Yesterday, we looked at the history of nixtamalization and what a difference it can make particularly for those who depend on corn as a staple. Today, I wanted to look a a little more of what happens nutritionally when you nixtamalize corn. It’s exciting to read about!
Nixtamalization Releases B3
As discussed yesterday, vitamin B3 is necessary to prevent pellagra, which has many uncomfortable and even devastating symptoms. Health officials couldn’t figure out for a long time why poor Americans who depended on corn would develop this, while across the border, Hispanics wouldn’t. We now know that it was because their corn was nixtamalized which released vitamin B3. This simple practice prevented pellagra.
I think that the reason that Italians who use corn a lot in the form of polenta haven’t had as many issues with pellagra (that I know of is) because they include many other nutrient dense foods that would help make up any deficiencies in their corn preparation.
Nixtamalization Significantly Increases Calcium and Protein Quality
The process also increases calcium, which is so important to our health, especially for those without access to dairy. It also increases the protein availability of the corn. You can imagine what this could mean for someone who’s diet is high in corn, but also think of the benefit it would have for us all!
Nixtamalization Reduces Phytic Acid
The process of nixtamalization also significantly reduces phytic acid. Since phytic acid blocks your absorption of zinc, calcium and other important minerals, it’s important for this process to take place. If you soak in lime, and then, like you see in my soft polenta recipe, soak with an acidic addition, you will reduce the phytic acid a lot. By the way, researchers consider this so important, they are working on developing low-phytic acid corn.
Nixtamalization Reduces Toxins
We have high quality corn here in the US, but not everyone is so lucky. There is a toxin called “mycotoxin ” that is present in a lot of corn around the world. They found that through the nixtamalization process, it was significantly reduced, even up to 90 percent!
This traditional practice really has a huge impact in the nutritional status of the humble corn. Through it, we can take a very frugal food, and make it nutritionally superior.
And like I said in my soft polenta post, it tastes great when prepared this way! It’s no sacrifice to eat it. The only difference I found in how Nourishing Traditions has you prepare it and my research is that it was always rinsed of the lime before using it in a recipe. This is important if you want to reduce the mycotoxin content of corn (though that’s hardly usually an issue in the US). Other then that, check out my soft polenta post for step my step instructions on how to do this at home! I hope to have some new recipes using nixtamalized corn soon.
What do you think? Would you be wiling to do an extra step for extra nutrition? Why, or why not?