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 sugar.

Is it not ironic that one of the most delicious, nutritious, inexpensive and readily available foods grown in South Africa has also been one of the prime causes of the downward spiral of our health, causing obesity and diabetes, and leading indirectly to the tragic death of so many from Covid-19?

Let me explain. One seed of an open-pollinated variety like Border King costs about 5c. Or, planted in your garden, five rand will supply you with a mealie a day for 3 months. Having just enjoyed a mealie cob most days for the last two and a half months, I can assure you that it fills a gaping void. No one eating mealies need be hungry. Enjoy a mealie and a salad, with a bit of cheese, chicken or hummus, and you know you have had an elephant sufficiency.

Magnificent mealies in a pot.

There’s much talk in health circles these days about the microbiome, those healthy bugs in the gut that have a very important function in our overall well-being. They are utterly dependent on the fibre that resists digestion in the small intestine, but reaches the colon. Mealies are rich of this insoluble fibre which also helps with another nasty, constipation. Pick the cob when it is young, steam it and chew it slowly and thoroughly.

Green mealies are particularly rich in two carotenoids called lutein and zeaxanthin that help prevent macular degeneration and cataracts. And another called ferulic acid that helps regulate blood sugar and cholesterol. The germ contains many important vitamins and minerals, oils and some protein. 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 cheap, highly nutritious and readily available.

But grind that magnificent mealie, remove the germ and bran, and you have a deadly pap with no more nutrition than cake flour and, because it has no taste, demands several spoonfuls of sugar. It has made South Africans more obese than the Americans and the Brits and is the prime reason why diabetes afflicts 13% of our people. Refined mealie meal is a killer.

Another reason I like mealies is that the stalks make wonderful compost, giving bulk and allowing air into the heap.

It is a great shame that the magnificent mealie has been tarred with the same brush as refined grain, and is completely banned from those banting; one cob contains about 25 grams of total carbohydrate, but only a half is in a digestible form. By contrast one cup of mealiemeal contains 117 grams of carb all of which is digested in the small intestine, the sugars absorbed directly into the bloodstream.

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 that are not highly refined. I’d be surprised if you don’t have cornflakes and mealiemeal in the pantry, but I wonder how many of you reading this have actually eaten just one mealie this summer; the research is strong that whole grains lower the risk of heart disease and diabetes.

But mealiemeal? Don’t touch it unless you can get it freshly milled from the farmer which alas is unlikely.

Genetically modified

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 magnificent mealie.

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, 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 half to an open pollinated variety. One night his cattle broke a fence down to get to the fodder; they made a real meal of the non genetically modified corn, but didn't touch the hybrid.

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'll be reporting how they take to it in the future. Ironically it will be cheaper, but I will have to drive a 300km round trip to get it. 

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.


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  • Bake your own sourdough bread
  • Microplastics from our water
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The magnificent mealie

  1. Bernard Preston
  2. Our green home
  3. Our green garden
  4. The magnificent mealie

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