Understanding the Corn Starch Phenomenon: Why People Eat It

Why do people eat corn starch?

Corn Starch

Introduction to the Corn Starch Phenomenon

For many, corn starch is a staple ingredient in the kitchen, used to thicken soups, sauces, and gravies. However, for others, corn starch is much more than a simple cooking ingredient. It’s a craving, a guilty pleasure, and a comfort food. This unusual desire to consume raw corn starch has been dubbed the ‘Corn Starch Phenomenon’. But why do people eat corn starch?

This article aims to delve deep into this peculiar phenomenon, exploring the reasons behind it, the science involved, and the potential health implications. Furthermore, it will shed light on the eating disorder associated with corn starch cravings and discuss the cultural aspects of corn starch consumption. Finally, it will suggest alternatives to curb these cravings and provide guidance on managing them.

What is Corn Starch?

Corn starch, also known as maize starch, is a fine, white powder extracted from the endosperm of corn kernels. It’s a common ingredient in many recipes due to its ability to thicken and stabilize food. It’s also used in non-food industries for its adhesive properties. However, consuming corn starch in its raw form isn’t as common or universally accepted. So, why do people eat corn starch?

why do people eat corn starch?

Why Do People Eat Corn Starch?

There are several reasons why people eat corn starch. For some, it’s the texture that appeals to them – the crunch when it’s dry, and the smoothness when it’s mixed with water. For others, it’s the taste, which is often described as bland or neutral, allowing it to be combined with other ingredients without altering their flavor.

However, the most intriguing reason is linked to an eating disorder known as pica, where individuals crave and consume non-nutritive substances. In this case, the substance is corn starch. Some people who eat corn starch have described it as a compulsion, something they feel compelled to do despite knowing it’s not beneficial for their health.

Nutritional value of raw corn starch

Raw corn starch is a rich source of carbohydrates, providing a concentrated energy source for the body. It contains essential nutrients such as dietary fibre, vitamins, and minerals. Additionally, it is low in fat and cholesterol.

The Science Behind Eating Corn Starch

The desire to eat corn starch is often associated with an iron or zinc deficiency, a condition more commonly observed in pregnant women or individuals with malnutrition. The body, in its quest for these missing nutrients, may develop cravings for non-nutritive substances like corn starch.

Moreover, corn starch is high in calories and carbohydrates, which can provide a quick burst of energy. While this may explain some cases of corn starch consumption, it doesn’t account for those who continue to consume it despite understanding the potential health risks.

Boosting energy levels with raw corn starch

The high carbohydrate content in raw corn starch makes it an excellent source of energy. Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred fuel source, providing the necessary energy for daily activities. By consuming raw corn starch, you can replenish your energy levels, especially after intense physical exertion or during periods of increased energy expenditure. However, it is important to balance your carbohydrate intake with other nutrients to maintain a well-rounded and healthy diet.

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Health Implications of Eating Corn Starch

Although corn starch is a common food ingredient, eating it in its raw form can pose several health risks. For starters, raw corn starch is difficult to digest, which can lead to gastrointestinal issues such as bloating, gas, and constipation.

Furthermore, corn starch is high in calories and carbohydrates but low in essential nutrients. Consequently, regular consumption can contribute to weight gain and nutritional deficiencies. There’s also the risk of developing pica, an eating disorder associated with the persistent eating of non-food substances.

Weight management and raw corn starch

Consuming raw corn starch can play a potential role in weight management. The high fibre content in raw corn starch helps promote satiety, preventing overeating and unnecessary snacking. By including raw corn starch in your diet, you may feel fuller for longer periods, Reducing the chances of consuming excess calories.

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Pica: Understanding the Eating Disorder Behind Corn Starch Cravings

Pica is an eating disorder characterized by the persistent consumption of non-nutritive substances like soil, chalk, and, in our case, corn starch. It’s often driven by nutritional deficiencies, particularly iron and zinc. However, it can also be linked to mental health disorders, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder and schizophrenia.

Pica can be harmful, not just because of the nutritional aspect but also because of the risk of consuming harmful substances. In the case of corn starch, the danger lies in the potential for weight gain, nutritional deficiencies, and digestive issues.

Corn Starch in Different Cultures

Corn field

While the phenomenon of eating corn starch might seem unusual to some, it’s worth highlighting that it’s not entirely unheard of in certain cultures. In parts of Africa, for instance, a type of corn starch known as ‘ugali’ is a staple food. Similarly, in South America, corn starch is used to make a popular dessert called ‘alfajores’.

However, in these instances, corn starch is cooked and combined with other ingredients, unlike the raw consumption associated with pica. This highlights the cultural differences in how corn starch is perceived and consumed.

Incorporating raw corn starch into your diet

Raw corn starch can be easily incorporated into your diet in various ways. It can be used as a thickening agent in soups, sauces, and gravies. You can also mix it with cold liquids such as milk or juice to create a smooth and creamy beverage. Additionally, raw corn starch can be added to baked goods like cookies or muffins to enhance their texture. However, it is crucial to remember that raw corn starch should not be consumed in large quantities or as a standalone food. It is best to moderate your intake and use it as part of a balanced and varied diet.

Precautions and considerations when consuming raw corn starch

While raw corn starch offers numerous health benefits, it is important to exercise caution and consider a few precautions. First and foremost, individuals with corn allergies or sensitivities should avoid consuming raw corn starch. It is also advisable to consult with a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian before incorporating raw corn starch into your diet, especially if you have any underlying health conditions or are taking medication. Additionally, it is essential to read the labels and choose high-quality raw corn starch to ensure its purity and safety.

Alternatives to Eating Corn Starch

If you find yourself craving corn starch, there are healthier alternatives to consider. For instance, you could opt for foods that are high in iron and zinc, such as lean meats, seafood, and leafy green vegetables. These foods can help address the nutritional deficiencies often associated with pica.

why do people eat corn starch?

You could also consider alternatives that mimic the texture of corn starch. For instance, rice cakes or popcorn can provide the crunch that some people seek, while smoothies or yogurt can offer a similar mouthfeel to wet corn starch.

How to Deal with Corn Starch Cravings

Dealing with corn starch cravings can be challenging, but it’s not impossible. The first step is to acknowledge the issue and seek professional help. A healthcare provider can help identify any underlying nutritional deficiencies or mental health issues that may be driving the cravings.

Next, try implementing healthier alternatives into your diet and focus on maintaining a balanced intake of essential nutrients. It’s also crucial to practice mindful eating, paying attention to your body’s signals for hunger and satiety.

Conclusion: Understanding the Corn Starch Phenomenon

In conclusion, the corn starch phenomenon is a complex issue that involves various factors, including nutritional deficiencies, mental health disorders, and cultural influences. While it might seem unusual to some, for those affected, it’s a real and pressing concern.

By understanding why people eat corn starch, we can better address the issue, offering support, guidance, and healthier alternatives to those affected. Remember, if you or someone you know is struggling with corn starch cravings, it’s essential to seek professional help.


Q: Is it safe to eat corn starch?

A: While corn starch is a common food ingredient, eating it raw can lead to health issues such as gastrointestinal problems, weight gain, and nutritional deficiencies.

Q: Why do I crave corn starch?

A: Cravings for corn starch are often linked to an iron or zinc deficiency. However, they can also be associated with an eating disorder called pica.

Q: Why do females eat corn starch?

Here are some reasons why some women, in particular, might consume cornstarch:
1. Pregnancy Cravings: Some pregnant women experience unusual cravings, which can include non-food items like cornstarch. The exact cause of these cravings is not fully understood, but they may be related to hormonal changes or nutritional deficiencies.
2. Iron Deficiency: One of the theories behind pica is that the body craves non-food items due to a deficiency in certain minerals, especially iron. Women, especially those of childbearing age, are more prone to iron-deficiency anemia, which might explain the specific craving for cornstarch.
3. Stress and Mental Health: Some individuals might consume non-food items as a coping mechanism for stress, trauma, or other mental health issues. The act of eating these substances can provide a temporary feeling of relief.

Q: What can I eat instead of corn starch?

A: Healthier alternatives to corn starch include foods high in iron and zinc, such as lean meats, seafood, and leafy green vegetables. You could also consider foods that mimic the texture of corn starch, like rice cakes, popcorn, smoothies, or yogurt.

Q: What does eating corn starch do to your teeth?

A: Eating corn starch can have an impact on your teeth. When corn starch is consumed, it can be broken down into sugars by the enzymes in the mouth. These sugars can then be used by bacteria present in the oral cavity to produce acids. The acids produced by these bacteria can lead to the demineralization of the tooth enamel, which is the hard outer layer of the teeth. Over time, this demineralization can lead to the formation of cavities or dental caries.

It’s important to recognise that while corn starch itself isn’t inherently harmful to the teeth, its breakdown into sugars and the subsequent acid production by bacteria is what can cause dental issues. Regular oral hygiene practices, such as brushing and flossing, can help mitigate the effects of consuming foods with corn starch and other carbohydrates.

Q: What does corn starch taste like?

A: Pure starch is a white, tasteless, and odorless powder. When it comes to corn starch specifically, it is derived from the endosperm of the corn kernel and is primarily used as a thickening agent in various culinary dishes. Its neutral flavor means it doesn’t impart any additional taste to the dishes it’s used in, making it a versatile ingredient in cooking and baking.

Q: What happens if you eat raw corn starch?

A: Consuming raw cornstarch can have various effects on the body:
1. Digestive Issues: Raw cornstarch can be difficult for the body to digest, leading to potential digestive issues such as gas, bloating, and constipation.
2. Nutritional Concerns: Consuming raw cornstarch means you’re ingesting empty calories without much nutritional value. It lacks essential vitamins and minerals.
3. Blood Sugar Spike: Cornstarch is a carbohydrate, and consuming it can lead to a rapid spike in blood sugar levels, which can be concerning for individuals with diabetes or insulin resistance.
4. Pica: As mentioned earlier, some individuals may consume cornstarch due to a condition called pica, which is characterized by the consumption of non-food items. This can be due to various reasons, including nutritional deficiencies or psychological factors.

Q: Is eating raw corn starch an effective way to lose weight?

Eating corn starch is not a recommended or effective method for weight loss. Here’s why:
1. Empty Calories: Corn starch is primarily carbohydrates and provides calories without significant nutritional value. Consuming it in large amounts can lead to an excess of calories, which can contribute to weight gain rather than loss.
2. Blood Sugar Spike: Corn starch can cause a rapid spike in blood sugar levels. Frequent spikes in blood sugar can lead to increased hunger and potential overeating, which is counterproductive to weight loss efforts.
3. Digestive Issues: Consuming raw corn starch can lead to digestive problems such as bloating, gas, and constipation.
4. Lack of Essential Nutrients: Relying on corn starch as a significant part of one’s diet can lead to deficiencies in essential vitamins and minerals, as it lacks these nutrients.
5. Potential for Overeating: Because corn starch doesn’t provide satiety or fullness, one might end up eating more throughout the day to feel satisfied.
For sustainable and healthy weight loss, it’s essential to focus on a balanced diet rich in whole foods, including fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains. Additionally, incorporating regular physical activity and consulting with a healthcare or nutrition professional can provide guidance tailored to individual needs.
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