Cornstarch is a white, dense powder that is made from the endosperm of corn kernels. It is often used as a thickener in foods such as gravy, soups, and stews. Some cooks use cornstarch instead of flour to get their desired consistency in certain recipes. It is also used in baked goods or to coat meat and vegetables.
Corn starch is generally used in very small quantities when added to recipes. It contributes very few calories and no substantial vitamins or minimal. It has a minimal impact on your daily nutrition.
Cornstarch Nutrition Facts
The following nutrition information is provided by the USDA for a 1-tablespoon serving (8 grams) of cornstarch.
- Calories: 30
- Fat: 0g
- Sodium: 0mg
- Carbs: 7g
- Fiber: 0g
- Sugars: 0g
- Protein: 0g
Cornstarch provides about 30 calories per tablespoon, primarily from carbohydrates. There are 7 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of sugar, and 0 grams of fiber. The carbohydrates in cornstarch come from starch.
Despite its high starch content, research has suggested that uncooked cornstarch is a low-glycemic food. Studies indicate that it is absorbed slowly in the digestive system. However, research has also reported that foods with cornstarch (such as stew or pudding) can have a high glycemic index.
It should be noted, however, that research into the glycemic index of cornstarch is limited and available studies tend to be small and limited in scope. The University of Sydney, which maintains a large database of foods and their glycemic index, does not provide a number for cornstarch.
There is no fat in a one-tablespoon serving of cornstarch. Even a full cup contains less than a gram of fat.
Cornstarch provides no protein. A one-tablespoon serving provides zero grams and even a full cup only provides 0.3 grams.
Vitamins and Minerals
Cornstarch provides no significant vitamins or minerals. Even if it is consumed in larger quantities than is typical in recipes, the powder does not contribute any significant micronutrients.
Where to Find the 6 Major Minerals in Food
Many people who use cornstarch occasionally in recipes may not notice any substantial impact on their health by including the powder in their diet. But there are some ways in which cornstarch may be able to impact health outcomes in select circumstances.
May Be Helpful in Management of Hypoglycemia
There is some evidence that a diet that includes uncooked cornstarch may be helpful for those who are managing hypoglycemia.
One research review published by the American Diabetes Association examined studies investigating the use of cornstarch-based nighttime snack and its ability to reduce nocturnal hypoglycemia, particularly in those with type 1 or type 2 diabetes. In one study, researchers reported that raw cornstarch reduced nocturnal hypoglycemia by serving as a glucose reservoir in the intestinal tract, where it is digested slowly over a period of 6 to 8 hours.
In another study, researchers found that when participants with type 1 diabetes took a bedtime supplement of uncooked cornstarch for four weeks, they experienced a 70% reduction in the frequency of self-reported hypoglycemia 3 hours after ingestion of the supplement.
Makes Liquids Easier to Swallow
People who have difficulty swallowing—a condition called dysphagia—may be able to use cornstarch to increase the viscosity of their liquids to make swallowing easier. Dysphagia is a condition that becomes more common as we age. Thickened liquids are often used in the management of dysphagia to improve bolus control. A bolus is a small mass of chewed food. Thickened liquids also help prevent aspiration and improve swallow safety.
Corn starch is one thickener traditionally used to thicken liquids for those with dysphagia. More recently, gum-based thickeners have been more widely used, but there has been some concern over the safety of gum thickeners, especially in infants.
Unfortunately, thickeners, including cornstarch, can lead to liquids that are distasteful. These thickened drinks also increase the feeling of fullness resulting in little motivation and poor physiologic drive to consume them which can be problematic if weight maintenance is an issue.
Healthier Alternative to Corn Syrup
Some processed foods and even home recipes call for corn syrup as a thickening agent. For example, you may see high fructose corn syrup listed as an ingredient in some products, such as fruit pies. Sometimes, cornstarch can be used instead of corn syrup. This substitution may provide health benefits, but the evidence supporting this benefit is limited.
In one limited study, researchers compared health outcomes when a small group of men (21 total, 10 hyperinsulinemia, and 11 non-hyperinsulinemic men) consumed a diet with 20% of the calories coming from either fructose or high-amylose cornstarch. High amylose cornstarch is a type of cornstarch that has been manufactured to have a higher level of amylose and less amylopectin.
After five weeks, researchers found that when their study participants consumed a diet high in saturated fatty acids and cholesterol, fructose increased the levels of risk factors associated with heart disease, especially in hyperinsulinemic men. Corn starch did not seem to provide the same increases.
The study has limitations, however. First, it was conducted in 1989 on just a small group of men. There has been some more recent related research, but those studies were conducted on mice. Also, the typical consumer is not likely to find high amylose cornstarch on store shelves. They might only gain these potential benefits if food manufacturers use it instead of corn syrup or high fructose corn syrup in processed foods.
Gluten-Free Alternative in Recipes
Those with wheat allergies or who have celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity, or who follow a gluten-free diet for other reasons may use cornstarch instead of flour in recipes. For example, in recipes that call for you to use flour to coat foods before frying or use flour to thicken sauces or gravy, you can easily use most brands of corn starch as a safe and simple alternative.
However, it's important to choose your cornstarch carefully and look for one that specifically indicates that it is gluten-free. Pure cornstarch is free from gluten and is a common ingredient in gluten-free foods.
That being said, cornstarch is subject to cross-contamination. Many brands that make cornstarch also make other types of flour. If the same equipment is used to manufacture and process corn starch and a gluten-containing grain, then the cornstarch may not really be gluten-free.
Gluten-Free Cornstarch Brands
May Impact Weight Loss
Researchers have considered whether or not a diet that includes highamylosecornstarch may be helpful in the treatment of obesity. Scientists have postulated that the slow glycemic response to cornstarch may help reduce appetite, increase satiety, and reduce overall energy intake.
However, in a study involving young healthy women, the results were not overwhelmingly positive. When the women consumed a beverage containing the high amylose corn starch or glucose, the corn starch did not reduce appetite or energy (calorie) intake even though glucose absorption was slowed.
Those with a corn allergy should avoid cornstarch. The American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology says that an allergic reaction to corn may cause symptoms that range from mild to severe. These symptoms may include vomiting, stomach problems, wheezing or difficulty breathing, weak pulse, skin changes including hives, swelling of the lips or tongue, dizziness, or confusion. In severe cases, anaphylaxis may occur.
When it is consumed in typical amounts as food, cornstarch is safe for most people. There have been some concerns about the inhalation of corn starch in occupational settings, but these cases are rare. Also, those who are allergic to corn starch should be aware that it was used on surgical gloves until the FDA banned it in 2016.
When buying foods at your local market you might see some products that include "modified cornstarch" as an ingredient. Some consumers who are trying to avoid genetically modified (GMO) foods may have concerns about the product.
However, modified corn starch is simply starch that has been modified for food processing purposes. For example, it may have been modified to improve a product's shelf life. It does not indicate whether or not the corn it was made from was GMO or non-GMO. If you want a non-GMO cornstarch look for the non-GMO label on the product you choose.
When It's Best
Cornstarch is available year-round in the baking section of grocery stores.
Storage and Food Safety
Cornstarch should be kept in a sealed container and stored in a cool dry place. According to the USDA, it should stay fresh for about 18 months when stored properly. Cornstarch should not be frozen.
How to Prepare
Corn starch can be used in many recipes that call for flour as a thickener. It is one of many low-carb thickeners that can be handy to have in the kitchen. But cornstarch is thicker, so use about one tablespoon of cornstarch for every two tablespoons of flour required by the recipe.
When using cornstarch to thicken hot foods (like gravy, soups, or stew) always blend it with a small amount of cold water or plant-based milk first. Then gradually stir into the hot liquid. Keep in mind, however, that if you are making a big batch of soup or stew to freeze, cornstarch is not the best choice of thickeners. When cornstarch is frozen it breaks down. So when your creamy soup or stew thaws, it will be runny and thin.
Some cooks also add a small amount of cornstarch to recipes for baked goods to add structure to treats like brownies, bread, cakes, and cookies.