Popcorn: the health benefits?

Press releases that target miracle foods are a dime a dozen. Just this week we learned that people who eat chocolate are thinner (not so fast…the study had no controls and made very lofty conclusions) and that popcorn contains more antioxidants than fruit and vegetables.

I’m skeptical when it comes to most food headlines as I find that sifting through what is posted and what actually happened in the study can be two very different things. Today we are talking about popcorn and the claim that it’s not only good for you; it’s also high in polyphenols, a type of antioxidant. Polyphenols are found in foods derived from plants like dark chocolate and red wine. Antioxidants are thought to repair damage caused by free radicals- unstable molecules in the body.

The study focused on plain popcorn kernels, not the delicious treat you find in a microwavable bag or doused in butter and salt in the movie theatre. Those are still not the healthiest choice; the average movie theatre popcorn bucket contains 1100 calories and 62g fat.

The study, presented at the American Chemical Society in March, tested four brands of popcorn kernels by grinding them up and analyzing them. The results showed that most of the polyphenols came from the hull, the insoluble part of the kernel. That’s the part that gets stuck in your teeth, not the fluffy white part. Yes, the polyphenol amounts in the hull surpassed fruit and vegetable levels but that’s also the part we can’t digest. We need to analyze the amount of antioxidants we absorb from the hull using human subjects; it is almost impossible to speculate the benefits without taking a closer look at absorption rates during digestion.

Now, with that being said, plain popcorn is a low-calorie food, containing whole grains and fiber. It can also be a very inexpensive snack compared to chips and pretzels. My favorite way of cooking it involves a microwave and paper lunch bag. Just toss ¼ cup organic popcorn with 1 tsp. olive oil and whatever seasonings you like (try curry powder! Seriously, it’s weird and awesome). Place in a paper bag, fold the top over and either staple or tape. Place the bag in the microwave for 2 ½ minutes or until popping stops.

What seasonings do you like on your popcorn?

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  1. says

    In (re)starting my own blog, I’ve found yours – kudos on your dedication and content.

    I love popcorn as a quick and inexpensive snack. Personally I prefer the taste of air-popped, but that’s probably because I grew up with it.

    As far as toppings, I could definitely get on board with some curry powder. But my personal favorite is EVOO with sea salt & fresh cracked pepper.


  2. Michael says

    For me, popcorn is the closest to a guilt-free snack.
    I enjoy it 3 to 6 times a week with either: nutritional yeast & red sea salt, chili power & cumin, or pumpkin pie spice & agave (watered down, then sprayed on)

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