Scientists say popcorn may be the perfect snack. High-fibre popcorn contains a higher level of antioxidants than fruit and vegetables, the American Chemical Society (ACS) has been told. The antidoxants are called polyphenols, a large family of natural compounds widely distributed in plant foods that may provide various health benefits, some health experts believe.
The polyphenols are stronger in popcorn, which contains around 4% water on average compared to 90% water that forms many fruit and vegetables, Dr Joe Vinson told the ACS national meeting in San Diego, USA.
Popcorn hulls - the bits that can get stuck in your teeth - contain the highest levels of polyphenols and fibre - and are nutritional gold, says Dr Vinson, from the University of Scranton, in Pennsylvania.
He says, "Popcorn may be the perfect snack food. It's the only snack that is one hundred 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 fifty-one percent of the weight of the product is whole grain.
"One serving of popcorn will provide more than seventy 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."
To make sure popcorn is as healthy as possible, it should be popped in air. Using oil to pop it can push the fat content up to around 28% and microwaving it can produce 43% fat content, says Dr Vinson.
It is important not to eat popcorn instead of fruit and vegetables, as they contain other vital vitamins that popcorn does not have. Dried fruit contains more polyphenols than fresh fruit because it has a lower water content.
Dr Vinson and his team were the first to evaluate how much polyphenol popcorn contains - and it was higher than expected. The levels were similar to those found in nuts, ACS' 243rd National Meeting & Exposition heard.
The researchers found there was a maximum of 300mg of polyphenols in each portion of popcorn compared to 160mg in fruit and 114 in sweetcorn. That equals 13% of the average day's intake of polyphenols for an American adult. Fruit and vegetables together contribute 518mg.
The ACS is the largest scientific society in the world. The non-profit organisation has more than 164,000 members and is a world leader in chemistry research.