The Corny Truth Series: Hidden Corn in Cheese

I love me some cheese. It is pretty much on the top of my list of favorite foods, so you can imagine my complete and utter horror when I realized that I was having corn-reactions to certain cheeses after I found out about my corn allergy. Sounds crazy, right? I was going along my cheese-eating way feeling fine and dandy about it, until one day I figure out I am allergic to corn and suddenly start having problems with it.

To put it simply, the more corn was removed from my diet and detoxed from my body, the more sensitive I became to it, causing me to notice my reactions to specific foods, whereas before I removed the culprit from my diet I had a constant, low-level immune response that was active all day, everyday and was not enabling me to clearly decipher between which foods were contributing to my pain and suffering and which were not. This is actually very typical for food allergies, and I have heard many stories of people going through the same exact scenario when removing gluten from their diet. You have to get the food completely out of your system for a minimum of two to three weeks before reintroducing it to find out if you react to it or not. In my case, I didn’t even have to go 2 days before I noticed a huge difference in the way that I felt because my body went into major withdrawal symptoms as though I was weening myself off of heavy drugs. You can read more about that here.

Anywho, back to cheese. Sweet, wonderful, glorious cheese. Why, oh why must my favorite of all the foods be tainted by the one thing I can not have. I can recall numerous times that I have actually said out loud while conversing with a group of friends that I could never, ever give up cheese. And then one day I thought that I was going to have to give it up for the rest of my life. How could I possibly endure a pitiful, cheese-less existence? And before you vegans start in on me about the horrors of the dairy industry and why we should all give it up in the first place because humans are not baby cows and we are not designed to digest cow’s milk… I know. I know I am not a baby cow. I can not, and do not drink milk. But cheese. Come on. It is the most delightful of all the dairy products, and should be enjoyed. By me.

Once I figured out cheese was making my autoimmune system flare up, I had to research why. I couldn’t have suddenly developed 50 different food allergies at once (I was reacting to a very large amount of different foods and was beginning to think that I was crazy and allergic to life), so I took to google, and found that there are actually a number of reasons why cheese can become “corny”, if you will, and that I was probably not allergic to it at all, just to specific brands and types.

Cheese can become corny from:

  • The cow’s diet. For the most part, it is as simple as that. I learned this while breastfeeding my own son – I had to avoid certain foods or my poor baby would have a myriad of reactions ranging from gastrointestinal issues to rashes. Breast milk is directly affected by the foods that we eat, and this applies to animals as well. If the cow eats corn, then the corn protein is bound to show up in the resulting milk. On that note, did you know that cows are not even supposed to eat corn? Read more on that here. Apparently, feeding corn to cattle causes more problems than we are lead to believe, resulting in very poor beef and dairy products.
  • Processing. Some cheeses have vinegar added to them. I particularly find this to be true with fresh mozzarella cheese. Other things to look out for are any additives, vitamin fortifications, or preservatives such as citric acid, ascorbic acid, or xanthin gum- those are usually always corny as well. Conventional salt is a big no-no. Shredded cheese? Forget it. They add cornstarch or cellulose powder to keep it from clumping together. This holds true for “crumbled” cheeses such as bleu cheese and goat cheese as well. Here is a complete list of corn derivatives to look for in all foods.
  • Packaging. Here is where it gets tricky. Some plastics are made from corn, and some super-sensitive people react to that alone. Also, some manufacturers actually coat the inside of the plastic wrapper with cornstarch to keep it from sticking to the product. They are not required by the FDA to label this in their ingredients because it was not used as an ingredient in the actual cheese itself. Scary, right? You literally have no way of being able to tell if the cheese has been tainted unless you try it, and some people are so sensitive that taking one bite of said cheese would immediately cause anaphylaxis. Luckily, I do not typically have an anaphylactic reaction unless I am repeatedly corned for a few days… but I have learned my cheese-packaging lessons the hard way a few times now, and generally stick to what I know because I am tired of being corned by new things every time I turn around.

These are only some of the ways in which I have learned thus far. As I have learned from this whole experience, there could definitely be more ways in which the food industry can sneak corn into foods, and I’m sure that I will eventually stumble across them and will have to add on to this list.

Since learning this information, I became a little more adventurous and decided to test which cheeses would and would not work for me. So far I have found that I can tolerate cheese from grass-fed cows such as the Organic Valley Pasture-Raised varieties, as well as other various smaller name brands. I literally squeal with delight when I come across safe, local, grass-fed cheeses. Glory be! Also, goat cheese is just fine as long as no other ingredients are added. As with all other foods, you have to pay diligent attention to every single label you come across. That being said, try not to get too cozy with certain brands and forget to check the ingredients just because you buy it all the time. They can change the ingredients at any time, and a lot of companies tend to do this frequently. Always check, no matter what.

As always, tread carefully when sampling different cheeses. What works for me may not work for you, as everyone seems to have different reactions to different foods in the world of corn intolerance. Only you will know what will work for your body.

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