Research Suggests Popcorn Is a Powerful Superfood

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CC BY 2.0. Ayelie

Ayelie/CC BY 2.0

Although popcorn has taken a beating for its tendency to end up in compromising positions -- like slathered in “golden flavor” at the movie theater or harboring offensive chemicals courtesy of microwave-popping packaging -- research is showing that it is a super-nutrient powerhouse.

Affordable, easily-attainable popcorn! Take that, you miracle-promising superfoods with your exorbitant price tags and exuberant food miles. (Acai and goji berries, are you listening?)

Joe Vinson, Ph.D., a pioneer in nutritional analyses of common foods, explained at the 243rd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society, that polyphenols are much more concentrated in popcorn which averages only about 4 percent water. Most fresh produce contains around 90 percent of water which dilutes this special class of antioxidants.

The new study found that the amount of polyphenols found in popcorn was as high as 300 mg a serving compared to 114 mg for a serving of sweet corn and 160 mg for a serving of fruit. In addition, one serving of popcorns provide around 13 percent of a daily average intake of polyphenols per person in the U.S.

And aside from the remarkable polyphenol content, popcorn is a whole grain!

Said Vinson of the findings,

Popcorn may be the perfect snack food. It's the only snack that is 100 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 51 percent of the weight of the product is whole grain. One serving of popcorn will provide more than 70 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.

The caveat: Beware of which kind of popcorn you eat. Movie popcorn, kettle corn, microwave popcorn, and the like can become nutritional nightmares when subjected to copious amounts of butter, fake butter, sugar, corn syrup, what-have-you. (A small popcorn at the nation's largest movie chain, Regal, has 670 calories--the same as a Pizza Hut Personal Pepperoni Pan Pizza.)

Microwave popcorn is about 43 percent fat, along with other possibly suspect ingredients. Air-popped popcorn has the lowest amount of calories, and home-popped in oil has the second lowest amount.

Pop Your Own

You don't need an air-popper or microwave to make your own. Here's the basic procedure for stovetop popping: Pour 3 tablespoons of olive oil (or a milder cooking oil if you like a neutral taste) into a large, heavy pot and place on medium-high heat. Put two or three kernels in, and when one has popped, pour in 1/3 cup of popcorn and cover pan. When corn begins to pop, shake constantly, letting steam escape from the pot to prevent sogginess. When popping slows considerably, remove pan from heat and pour into a large bowl. Season to taste. Enjoy.
(Or you can use your microwave using this method: How to Make Your Own Microwave Popcorn)