Is popcorn the newest health food?

Monday, March 26, 2012

Fruit. Vegetables. Lean meat. Nuts. Dairy. Popcorn.


Most of us recognize the first five as regular recommended components of a healthy diet, but a new study finds that popcorn contains more healthful antioxidant substances called "polyphenols" than fruits and vegetables.

Further, popcorn averages only about 4 percent water, while polyphenols are diluted more in the 90 percent water that makes up most fruits and vegetables.

And, the part of popcorn you hate, the hulls that get stuck in your teeth, is actually the healthiest part, with the highest concentration of polyphenols and fiber.

Joe Vinson, who has made a career of analyzing healthy components in chocolate, nuts and other foods, says "popcorn may be the perfect snack food."

It's 100 percent unprocessed whole grain, and one serving provides 70 percent of the recommended daily intake -- the average person eats only half a serving of whole grains a day.

The study found the amount of polyphenols in popcorn was up to 300 mg a serving, compared to 114 mg for sweet corn and 160 mg for all fruits per serving.

Of course, there are two sides to the story; the study covered plain popcorn, not the stuff you buy slathered in tropical oils and a blizzard of salt at the movie theater, or event microwave popcorn, with is about 43 percent fat, or the 28 percent fat you take in if you pop it in oil yourself.

As with any food, popcorn can't do the nutrition job by itself. Fruits and vegetables contain vitamins and other nutrients that are missing in popcorn, and dried fruit has polyphenols in concentrated form the same way popcorn does.

But no food, no matter how healthy, does any good if we don't eat it. Perhaps, with the right marketing, popcorn is a "growth" industry for farmers on the Golden Plains.

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