Surprising superfoods : Popcorn

Although popcorn has taken a beating for its tendency to end up in compromising positions — like slathered in ‘golden flavour’ at the pictures or harbouring offensive chemicals courtesy of microwave popping packaging, new research is showing that it is, in reality, a super-nutrient powerhouse.

Affordable, easily-attainable popcorn! Take that, you miracle-promising superfoods with your exorbitant price tags and exuberant food miles. (Acai and goji berries, are you listening?)

Researchers at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania, have found that popcorn, already known as a great source of fibre, also contains higher levels of antioxidants than some fruits and vegetables, which could make it the new super food for snacking

Antioxidants are vital compounds, often found in plants, which help repair the damage done by molecules known as free radicals. Consumption of foods containing high levels of antioxidants have been linked to a reduced risk of cancer

Joe Vinson, Professor of Chemistry at Scranton and a pioneer in analyzing healthful components in chocolate, nuts and other common foods, explained that the 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

In another surprising finding, the researchers discovered that the hulls of the popcorn - the part that everyone hates for its tendency to get caught in the teeth - actually has the highest concentration of polyphenols and fibre

“Those hulls deserve more respect,” said Vinson.”They are nutritional gold nuggets”

The overall findings led Vinson to declare, “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”

The new study found that the amount of polyphenols found in popcorn was up to 300 mg a serving compared to 114 mg for a serving of sweet corn and 160 mg for all fruits per serving. One serving of popcorn will provide 13 percent of an average intake of polyphenols a day

Take care, however. The way you prepare and serve popcorn can quickly put a dent in its healthful qualities. Cook it in a potful of oil, cover it in butter or the fake butter used in many movie theatres, pour on the salt, eat it as ‘kettle corn’ cooked in oil and sugar - and popcorn quickly becomes a nutritional nightmare loaded with fat and calories

“Air-popped popcorn has the lowest number of calories, of course,” Vinson said. “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.” Air popped popcorn can be a little tasteless so you can try seasoning it with a drizzle of olive oil and some herbs and spices instead of salt

Be aware that popcorn can’t replace fresh fruits and vegetables in a healthy diet. Fruits and vegetables contain vitamins and other nutrients that are critical for good health, but are missing from popcorn, such as Vitamin C

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