Still searching for the perfect healthy snack? Look no further. New research from the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania says that popcorn packs more antioxidant punch than many fruits and veggies. Here's what you should know:
What makes popcorn good for you?
"Based on fiber, whole grains, and antioxidant levels, popcorn is the king of snack foods," study author Joe Vinson tells Web MD. Vinson and his team of chemists examined four brands of commercially available popcorn for the presence of a group of antioxidants known as polyphenols. This special subset helps fight off body-damaging "free radicals," molecules that are responsible for aging and tissue damage. Free radicals have also been linked to certain diseases.
What did Vinson and his team find?
Polyphenol levels, especially in popcorn's crunchy hull, were higher than those found in similar serving sizes of fruits and vegetables. One reason: The polyphenol levels in popcorn aren't as diluted with water as they are in many types of produce. These findings confirm previous popcorn studies, Kantha Shelke, a food chemist, tells the Chicago Sun-Times. "Popcorn has an antioxidant called ferulic acid that's also found in beans, corn, rice, wheat, barley and many other grains," she says, which can have "a wide range of therapeutic effects against cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular and neuro-degenerative diseases."
What other advantages does popcorn offer?
The popped kernels are also naturally high in fiber and low in calories. When popped without additives like oil, the diet-friendly snack contains a mere 30 calories per cup, compared to the 150 calories in a typical bag of potato chips. But while it may sound enticing to replace your daily intake of veggies with the snack, it isn't exactly a substitute for greens. "Popcorn will never be a replacement for produce," says Joy Bauer at MSNBC. "But it's still a terrific, low-cal munchie."
What about movie theater popcorn?
Steer clear. A medium tub at of popcorn at Regal theaters contains a whopping 1,200 calories and 60 grams of fat, or the "caloric equivalent of eating three McDonald's Quarter Pounders — before you factor in the extra fat and calories from the greasy, buttery topping they squirt on top," says Bauer. Stick with natural air-popped brands. For additional flavor, lightly dust popcorn with parmesan and black pepper, or try a small pinch of chili powder and sea salt. If you avoid fatty oils, popcorn is "a steal in the snack world."