The magnificent mealie

The magnificent mealie, once refined, has become the prime-cause of obesity and diabetes in South Africa. Utterly tasteless one has to ladle on the salt and sugar, adding to the problem.

Is it not ironic that one of the most delicious, nutritious and readily-available foods grown in South Africa has also been one of the prime causes of the downward spiral of our wellness? And has thus lead indirectly to the tragic death of so many from Covid? More than half of those dying from the virus are obese or diabetic.

Corn is so inexpensive; let me explain.

One seed of an open-pollinated variety like Border King costs about 5c. Planted in your garden, five rand will supply you with a mealie a day for 3 months. Having just enjoyed a cob almost daily for the last summer, I can assure you that it fills a gaping void. Nobody eating fresh corn need be hungry.

Enjoy a green mealie and a salad; with a bit of cheese, chicken or hummus. You will know that you have had an elephant-sufficiency.

Lunch platter many colours

There’s much talk these days about the microbiome; those friendly bugs in the gut that have a very important function in our overall well-being. They are utterly dependent on the fibre in food that resists digestion in the small intestine but reaches the colon.

Mealies are a rich supply of this insoluble starch which also helps with another nasty; constipation. Pick the cob when it is young; chew it slowly and thoroughly after steaming for five minutes.

Green mealies are particularly rich in two carotenoids called lutein and zeaxanthin that help prevent macular degeneration and cataracts. And another, ferulic acid, that contributes to the regulation of blood sugar and cholesterol. The germ has many important vitamins, minerals and important oils; and some protein.

Magnificent mealies in a pot.

A little butter actually helps with the absorption of some of these phytochemicals, and lowers the glycemic-index; but of course adds to the calories. The olive oil on your salad would achieve the same purpose.

In short corn on the cob is affordable, highly-nutritious and readily available.

But grind that magnificent mealie, extract the germ and bran, and you have a deadly pap with no more nutrition than cake-flour; and because it has lost its flavour, demands several spoonfuls of sugar.

"Refined maizemeal has made South African women more obese than the Americans and is the prime reason why diabetes afflicts at least 13% of our people; in some communities the rate is over thirty percent."

Refined mealiemeal is a killer; it should not be considered a food. It has no place in our school feeding-schemes.

Another reason I like mealies is that the stalks make wonderful compost, giving bulk and allowing air into the heap; simply cover it now with greenery such a grass-cuttings.

Dried mealie stalks compost

It is a great shame that the magnificent mealie has been tarred with the same brush as the refined-grain; and is completely banned for those who are banting. One cob contains about 25 grams of total carbohydrate, but only a half is in a digestible form.

Understanding how net carbs work is essential for those suffering from a problem with obesity.

“People are wasting money thinking there has to be a magic set of pills that will keep them healthy when we should all be following the evidence-based practices of eating properly and exercising.”

- Journal of the American Medical Association

By contrast one cup of refined maize-meal contains 117 grams of carbohydrate all of which is digested in the small intestine; the sugars are absorbed directly into the portal bloodstream from where they are sucked up by the liver.

There the sugars are converted to glycogen and fat; and stored both in the liver and the white adipose tissue. It's a disaster. Steatohepatitis is no fun; there is no medically recognised cure.

It is no coincidence that over the summer enjoying a cob a day I have lost about a kilogram of weight.

I started this column with the title, "O die mielie is een wonderlike ding." Truth be told, you have to work quite hard to find whole grains today; those that are not highly-refined. I wouldn't be surprised if you have cornflakes and maizemeal in the pantry, but I wonder how many of you reading this have actually eaten just one cob this summer?

The research is strong that whole grains lower the risk of heart disease and diabetes; but refined maize meal is junk food of the highest order. Don’t touch it unless you can get it freshly-milled from the farmer which alas is unlikely.

Mealiemeal porridge.

This is the real deal. Unless you have an uncle in the milling business you are unlikely to be able to buy the freshly-ground wholegrain meal.

It is sold at Reko farmers' market in Hilton in the Midlands of South-Africa. Can you guess who the miller is?

B's best roller-mill.

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

Genetically modified

Monsanto's gift to the world.

Informed opinion seems to be so divided on the subject of genetically-modified food, and I confess to being utterly unsure where the truth lies. Eventually it will come out. Meantime I'll stick to the heirloom magnificent mealie varieties.

As a general rule though I'm suspicious of modern agriculture and big companies like Monsanto and Bayer. Open-pollinated Border King from the garden tastes great, is very cheap and there is no anxiety; so why pay a fortune for GM maize? It does mean some weeding until cover is reached. 

A Winterton farmer planted a large circle under a pivot, one half to GM maize, and the other to an open-pollinated variety.

One night his cattle broke a fence down to get to the fodder; they made a real meal of one sector, but didn't touch the other. I will leave you to draw your own conclusions.

I know the corn I feed to my chickens is genetically modified, and it's very clear that they only eat it under protest. I have a new non-GM source directly from the farmer; I will be reporting how they take to it in the future. Ironically it will be cheaper.

It's time for an update. Yes, indeed, we now have non-GM yellow mealies; the flavour is definitely improved but that may be because of the colour. We have not yet tried it on the hens, using up old stock.

I suspect that we will conclude that cattle and bird-brain hens have more sense than humans.

Corn in flower is the promise of months of wonderful food in the not too distant future.

Here's an update. It is now the end of the season and we have eaten at least a cob of corn each day, and often several more, for three months. We have both lost a little weight. It is only an anecdote of no scientific value but I contest the belief of the keto folk who seem to believe that all carbs are very bad for us. What is more our "MetS" measurements are perfect.

That stands for Metabolic Syndrome; hypertension, fasting blood glucose and lipid profiles.

100% non-GM cornmeal porridge with blue berries.

Stunting of our children

"The Western Cape stands to lose R357-billion in household spending from stunting;

and up to R590 from obesity by 2040."

- 2018 FuturesCape report

Nearly a third of South Africa's children are permanently stunted, mentally or physically; and 13% are overweight or obese. Can we afford to neglect malnutrition?

"78% of Grade 4s cannot read and write with understanding in any language in these public schools."

- Prof. Sarah Howie, International Reading Literacy Study, South Africa

What's potting in your summer vegetable garden? Are your children stunted?

Of course, water scarcity in the world threatens not just the magnificent mealie but the well-being of a great many children in South Africa. Our solution has been to build an underground reservoir so we can harvest and store the rain; we have used the municipal supply for only two months in twelve years at the height of various droughts.

Our green garden has an abundant supply of pristine, unchlorinated water for irrigation.

Nor does it have any TCMs, fingered as the cause of the fastest growing neurological illness in the world; Parkinson's Disease. It is piped into our home; we drink it every day.

Our underground brick reservoir.

The magnificent mealie

The magnificent mealie is a delicious, inexpensive and nutritious food. It does take nearly ten minutes to eat a cob. Don't hold that against it; researchers have found that if we chew our food thoroughly it delays the onset of dementia significantly.

Nine percent of Americans over 65 now have Alzheimer's Disease.

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Our newsletter is entitled "create a cyan zone" at your home, preserving both yourself and Mother Earth for future generations; and your family too, of course. We promise not to spam you with daily emails promoting various products. You may get an occasional nudge to buy one of my books.

Here are the back issues.

  • Lifestyle and ideal body weight
  • What are ultra-processed foods?
  • Investing in long-term health
  • Diseases from plastic exposure
  • Intensive lifestyle management for obesity has limited value
  • A world largely devoid of Parkinson's Disease
  • The impact of friendly bacteria in the tum on the prevention of cancer
  • There's a hole in the bucket
  • Everyone is talking about weight loss drugs
  • Pull the sweet tooth
  • If you suffer from heartburn plant a susu
  • Refined maize meal and stunting
  • Should agriculture and industry get priority for water and electricity?
  • Nature is calling
  • Mill your own flour
  • Bake your own sourdough bread
  • Microplastics from our water
  • Alternative types of water storage
  • Wear your clothes out
  • Comfort foods
  • Create a bee-friendly environment
  • Go to bed slightly hungry
  • Keep bees
  • Blue zone folk are religious
  • Reduce plastic waste
  • Family is important
  • What can go in compost?
  • Grow broad beans for longevity
  • Harvest and store sunshine
  • Blue zone exercise
  • Harvest and store your rainwater
  • Create a cyan zone at your home

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56 Groenekloof Rd,

Hilton, KZN

South Africa