Fight cancer and heart disease with a bag of popcorn

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012. Filed under: Food & Dining

Scientists say that popcorn contains more heart-healthy polyphenols than fruits and vegetables. ©Lana Langlois/

(Relaxnews) – A group of US scientists is calling popcorn the perfect snack food, after discovering that the hulls contain more antioxidants than fruits and vegetables.

It’s a surprising finding that puts a snack traditionally associated with movie theater indulgences on the same plane as berries and spinach.

But after analyzing the entire grain, scientists from the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania found that the hull — the least liked part of popcorn for its tendency to get stuck in the teeth — has the highest concentration of polyphenols and fiber.

That’s because while polyphenols in fruits and vegetables are diluted in 90 percent water, they’re more concentrated in popcorn which averages only about 4 percent water, scientists told attendees of a national meeting of the American Chemical Society in San Diego on March 25.

In their study, researchers found that popcorn contains up to 300 mg of polyphenols per serving compared to 114 mg for a serving of sweet corn, and 160 mg for all fruits per serving.

“Those hulls deserve more respect,” said study co-author Joe Vinson in a statement. “They are nutritional gold nuggets.”

But before diving into a bag of microwave popcorn or ordering a mega bag topped with fake, movie theater butter, study authors warn the findings come with a few caveats.

Cooking the food in a pot of oil, slathering on the butter or pouring on the salt can quickly cancel out their nutritional benefits, Vinson notes, and become a “nutritional nightmare.”

The healthiest way to enjoy the snack food: make it air-popped.

Microwave and oil-popped popcorn, for example, have twice as many calories as air-popped.

Nor do the findings give people carte blanche to substitute popcorn for fresh fruits and vegetables, Vinson warned, as the snack food can’t make up for the amount of vitamins and nutrients found in apples, oranges or broccoli.

When it comes to grains, however, popcorn can provide more than 70 percent of the daily intake of whole grains, making it the ideal snack food to make up for people’s daily shortfall. The average person only gets about half a serving of whole grains a day, Vinson said.

“…popcorn could fill that gap in a very pleasant way.”

Meanwhile, in 2008, scientists found a link between an unusually high incidence of lung disease and the fake butter found in microwave popcorn.

Workers at popcorn factories, for instance, were found to be at increased risk for developing the illness due to their exposure to diacetyl, the ingredient responsible for creating the aromas and flavors of artificial butter.

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