Popcorn: Healthier Than You Think

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Movies theaters and popcorn have been synonymous for ages. That intoxicating aroma of hot oil, salt, and butter can be irresistible to even the strictest dieters. And while concession stand kernels can pack a lot of sodium and saturated fat, new research shows that popcorn may have awesome health benefits when prepared correctly.

It’s well documented that plain popcorn is a good snack alternative to potato chips or crackers. A few air-popped cups of this low-calorie, high fiber, and completely wholegrain treat has long helped dieters keep cravings at bay. What we didn’t know until recently is that one serving of popcorn contains almost twice as many antioxidants as a single serving of fruit or vegetables.

“Nobody had paid much attention to popcorn as a source of anything other than fiber,” lead researcher Dr. Joe Vinson explained. “Popcorn has more antioxidants in total than other snack foods that you can consume, and it also has quite a bit of fiber.”

Vinson and his colleagues chemically mimicked the human digestive process on both popped and unpopped kernels, then measured the amount of polyphenols found within. Polyphenols are a type of antioxidant linked to heart and skin health that are typically found in fruits and vegetables. The researchers found that one serving of popcorn packs 300 mg of the crunch-worthy compound, while a solitary serving of fruit contains only 160 mg.

In light of his findings, Dr. Vinson hails popcorn as “the perfect snack food.” But what about those pesky hulls that get stuck in your teeth and trouble your orthodontist? ”Those hulls deserve more respect,” said Dr. Vinson. “They are nutritional gold nuggets.”

So what’s the best way to go about preparing these pop-able purveyors of polyphenol-rich power? First off, pick up an old-school air popper. These handy little devices, which were popularized in the 1970′s, help you sidestep the oil and artificial flavorings found in other kinds of popcorn. Second, portion control is key. Dr. Vinson recommends a maximum serving size of about four cups. In comparison, a bucket of movie theater popcorn contains around 20.

Finally, get creative with the seasonings! While there’s no denying the simple wonders of butter and salt, there’s a whole other world of tasty possibilities just waiting to be explored. For instance, check out this recipe for pizza popcorn, which harnesses the power of oregano, garlic, olive oil, and diced sun-dried tomatoes. One taste of this stuff and you may seriously consider watching more movies at home.

Image: popcorn!!, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from superiphi’s photostream.

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