A mealie a day

A mealie a day would provide much of the sugars and starch we need for energy, but a quarter of that sweetness is lost within twenty-four hours of it being harvested.

Take this little test. Pick two identical cobs of corn, shuck the one, cook it immediately and enjoy, chewing thoughtfully so you can remember the flavour and texture. Have the other a day later; chalk and cheese.

Stored at room-temperature, corn quickly loses a quarter of its sugars; you can certainly taste the difference. It is slow release with a GI of only 48; that is low. Nevertheless there is about 16 grams of starch, much of it undigestible fibre that passes through to the colon where it feeds the microbiome.

The obese need to limit their total digestible carbohydrate to less than 50 grams per day. Take a short walk after every starchy-meal so the glucose is instead turned into glycogen.

Corn in flower will soon provide even more than one mealie a day.

For nearly four-months we have enjoyed a mealie a day at our green home, but there was a tinge of sadness at the end. The rats ate the last two cobs. In fact they came close to stealing a third of the harvest.

For that I should be grateful; a Zulu friend confirmed that again this year he did not get one-cob from his garden in Sweetwaters. The rats ate the lot and most of the pumpkins and butternut too.

I was shocked to read recently, as I am sure many of you were, that 27% of South African children under the age of five are permanently stunted, one of the worst countries in the world. The reasons are complex, but I started wondering if the epidemic of rats, the planet’s worst invader-specie, is not part of the cause.

Rural children would in the past have enjoyed at least a mealie cob a day throughout the summer, but no longer. Instead schools and their parents have turned to highly refined maize-meal to fill that gnawing hole in the belly; it is the equivalent of cake flour.

Corn has a reasonable amount of protein (about 3g / cob), nearly 10% of the requirement of a growing child, but it is not complete; it is lacking in lysine and tryptophan, two essential amino-acids. So a nutritious meal would need to complement that mealie with legumes, meat and eggs; or dairy products.

A mealie a day is also rich in several B-vitamins and many minerals; and two very important carotenoids called lutein and zeaxanthin[3][4]. Without them we would go blind.

Refined-maize meal, like cake flour, has zero of these nutrients; it is high on the list of truly junk foods, and not fit for human consumption. Certainly no farmer would feed it to his animals.

Whole mealies are high in insoluble fibre which is indigestible unless you have a blooming colon; that should contain an incredible 2kg of friendly bacteria and other bugs that together are known as the normal flora. Unpasteurised maas, yoghurt with live culture and kefir act as excellent sources of these probiotics. Otherwise they and full grain maize-meal would likely give one a bellyache.

A mealie a day

Corn on the cob is the way to enjoy your daily mealie.

A mealie a day is a staple in many countries but once refined it becomes a junk-food of the highest order, and not fit for human consumption; it is one of the chief causes of stunting.

But the satisfaction you get from eating a young mealie that you have you picked yourself from the garden, and immediately cooked, is something you'll remember all your life. In fact the old adage suggests putting the pot on to boil, and then go and pluck your cob.

At our green home, we rely on mealies in the summer for these important nutrients, along with several varieties of green beans and eggs. That would provide the full complement of amino-acids that are required to prevent stunting of our children.

If I was the Minister, and concerned about South Africa’s children, I would start prodding the environmentalists to find a Pied Piper to deal with the rats; that is a very complex long term situation. My thoughts would turn to worm-farming to manage the waste from our kitchens that is simply dumped in a hole in the garden; that is the chief cause of the infestation.

Secondly I would completely ban refined maize-meal from our school kitchens and instead contract with local farmers to provide a mealie cob a day for each child in the summer, and freshly ground wholemeal corn, and other grains like sorghum for mabela, for the rest of the year.

Thirdly I would contract with local-farmers to provide a glass of maas and an egg for each child every day.


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And fourthly I would absolutely insist that the headmaster and staff would have their salaries docked by 10% if their school-garden did not provide greens like spinach and beans for the children.

And lastly I would try to convince the minister of finance that refined mealie-meal and cake flour should attracted a sin tax, the same as sugar. They are not food in the true sense of the word.

The cost would not be inconsiderable, but in comparison with a workforce, a quarter of whom are permanently mentally or physically stunted, it is minuscule. I estimate that R10 per child every day would go a long way to solving the problem. Perhaps a third of the ten-million kids in primary school would need that kind of support.

It would provide a huge boost to local farmers; and the children, when they see corn in flower, would know that wonderful food and greater well-being is on the way.

"Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you're a thousand miles from the corn-field." 
Dwight D. Eisenhower

Keep your mealies simple, Stupid

The food manufacturing industry has ruined our mealies; here are a few tips of keeping it simple, yet wholesome.

  • When choosing a good ear, be that on the plant or from the greengrocer, press on the kernels through the husk; they should feel plump and firm. Only shuck them just before cooking.
  • Look for the older varieties; the new ones have three-times greater sugar content and do our blood glucose no good.
  • Within 24-hours of being reaped, half the sugar has turned to starch; enjoy them freshly picked.
  • Add your salt at the table; test it yourself but you will not be able to taste the difference if you put it into the cooking-water.
  • The best way to cook a young mealie is to bring the water to a hard boil, drop in the cobs, bring it back to steaming and immediately turn off the heat; in ten-minutes they will be perfect. The starch will have gelatinised, but the fibrous pectin will not have broken down and will pass through the small intestine to the colon, creating the perfect prebiotic for the teeming billions of bugs.
  • An easier way to cut the kernels off the cob for a risotto or succotash is to first stand it on end and slice off two-rows of pips; then place it on its side and do the rest.
  • Having done that, use the back of a knife to milk off the remaining juices and pulp. Waste not, want-not is our slogan; put it into soups and other dishes for extra flavour and nutrition.
  • A green mealie risotto made with brown-rice is a very nutritious and simple dish to make.

Glycemic index

I am unable to find data on white mealies. In much of the world it's considered hog food and they eat only sweet-corn.

One medium-ear of sweetcorn has 17g of carbs, of which 3g are sugars (± 1/2 tsp), and a glycemic index of 52.

White-maize would certainly be lower, but even sweetcorn has a very satisfactory GI (>56).

However the glycemic-load is on the high side (>10) at 15; it contains quite a lot of slowly absorbed starch. White maize would probably be about 12. So, if you are diabetic, half a cob would be desirable.

Whole-grains like half a mealie a day actually reduce the risk of diabetes; but keep the load down or, in other words, small portions.

Better still would be to allow the cooked maize to cool first, becoming 'resistant' starch, which is absorbed even more slowly. Much then is not digested into sugars in the small intestine, but reaches the colon where it is turned instead into very good short-chain fatty acids.

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  1. Stunting of children
  2. Why child malnutrition is still a problem in South Africa 22 years into democracy
  3. Lutein and zeaxanthin
  4. Fruits and vegetables that are sources for lutein and zeaxanthin: the macular pigment in human eyes

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Hilton, KZN

South Africa