In recent years, dieticians and health experts have recommended popcorn as a healthy substitute for sweets because of its low fat content and its high insoluble fiber. New findings from the University of Scranton suggest that popcorn may also be a good source of polyphenol antioxidants. This class of antioxidants benefits the body by supplying potentially destructive free radicals (unstable molecules) with electrons that neutralize them.
Lead researcher and University of Scranton chemistry professor Joe Vinson identified popcorn as a better source of these beneficial antioxidants than polyphenol-containing fruits and vegetables. The theory is that since fruits and vegetables contain over 22 times the amount of water that popcorn does, popcorn may actually be a more direct source of these beneficial antioxidants.
Researchers also discovered that the highest amounts of antioxidants are found in popcorn hulls — the outer kernel membrane that often gets stuck in our teeth.
However, according to Vinson, you want to swallow, not spit, in this case.
“Those hulls deserve more respect,” Vinson said. “They are nutritional gold nuggets.”
Before you switch to an all-popcorn diet, please note that all popcorns are not created equal.
According to a study from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, ordering a medium popcorn and soda at the movies can amount to three McDonald’s Quarter Pounders with three-quarters of a stick of butter, in terms of caloric intake. Furthermore, many of the flavorings used in the butters may cause some health complications.
For example, several years ago, many of the microwave varieties came under scrutiny after popcorn factory workers became sick from exposure to the compound diacetyl, a toxic gas emitted from the artificial butter flavorings. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health suggested diacetyl can cause bronchiolitis obliterans, commonly known as “popcorn lung,” a potentially fatal condition. Although many of these commercial companies have eliminated the use of the chemical, air-popped popcorn is generally the safest bet for consumers.
In sum, opt for fresh air-popped popcorn over microwave and kettle corn options whenever possible. To add some flavor, get creative and try various toppings like honey, cinnamon or garlic to enhance tastiness.
Popcorn can be a great addition to your diet if you are seeking a quick and healthy snack. However, don’t go buck-wild. Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables is still recommended to pop your way to the nutritional top. Not corny at all. But in all seriousness, I wish you a healthy Spring Quarter, Gauchos!