins Amount(mg/100g)
1 Vitamin A (lu) 510.00
2 Thiamine (mg/100g) 0.38
3 Riboflavin (mg/100g) 0.11
4 Pantothenic acid 8.00
5 Niacin (mg/100g) 2.00

(Source: Borberg and Charles, 2010).

 Health benefits of maize

The composition of maize endows it with many health benefits. The following are some of the health benefits of maize according to Vassal et al. (2013)

  1. Nutritious and highly appetizing

Maize flour is used to make nutritious bread which is highly palatable and is easily broken down in the body. When taken at intervals, bread helps to clean the colon and dextrose produced and is also commonly used for medicinal purposes.

  1. Prevents constipation

The high fibre content prevents constipation. Popcorn is a wholesome staple food made by heating small grains. It is easily digested by the body. In addition, it is practically starch free and not fattening and is converted into intermediate carbohydrates and dextrin which is easily absorbed in the body. It promotes peristalsis and also beneficial in preventing constipation.

  1. Reduces stomach acidity

Maize facilitates the removal of toxic food substance and also accelerates the passage of faeces through the intestine. Additionally, it protects the digestive tract thus promoting function of the gall bladder and reducing stomach acidity.

  1. Combats the symptoms of certain cancer

Cereals generally wheat, rice, millet, and maize should be eaten in large quantities since they are source of carbohydrates and starch. According to recent studies, the use of maize helps to combat the effects of certain cancer as it reduces the development of cancer.

  1. Reduces the risk of diabetes and heart diseases

Maize is low in cholesterol and fat content. Cereals or whole grains are great source of vitamins and minerals, magnesium, fibre and complex carbohydrates. The fibre in whole grains helps to prevent the risk of heart diseases and diabetes and all its nutrients helps to boost the immune system of the body and fight infections.

  1. Acts as an antioxidant

Maize is a potent antioxidant that guard the body from been harm by free radicals responsible for cellular damage and or cancer. The antioxidant betacryptoxanthin prevents lungs cancer while luten prevents age related vision loss. Antioxidant slow cognitive decline and conditions like Alzherimers.

  1. Maize from the ancient time has been used to pacify kapha, pitta, anorexia general debilities, emaciation and haemorrphoids.
  1. It has potential to alleviate pain and possess analgesic activity as well.
  1. It helps in the production of sex related hormones assemble it good for sexual health especially for men erectile dysfunctions.
  1. It is believed to improve symptoms of rheumatism as B-complex is able to improve joint motility. Major nutrient of maize silk is potassium that is powerful diuretic. In Europe and some other countries such as French, Spain, Greece including India; maize is used to conquer urinary tract infections and kidney stones. While in China it has been widely taken in case of fluid retention and jaundice. Maize silk improves blood pressure and support liver functioning as well as producing bile. Roots, leaves and corn silk as decoction are used for bladder while the decoction of cob as tea is used for stomach complaints. It acts as a good emollient for ulcer, wound and swelling. In some places decoction of corn silk and parched corn is extremely useful in nausea and vomiting.

 Conclusion

This study has elicited information on the importance of the physical, chemical composition, functional properties, nutritive value and health benefits of maize. It has also show that the nutrients in maize will help for the normal functioning of the body system and maize is cheap and easy to get whenever in season. Maize is a staple food for an estimated 50% of the population and it remains one of the most important agricultural crops worldwide.

References

Bressani, R. (2011). Chemistry, Technology and Nutritive value of maize tortillas. Food Review International, 6,225-264.

Kataki, P.K. & Babu, S.C. (2007). Food systems for improved human nutrition. Linking agriculture, nutrition and productivity. London: Haworth Press

Lamsal, B.P., Wang, H. & Johnson, L.A. (2011). Effect of corn preparation methods on dry-grind ethanol production by granular starch hydrolysis and partitioning of spent beer solids. Bioresource Technol., 102, 6680-6686.

Nuss, E.T. & Tanumihardjo, S.A. (2011). Quality Protein Maize for Africa: Closing the Protein Inadequacy Gap in Vulnerable Populations. Adv. Nutr., 2,217–224

Osborne, D. & Voogt, P. (2008). The analysis of nutrients in foods. London: Academic Press.

Sajilata, G., Rekha, S., Singhal, B., Pushpa, R. & Kulkarni, K.N. (2007). Weaning Foods: A review of the Indian experience. Food and Nutrition Bulletin, 23(2), 208 – 226.

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