Throw out those chips and cookies and bring on the popcorn! Recent studies have shed light on the multiple health benefits of this delicious snack. Whole grains, fiber and antioxidants are wrapped up in this simple snack. Be careful though. Smothering this naturally healthy snack in salt, fat, sugar and flavorings turns natural goodness into junk food.
A Whole Grain
Whole grains are just that — the “whole” grain, which includes three parts: the germ, the bran and the endosperm. The germ contains healthy oils, vitamin E, protein, many B vitamins and minerals. The bran houses most of the fiber found in whole grains, as well as B vitamins, minerals, protein and antioxidants. The endosperm is primarily composed of starch with some protein and some fiber.
Popcorn is naturally a whole grain and therefore provides the healthy benefits derived from the nutrients in every component of the whole grain.
Dietary fiber is a major benefit of whole grains. Popcorn provides about 4 grams of dietary fiber for every 4 cups of popped corn. Most Americans only consume half of their recommended daily intake of fiber, which is 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men. An adequate fiber intake not helps you to stay regular but may also lower your risk of cardiovascular disease, reduce blood cholesterol and lower your risk of type 2 diabetes by regulating blood sugar.
The University of Scranton reported a study in 2012 that found the antioxidant concentration of popcorn to be much higher than anticipated. In fact, the study found the concentration of polyphenols in popcorn surpassed that of most fruit. Popcorn is only 4 percent water, compared to the 90 percent water content of most fruits and vegetables, so the polyphenols aren’t diluted at all. These nutrients were found within the hull and so popcorn without the hull may not contain this healthy antioxidant.
According to research in a 2013 issue of Nutrients, polyphenols possess numerous health benefits, including the prevention of degenerative diseases such osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, cancer, neurodegenerative diseases and diabetes. Don’t ditch your fruit just yet, however; popcorn doesn’t have all the vitamins and minerals offered in many fruits.
Not All Popcorn Is Created Equal
While plain, natural popcorn is full of health benefits, the cry for convenience and the palate of Americans have led to the addition of unhealthy “extras.” Microwave popcorn is usually packed with unhealthy oils, other additives and a lot more calories. Kettle corn and caramel corn provide hefty doses of sugars. Cheddar and other flavored types of popcorn not only include artificial flavorings, but unhealthy fats and other additives as well.
Air pop or use oil to pop whole kernels. Lightly season it with sea salt or a very small bit of butter, if you can’t eat it any other way.