Want a healthy snack? Consider passing the popcorn. A new study says the whole-grain treat contains more of the "good for you" antioxidants called polyphenols than some fruits or vegetables.
The amount of polyphenols in popcorn was up to 300 milligrams (mg) per serving compared with 114 mg per serving of sweet corn and 160 mg per serving for all fruits, according to study findings to be at a meeting of the American Chemical Society in San Diego.
This is because polyphenols are diluted in the 90% water that makes up many fruits and vegetables, whereas they are more concentrated in popcorn, which averages only about 4% water, the study authors said.
In the average diet, fruits provide 255 mg of polyphenols per day and vegetables provide 218 mg per day. One serving of popcorn would provide 13% of the average daily intake of polyphenols per person in the United States, the Pennsylvania researchers said in a society news release.
Why popcorn is good for you
The levels of polyphenols in popcorn reported in this study were higher than previously believed. The levels were similar to those found in nuts and 15 times the levels found in whole-grain tortilla chips, the researchers said.
The investigators also found that the hulls of popcorn - the bits that tend to get caught in the teeth - have the highest concentrations of polyphenols and fibre.
"Those hulls deserve more respect," study author Joe Vinson, of the University of Scranton, said.
However, Vinson warned, adding butter, salt and other kilojoule-laden flavourings can turn this snack into a bucketful of trouble.
Microwave popcorn not so good
"Air-popped popcorn has the lowest number of calories, of course," Vinson said. "Microwave popcorn has twice as many kilojoules as air-popped, and if you pop your own with oil, this has twice as many kilojoules as air-popped popcorn. About 43% of microwave popcorn is fat, compared to 28% if you pop the corn in oil yourself."
Vinson also added that eating popcorn shouldn't be an excuse to skip the fresh fruits and vegetables. Popcorn lacks the vitamins and other nutrients found in fruits and vegetables that are essential for good health.
Popcorn is the "only snack that is 100% unprocessed whole grain. All other grains are processed and diluted with other ingredients, and although cereals are called 'whole grain,' this simply means that over 51% of the weight of the product is whole grain," Vinson said.
"One serving of popcorn will provide more than 70% of the daily intake of whole grain. The average person only gets about half a serving of whole grains a day, and popcorn could fill that gap in a very pleasant way," he noted.
The study was funded by the university and received no money from the food industry. The data and conclusions of research presented at medical meetings should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
Eating on the run
The Harvard School of Public Health has more about antioxidants.
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