A Puzzling Muddled Befuddlement (I just like saying that)

Around the summer of 2007 I noticed I was having stomach issues.  That’s not unusual for a missionary in Mexico.  Parasites of all sorts find their way into our food experiences and there are easily, inexpensively purchased medicines that kill just about anything imaginable that could ail you from the inside out.

Unfortunately, trying a couple of our standby medicines didn’t solve the problem.  So, I tried the formal route of lab testing for critters.  Nothing showed up.  So, I tried two internist doctors (one highly recommended in our town and another in Querétaro).  The latter also performed a colonoscopy (another fun experience!) and both of these doctors prescribed various medications for the range of irritable bowel syndrome to other ideas that all likewise failed to produce any results.

Somewhere in the past year or so I got the impression that the symptoms were worse after eating corn.  So, I stopped eating all things corn which means that a lot of the standard fare in Mexico was now off-limits.  Things I really like to eat!  Corn tortillas, tamales, pozole, enchiladas, tacos, etc.  However, even removing those things have not solved the problems, although I definitely experience worse problems when I eat corn products.

So, I decided that while I wasn’t totally well, I was doing relatively OK and would just avoid these main types of things.  Unfortunately, that approach has broken down as the symptoms have intensified and the chronic pain has gotten worse and worse.

We’ve taken a deeper look into corn products.  As I pretty much had thought before, corn has found its way into our digestive tracts in ways more pervasive than one might imagine.  The corn agribusiness has been busy finding uses for corn derivatives that have nothing to do with simply eating or not eating corn.  Just about anything processed these days has a corn derivative in it, including many things that you would probably never imagine having anything relating to corn inside.

Like what?

Things like iodized salt (they use a corn derivative to make the iodine stick to the salt!), vinegar (distilled white is from corn!), wheat flour (many brands of flour contain additives, some of these contain corn derivatives), even the disposable cups you get at fast food restaurants like Wendy’s (they use corn starch to coat the cups to prevent the paper from dissolving quickly), and even vitamins.

Those are some of the unlikely sources.  However, anything in your cupboard or fridge that is processed, probably has a corn derivative in it.  Salad dressings, ketchup, mayonnaise, store bought breads, juices, many seasonings and bullion cubes, etc., etc., etc. have corn derivatives in them, usually corn sweeteners.

Now how would you know all that?  Well, it takes a lot of research and Internet “snooping” and comparing notes with others who have a corn allergy or intolerance, and of course, label reading.  Lots of label reading.  (and learning the many chemical compounds in processed foods and what they’re made from)  Unfortunately, unlike the rules for peanuts which seem to be the most obviously regulated for announcing their presence in foods, corn derivatives are so prevalent, they don’t always have to tell you on any label that they are present.  I suspect the corn lobby is a very powerful and influential business.  We even put their corn into our fuel tanks.

I still marvel at the ingredient label of our peanut butter which clearly states the obvious that the ingredients include “peanuts” or “roasted peanuts.”  Has there ever been a doubt that peanut butter contains peanuts?  However, in larger letters than the ingredients list just over or under that list of ingredients is found this warning: “CONTAINS: PEANUTS.”  Wow…who would have “thunk” it?!?  Even products that don’t contain peanuts will warn you if the product is made on equipment that MIGHT come into contact with peanuts.  Unfortunately, if you have issues with corn.  You aren’t going to get such careful treatment from the label people.  (I do realize that peanut allergies are sometime deadly so I do understand the need for such warnings.)

As we are currently taking a more exhaustive approach to watching what I eat and researching the topic, I’ve also noted that many of my symptoms match symptoms for gluten-intolerance.  Oh joy!  So, out goes the bread anyway!

To be honest, it’s a lot easier to just say what I can eat.  So far, we’ve figured on unprocessed meats, eggs, peanut butter (after approving the ingredient label), fruits and vegetables (fresh and frozen, no corn of course) and possibly canned although we need to know whether corn derivatives are used in the canning process in some way.  It’s easier to just stick with fresh.  Fresh meats sometimes do contain some spices or iodized salt in the packing process so we have to watch carefully.

I drink water and coffee and tea.  No pop, no juices (that are not 100% juice and only juice) as most are sweetened with corn syrups or contain caramel color which is a corn derivative or contain citric acid (another corn derivative).

We really started this in earnest on Saturday making NO exceptions (oh…except for a little iodized salt in some prepared rice) and on Sunday I felt a little better.  Today, I don’t feel any better as far as pain but I don’t seem to have the gas issues (“gas issues” is a NICE way of putting it!).  We’ll see how it goes.  We figure we need to give this strict diet about 2 weeks to see if things improve or not.  If not, then we’ll have to figure out where to go next.  We may need to keep at it for many months.

Some parasites are extremely difficult to identify and weed out.  Beth has an uncle who apparently picked up some sort of parasite in Panama that nearly killed him after 20 years of symptoms and bone/backbone deterioration and destruction.   Despite many tests done that failed to pick up on it, the doctors claimed he had no parasites present.  I guess out of desperation, he finally gave himself an anti-parasite vaccination that he was giving to his goats!  At that point in 2010 this was not available for human use although the vet told him trials were being run on it!  He states it cured him of all his symptoms within 2 weeks of taking it!  He even offered to give me a shot of it but I declined!  So, I don’t know that we’ve totally ruled out parasites but we’re at a loss for how to detect them if the labs can’t find them and an entire battery of tests came up negative.

So…we’ll see what we see.  Maybe this strict diet will tells us something and maybe solve the problems.  Feel free to pray with us about this health issue!

Going through all of this has certainly given me a new perspective of foods and our attitudes toward them.  We certainly can’t live without sustenance but we can live without a lot!  I’m probably going to end up losing a little weight but to be honest, I mostly will probably end up eating better and more healthy choices as fresh fruits and vegetables are always foods I need to eat more often and in greater quantities than I do.

“Let’s have some sweet corn on the cob!”  That statement doesn’t add any enthusiasm from me as it did for many years.  I do wonder how those who are gluten-intolerant think about Jesus’ words when He said, “I am the bread of life.”  (of course there is rice flour…)  🙂  Well, spiritual bread overcomes all types of intolerance for those who believe.  I’m sure of it.

For volume 2 or 3 of this blog post, if you’re curious, the following is the list of corn derivatives that we’re trying to eliminate from my diet (taken from a blog/website of someone with a corn allergy or intolerance):

Corn Derivatives

There are many products that contain corn in some form or another. I try to avoid them all. It’s very difficult at times, but worth the effort.  You may or may not react to all of these items below.  If you are unsure, call the company and press them to check carefully for your own sake.  If you eat something and you feel like it makes you sick, take note of the ingredients.  Listen to your body.  Early on, there is a trial and error process.  You may eat your favorite foods, then, one by one, realize they need to be substituted for something that is corn free.  This process took me about three months.

List of Corn Derived Products or Products That Commonly Contain Corn Derivatives:

Acetic acid – Found in vinegars, in the food industry acetic acid is used under the food additive code E260 as an acidity regulator and as a condiment on chips. Dilute acetic acid produced by natural fermentation is called vinegar.

Alcohol – Found in extracts (like vanilla extract) and alcoholic beverages, read labels.

Alpha tocopherol – Found in cereals and tomato sauces, a common form of tocopherol added to food products, is denoted by the E number E307. Fat soluble antioxidant, Vitamin E related.  Some from “vegetable oils” but most are from soybean oil so call the company for details.

Artificial flavorings – Found in many processed foods, catch all, could be anything.

Artificial sweeteners – Found in many diet foods, call the company for details

Baking powder – usually contains corn starch, check labels – use equal parts baking soda and cream of tartar instead.

Barley malt – sometimes corn syrup is added, check labels

Brown sugar – check label for corn

Calcium citrate – Used as a preservative, it is the calcium salt of citric acid (derived from corn), used as a food additive (E333).

Calcium fumarate – it is the calcium salt of fumaric acid, E number E367, related to citric acid production – call company for details.

Calcium gluconate

Calcium lactate

Calcium magnesium acetate (CMA)

Calcium stearate

Calcium stearoyl lactylate

Caramel and caramel color

Carbonmethylcellulose sodium

Cellulose microcrystalline

Cellulose, methyl

Cellulose, powdered

Cetearyl glucoside

Choline chloride

Citric acid – Found in chips, tomato paste, and many other products, the source of sugar for production is corn steep liquor, molasses, hydrolyzed corn starch or other inexpensive sugary solutions.  This causes ankle swelling and general body swelling when I eat it.
Contadina tomato paste is corn free

Citrus cloud emulsion (CCS)

Coco glycerides (cocoglycerides)

Confectioners sugar – aka powdered sugar, almost always has corn starch added to it.  Wholesome Sweeteners makes a corn free powdered sugar. I get mine at the health food store.

Corn – anything that says corn in it like corn alcohol, corn gluten, Corn extract, Corn flour, Corn oil, corn oil margarine, Corn starch, Corn sweetener, corn sugar, Corn syrup, corn syrup solids, Corn, popcorn, cornmeal, Cornstarch, cornflour, high fructose corn syrup, Hydrolyzed corn

Crosscarmellose sodium

DATUM (a dough conditioner)

Decyl glucoside

Decyl polyglucose


Dextrose – some in IV solutions, check with hospital or doctor before hand.
Dextrose anything

d-Gluconic acid

Distilled white vinegar – use apple cider or balsamic vinegar instead.

Drying agent

ethanoic acid – also known as Acetic acid, in the food industry acetic acid is used under the food additive code E260 as an acidity regulator and as a condiment on chips. Dilute acetic acid produced by natural fermentation is called vinegar.
•Erythorbic acid
•Ethocel 20
•Ethyl acetate
•Ethyl alcohol
•Ethyl lactate
•Ethyl maltol

Flour – check label for additives, I use Gold Medal Organic Flour. Not because it’s organic, because it doesn’t bother me.
Food starch – too vague, you can call the company

Fructose – vague, call the company

Fruit juice concentrate – vague, call the company

Fumaric acid – Added to food products like candy, baking powder, and beverages as an acidity regulator denoted by E number E297.

Germ/germ meal
Gluconic acid
Glucono delta-lactone
Glucose syrup (also found in IV solutions)
Gluten feed/meal
Golden syrup
High fructose corn syrup

Honey – sometimes corn syrup is added

•Hydrolyzed vegetable protein
•Hydroxypropyl methylcellulose
•Hydroxypropyl methylcellulose pthalate (HPMCP)
•Invert syrup or sugar
•Iodized salt
•Lactic acid
•Lauryl glucoside
•Linoleic acid
•Magnesium fumarate
•Malic acid
•Malonic acid
•Malt syrup from corn (barley malt is fine)
•Malt, malt extract
•Methyl gluceth
•Methyl glucose
•Methyl glucoside
•Microcrystaline cellulose
•Modified cellulose gum
•Modified corn starch
•Modified food starch
•Molasses (corn syrup may be present; know your product)
•Mono and di glycerides
•Monosodium glutamate
•Natural flavorings
•Polylactic acid (PLA)
•Polysorbates (e.g. Polysorbate 80)
•Polyvinyl acetate
•Potassium citrate
•Potassium fumarate
•Potassium gluconate
•Powdered sugar
•Pregelatinized starch
•Propionic acid
•Propylene glycol
•Propylene glycol monostearate
•Salt (iodized salt)
•Semolina (unless from wheat)
•Sodium carboxymethylcellulose
•Sodium citrate
•Sodium erythorbate
•Sodium fumarate
•Sodium lactate
•Sodium starch glycolate
•Sodium stearoyl fumarate
•Sorbic acid
Sorbitan monooleate
Sorbitan tri-oleate
Sorghum (sometimes)
Starch (sometimes)
Stearic acid
Sugar (not identified as cane or beet)
Tocopherol (vitamin E)
Treacle (aka golden syrup)
Triethyl citrate

Unmodified starch – unknown starch, call company

Vanilla, pure or extracte or extract – the alcohol, usually corn alcohol, causes the problem.  Otherwise, it has corn syrup in it.  I bake without it and don’t miss it personally but I’ve read that you can create your own vanilla extract using the bean and vodka – http://simplyrecipes.com/recipes/how_to_make_vanilla_extract/ but I have not tried it.  Make sure your Vodka is from something besides corn – Vodka List

Vinegar, distilled white – white vinegar is from corn, try balsamic vinegar from grapes

Vitamins – call the company for details on the ingredients

Xanthan gum – FoVitamins – call the company for details on the ingredients

Xanthan gum – Found in most salad dressings.

Xylitol – extracted from corn fibers and other plants

Zein Yeast – check the label for added corn, I am allergic to yeast too so I can’t test “non corn” yeast myself.

Zein – Used to coat things like fruits and nuts, pills, candy and to coat plastics, buttons and even paper cups, powder from corn gluten meal.


About alanbeth

What’s up? or rather, ¿Qué pasa? Hola, I’m Alan. I’m a missionary living in Mexico. We have a heart for MK Education and so we teach at a local Christian school with MK students as well as nationals and foreign students as well. I occasionally write or have a pic to share with you at my blog, Knowing Your ABCDs, which you can read with a click on the button above. You can read my blog with a click on the button above.
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3 Responses to A Puzzling Muddled Befuddlement (I just like saying that)

  1. Steve says:

    I pray wisdom for you, and most of all HEALING. I will say that my digestive tract has never been the same after our 3 years in Central America. I believe that some of those nasty little creatures must have altered my guts for life. I hope that you can find relief, and soon, because as I recall you are fond of a good meal!


  2. krislivo1 says:

    Oh, man. Reading one fourth of that list made me tired. We will pray for your tripas, and for fortitude for Bethie, as she figures out how to feed you.


  3. Jim says:

    I remember reading a book which started with a long tome about corn. Basically the author said that pretty much everything you buy in the store has corn in it (including meat, animals that were likely fed corn products) with the exception of fish – however the fish were likely shipped to the store in a carton made from corn. And of course it’s not just food – even the sticky stuff on scotch tape comes from corn!

    Anyway, it sounds like you’re not trying to avoid all food, which is good! 🙂 Eating fresh and natural food has got to be a step in the right direction, corn or no. So sorry to hear you’ve been dealing with this! Hope to hear that you’re feeling better soon.


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