My mom has a passion for popcorn that she indulges almost daily…and it could be one reason that she’s still going strong in her 80s. How so? A new study has revealed that this high-fiber, low-fat favorite has more healthful antioxidants than was previously recognized—even more, in fact, than fruits and veggies.
Researchers analyzed four commercial brands of popcorn, two air-popped and two microwavable, using a new method that simulates part of the digestion process to extract and measure the popcorn’s polyphenols. Like other antioxidants, polyphenols are thought to protect cells against damage from environmental exposures and wear and tear, thus helping prevent cancer and other diseases. Findings: Per serving (about two tablespoons of unpopped kernels or about three to five cups popped), popcorn provided about 300 mg of polyphenols, depending on brand—nearly double the amount in a typical serving of many fruits and vegetables. Another surprise: The hull of the popcorn kernel—the annoying part that gets stuck in your teeth—actually had the highest polyphenol concentration. In fact, about 90% of polyphenols come from the hull!
Nutritional gold: Popcorn also is packed with cholesterol-lowering, appetite-appeasing fiber. Unlike many other grain products, which are processed and diluted with other ingredients, popcorn is a minimally processed whole grain. Just one serving of popcorn provides more than 70% of a person’s recommended daily intake of whole grains.
Caveats: Popcorn’s health benefits can be vastly reduced by unhealthful preparation or serving methods, such as cooking it in a lot of oil, pouring on the salt or drenching it in butter (or even worse, the fake butter used on movie theater popcorn). To get the greatest nutritional bang from your popcorn, stick with air-popped…for extra flavor, sprinkle on some spices or stir in some nuts.
Source: Joe Vinson, PhD, is a professor of chemistry at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania who has analyzed healthful components in chocolate, nuts and other common foods. His research on popcorn was presented at a recent meeting of the American Chemical Society.