Study Finds More Antioxidants In Popcorn Than In Fruit
March 26, 2012

Study Finds More Antioxidants In Popcorn Than In Fruit

Popcorn's reputation as a healthy snack food was bolstered even further Sunday with the release of a study that discovered the popular movie-time munchies actually have more of a specific type of antioxidant than many fruits and vegetables.

As part of the research, Dr. Joe Vinson and colleagues from the University of Scranton analyzed four different types of popcorn -- two of which were air-popped and the other two were prepared in microwaves -- and measured the amount of the antioxidants known as polyphenols, which can reverse damage to the body caused by molecules known as "free radicals," according to Kathleen Doheny of WebMD Health News.

Vinson discovered that popcorn could contain upwards of 300mg per serving of polyphenols, based on the type of product and the way in which it is prepared, the university said in a press release. In comparison, a serving of sweet corn has just 114mg, and a serving of fruit has 160mg's worth of the antioxidant.

Furthermore, Vinson, who the university describes as "pioneer in analyzing healthful components in chocolate, nuts and other common foods," noted that popcorn also benefits because it only contains approximately 4% water, while polyphenols contained in some fruits and vegetables are "diluted" in as much as 90% water.

According to the press release, the study was the first to calculate the total polyphenol content in popcorn, and not only did it discover that the snack food contained more of the antioxidant than expected, but that a large portion of that was contained in a surprising place -- the hull, or as it is otherwise identified by the university, "the part that everyone hates for its tendency to get caught in the teeth."

"Those hulls deserve more respect," Vinson said in a statement. "They are nutritional gold nuggets."

In light of these findings, he said that 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."

However, Today Nutrition Expert Joy Bauer advises caution when dealing with popcorn. While the snack food itself can be "low in calories, heart-smart, and surprisingly chock-full of healthy nutrients" -- not to mention "a great source of fiber" -- she says that it must be "prepared with just the right ingredients."

"Popcorn will never be a replacement for produce, which is brimming with essential nutrients and antioxidants not found in grains. But it´s still a terrific, low-cal munchie. And you do need to steer clear of varieties doused in butter, oil, and/or salt, ingredients that negate the health perks," Bauer warns.

Such is often the case with movie theater popcorn, she reports. In fact, Bauer cites a recent study by the Center for Science in the Public Interest which showed that a medium serving of popcorn at one theater chain had 1,200 calories and three-times the recommended daily allowance of saturated fat -- and that doesn't even include the additional extra buttery topping that so many movie-goers opt for.

Bauer recommends plain popcorn prepared without oil in a hot-air popper, and warns that even light or low-fat microwave popcorn can contain ingredients which can be hazardous to a person's health.

Regarding Vinson's antioxidant study, Doheny interviewed Tufts University Nutrition Professor Jeffery B. Blumberg, who called the research a good initial step, but pointed out that it was not specifically designed to study the health benefits of popcorn.

Blumberg also told WebMD that additional research was required to determine how much of the polyphenols contained in the popcorn's hulls actually escape into the system of the person who consumes them.

The University of Scranton study was presented as part of the 243rd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), which is being held this week in San Diego, California.