Scientists have found that popcorn can be a very healthy snack. It is loaded with polyphenols and unprocessed whole grains. Joe Vinson, Ph.D., a Chemistry professor at University of Scranton and study leader, is pictured preparing a bowl of popcorn for study in the lab. The findings of the research were presented at a meeting of the American Chemical Society. The researchers say popcorn contains more of the healthful antioxidant substances, called polyphenols, than fruits and vegetables.
Vinson says polyphenols are more concentrated in popcorn, which averages only about 4 percent water, while polyphenols are diluted in the 90 percent water that makes up many fruits and vegetables. The researchers also found that hulls of the popcorn - the part that gets caught in your teeth - has the highest concentration of polyphenols and fiber.
Vinson says, "Those hulls deserve more respect. They are nutritional gold nuggets."
Vinson also declared popcorn to be the perfect snack food. He says, "Popcorn may be the perfect snack food. It's the only snack that is 100 percent 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 percent of the weight of the product is whole grain. One serving of popcorn will provide more than 70 percent 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."
Vinson noted that the way popcorn is prepared can reduce its healthful effects. Air-popped popcorn is the beast and has the lowest number of calories. The calories and fat started to increase as you add oil, butter or the fake butter product served in movie theaters.
Vinson says, "Air-popped popcorn has the lowest number of calories, of course. Microwave popcorn has twice as many calories as air-popped, and if you pop your own with oil, this has twice as many calories as air-popped popcorn. About 43 percent of microwave popcorn is fat, compared to 28 percent if you pop the corn in oil yourself."
The researchers are not saying popcorn can replace fruits and vegetables. Fruits and veggies contain vitamins and other nutrients that are critical for good health, but are missing from popcorn.
Photo: Terry Connors/University of Scranton