No, this information does not justify that bucket of buttered popcorn you downed while watching “The Hunger Games” last weekend. But yes, a study presented at a meeting of the American Chemical Society on Sunday in San Diego found more polyphenols, a type of antioxidant, in popcorn than in fruits and vegetables.
Researchers discovered that popcorn contained up to 300 mg of polyphenols a serving, compared with 114 mg in one serving of sweet corn and 160 mg for all fruits per serving. Polyphenols have been linked to a lower risk of heart disease, but more research is needed to confirm this association. If you need more convincing, more reliable reasons to love the snack, popcorn also boasts 100% unprocessed whole grain, according to researcher Joe Vinson, Ph.D., at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania.
“All other grains are processed and diluted with other ingredients, and although cereals are called ‘whole grain,’ this simply means that over 51% of the weight of the product is whole grain,” Vinson said. “One serving of popcorn will provide more than 70% of the daily intake of whole grain.”
The higher polyphenol concentration in popcorn is at least partly due to the fact that 90% of a fruit or vegetable is water. Since popcorn only consists of 4% water, you can get more bang for your buck when it comes to antioxidants.
Before you get ahead of yourself, let us clarify: This does not make kettle corn healthy. And it definitely does not make movie-theater popcorn healthy. A 2009 study found that a large popcorn from Regal Theaters contained 20 cups of popcorn, 1,200 calories and 60 grams of not just fat, but saturated fat. If you’re thinking, “That’s cool. I go to AMC anyway,” please read: AMC’s large popcorn contained 16 cups, 1,030 calories and 57 grams of saturated fat.
Furthermore, this study is not suggesting you replace your apple a day with popcorn. Fruits and veggies offer a plethora of other vitamins and nutrients that popcorn doesn’t. But if you find yourself craving some polyphenol-packed popcorn, opt for air-popped. It’s lower in calories, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium.