Study: Popcorn packed with antioxidants
March 25th, 2012
12:01 PM ET

Study: Popcorn packed with antioxidants

Popcorn isn't just low in calories and high in fiber. Turns out the popular snack is chock full of antioxidants, too.

Per serving, plain popcorn contains nearly twice as many polyphenols as the average fruit, according to the preliminary results of a laboratory analysis presented today at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society.

Polyphenols, a type of plant-based chemical found in foods ranging from vegetables to chocolate, help neutralize the harmful substances known as free radicals and are thought to protect against heart disease and other health problems.

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"Nobody had paid much attention to popcorn as a source of anything other than fiber," says lead researcher Joe Vinson, Ph.D., a professor of chemistry at the University of Scranton, in Pennsylvania, which funded the study. "Popcorn has more antioxidants in total than other snack foods that you can consume, and it also has quite a bit of fiber."

Vinson and his colleagues analyzed four brands of commercially available popcorn. After grinding kernels (both popped and unpopped) into a fine powder, they separated out the polyphenols by adding a pair of solvents - a process that roughly mimics what happens in the stomach as food is digested, Vinson says.

A single serving of popcorn - about two tablespoons of unpopped kernels - contained up to 300 milligrams of polyphenols, the researchers found. By contrast, the average polyphenol content of fruit is about 160 milligrams per serving, while a single serving of sweet corn contains 114 milligrams.

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Some types of polyphenols are pigments, and in fruit the biggest concentrations tend to be found in the skin and seeds. Similarly, the hull or outer skin of the corn kernel - the stuff that gets stuck in your teeth when you're munching away - was the richest polyphenol source.

"That's where the antioxidants are, that's where the fiber is," Vinson says. "You shouldn't throw that out."

The findings don't mean that popcorn should replace apples and oranges in your diet, of course.

"Popcorn is no substitute for fruit," says Michael G. Coco, an undergraduate chemistry student at the university who participated in the study. "Fruits have other vitamins and minerals that popcorn does not contain."

However, the findings do suggest that popcorn is a healthy alternative to snacks such as chips and crackers. In addition to the polyphenols and low calorie content, popcorn is 100% whole grain, Vinson and Coco point out. Eating more whole grains has been linked to a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer.

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"This is great news in terms of getting other whole grains in your diet," says Carolyn Brown, a registered dietitian and nutritionist at FoodTrainers, in New York City. "We're always trying to diversify. Everyone's kind of stuck in this wheat rut."

But popcorn isn't always healthy, Brown adds. Movie-theater popcorn drenched in butter is the opposite of a health food, she says, and some microwave and pre-popped varieties contain artificial or less-than-healthy ingredients - such as partially hydrogenated oils - that shoppers should be mindful of.

"Not all popcorn is created equal, and you can get some nasty stuff in there, especially with the microwave popcorn."

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The healthiest way to prepare popcorn is to use plain kernels in a stove-top popper (such as a Whirley Top) or air-popper, Brown says. Adding a little olive oil or butter is fine, she adds, and popcorn can also be jazzed up with a sprinkling of low- or no-calorie flavorings such as parmesan cheese or chili pepper.

The American Chemical Society is a professional organization for chemists and scientists. Unlike the research published in scientific journals, Vinson's findings have not been thoroughly vetted by other experts in the field.

Copyright Health Magazine 2011

soundoff (728 Responses)
  1. Mike A

    This story fails to point out that the study was partially funded by the Weaver Popcorn Company. Source: WebMD.

    In other words, this study may be considered a media product placement, not serious research.

    March 26, 2012 at 02:10 | Report abuse | Reply
    • keng

      Thanks for pointing that out!!!

      March 26, 2012 at 16:41 | Report abuse |
    • Scruff

      And yet popcorn is packed with anitoxidents.

      March 26, 2012 at 20:23 | Report abuse |
    • Kenn

      What in our media isn't product placement these days...Our government has been over run by big business and most people just wake up every single day to go and be support zombies to the same mega corporations that have been poisoning us and destroying our planet for centuries. Yet we continue to contribute to the downward spiral, complain about it and do nothing to change anything since that might be uncomfortable. Almost makes me hope that the Mayan calendar is right.

      March 26, 2012 at 20:32 | Report abuse |
    • SixDegrees

      Why? Measuring how many milligrams of polyphenols any given food contains is a straightforward measurement that is easy both to obtain and to duplicate. Are you seriously suggesting that they bodged the measurements, or didn't do them at all? Criticizing the source of funding is no criticism at all; if you want to challenge the results, challenge the facts.

      March 27, 2012 at 04:50 | Report abuse |
    • WickedYeti

      SixDegrees, I think the thing that we're forgetting here is probably bio-availability. The study ground kernels down into a fine powder which is probably the most likely way to absorb it. When was the last time you used your teeth to grind a corn hull into a fine powder before swallowing it. As it stands, if most of the anti-oxidants are in the hull then they are getting excreted pretty much intact in our feces unless we develop a way to digest corn hulls.

      March 27, 2012 at 16:58 | Report abuse |
    • Loren

      Oh YES!!! Yummy antioxidants. You will need them ALL and then some to combat the bt bacteria that comes with your grain!

      March 27, 2012 at 20:21 | Report abuse |
    • Mrdifficult

      Yes, I'm sure the next study will prove that none of this is true and that popcorn is actually a carcinogen. Idiot.

      March 27, 2012 at 20:32 | Report abuse |
    • Liz Chatfield

      I see the validity of this is being question, but for popcorn lovers, Quinn Popcorn has taken All the chemicals and additives out of their microwave popcorn and the popping bag. They ditched the plastic and hydrogenated oils and replaced them with a compostable paper and pure all natural ingredients. The kernels are organic, verified through the Non-GMO Project, as are the expeller pressed oils. You might want to try it!

      April 27, 2012 at 08:36 | Report abuse |
  2. joestubbs

    Reality TV can make it seem very difficult by over-dramatizing the time and energy needed to make a saving for you and your family, i always use websites like "Official Samples" to find free products and coupons

    March 26, 2012 at 06:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Arturo Féliz-Camilo

    How cool is that?

    March 26, 2012 at 10:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Arturo Féliz-Camilo

    I guess I'll have some popcorn to celebrate!

    March 26, 2012 at 10:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. frankie

    I have been eating stove top popcorn for over 30 years,best snack out there.

    March 26, 2012 at 16:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Philippe Gollin

    What about the toxins released with microwave linked to blood cancer?

    March 26, 2012 at 17:58 | Report abuse | Reply
    • JR

      Well, you don't have to a) eat microwave popcorn or b) stick your face over the bag breathing in the aerosolized compounds in question.

      What you can do is get an air popper or use a skillet with a lid. You've got to be young if you think that microwaves are the source of all popcorn. Either that, or I'm old. LOL

      March 27, 2012 at 08:23 | Report abuse |
    • Glenn

      Real popcorn isn't made in a microwave. It is SOOO much better made the old fashioned way and tastes a whole lot better. Come on America get off your lazy A$$ and stop opting for the easy way for everything.

      March 27, 2012 at 10:43 | Report abuse |
    • AC

      JR – Your response to the comment has me just laughing so hard..... thank you for making me laugh at the end of my day. Just way to funny!!!

      March 27, 2012 at 18:02 | Report abuse |
  7. nonono

    This is a Weaver Popcorn Company sponsered study. Any company can make research seem to favor their product. It's easy.

    March 26, 2012 at 18:54 | Report abuse | Reply
    • SixDegrees

      Then please explain how the results in this study are incorrect from a scientific standpoint. Are you saying that the measurements presented are wrong? If so, why are they wrong, and what should they actually be?

      March 27, 2012 at 04:52 | Report abuse |
  8. FlavaFlavivirus

    That's assuming antioxidants are actually good for you, which is certainly not an agreed-upon fact amongst biologists.


    March 26, 2012 at 19:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Adam

    Also, I highly doubt antioxidants are bioavailable in the hull. Sure, artificially grinding them up might liberate the polyphenols, but in reality they will remain trapped in the hull and exit via feces. This is absolute BS, and is about as logical as eating bacon and expecting to lower your cholesterol.

    March 26, 2012 at 19:27 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Adam

      Please have at least one scientist validate the report before publishing it. How pathetic.

      March 26, 2012 at 19:28 | Report abuse |
    • Adam

      And how can a solvent roughly simulate the stomach environment? Solvents are more lipophilic, whereas the stomach fluid is aqueous? This is really not scientific at all.

      March 26, 2012 at 19:32 | Report abuse |
  10. Katy

    Try putting 3 tbsp of popcorn kernels in a brown paper lunch bag. Microwave for 2 minutes and voila! Microwave popcorn without the chemicals (and way cheaper too!)

    March 26, 2012 at 20:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Stan

    Great news! 🙂 I love popcorn, I agree with the comments above though, and it is certain that a bunch of salt or the dehydrated processed cheese is not good, it is also pretty low in calories which is a bonus, if you ate a half bag of the trader joes organic olive oil variety you would be eating a ThinDish for sure, definitely less than 600 cal.

    March 26, 2012 at 20:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. annie

    If you're into a healthy topping for your popcorn, try nutritional yeast. Lots of B vitamins and iron and a nice cheesy flavor.

    March 26, 2012 at 22:04 | Report abuse | Reply
    • LennyD

      Seriously? Yeast? Cheesy flavor? Being an avid homebrewer I can scientifically state that yeast does NOT taste like cheese...no way, no how. Yeesh....that's over-reaching just a little bit.

      March 27, 2012 at 08:12 | Report abuse |
    • krhtoday

      Actually, Nutritional Yeast is different than Brewers Yeast. Annie is right, it would give a nice cheesy flavor. Brewers Yeast, definitely would not.

      March 27, 2012 at 16:46 | Report abuse |
    • nothanksimdriving123

      Late girlfriend used some magic blend of yeast and tamari. It was awesome. For my saucepan / canola oil popcorn, I sometimes sprinkle paprika on it. Pretty good too.

      March 27, 2012 at 18:24 | Report abuse |
    • nothanksimdriving123

      Oh, and let's not forget to thank North America's Indians for inventing corn. Thanks!

      March 27, 2012 at 18:29 | Report abuse |
  13. nairb247

    I wonder which juice company will create the new super juice made from popcorn.

    March 26, 2012 at 22:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. s t

    well if this was a weaver sponsored study, so be it. the sad fact is that what this always boils down to is money. who else is going to pay for a study like this if not a popcorn company?? so frankly, i don't mind that it was "sponsored" by them. if you really want to know if the study has merit, read the details and fine print on how it was done, instead of poo pooing it right off the bat. i personally would love to see the study design!!!

    March 27, 2012 at 01:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. puffnfluff

    quit your whining about this study people. all you have to do to get the antioxidants is put the popcorn in your coffee grinder and turn it into a powder before you pop it. duh!

    March 27, 2012 at 03:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. LennyD

    How long before we see a popcorn supplement on the health-food shelves?

    March 27, 2012 at 08:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. James

    Best popcorn I've had http://www.popcornlovers.com/

    March 27, 2012 at 08:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Hologram

    What planet is this writer on?

    You don't "fuss up" popcorn with wierd toppings just to avoid salt and butter.

    The whole point of popcorn is comfort and enjoyment – popcorn is an inexpensive snack that fills you up and tastes wonderful and best with butter and salt. An all natural food with all natural traditional ingredients.

    I am sick and tired of all the diet promoters taking every single regular normal whole food prepared normal ways that people have been eating for decades prepared with plain and simple ingredients, calling it "bad" because it has any fat and salt in it, and then trying to make people think if they take all the fat out, put in non-traditional, non-normal seasonings and cook it non-normal ways that now somehow that food is more "health." What nonsense.

    March 27, 2012 at 08:34 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mike

      I know, right? Feel free to dump on the salt and butter with your meat and potatoes too. And gravy. What could possibly go wrong?

      March 27, 2012 at 15:17 | Report abuse |
  19. NotSoFast

    Mmmmmm....GMO corn soaked in Atrazine (Round-up). Gives popcorn that special flavor.

    March 27, 2012 at 09:25 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Gibbs

      Truth. :))))))

      March 27, 2012 at 13:45 | Report abuse |
  20. Primal

    Regardless of any of that, what it will do is spike your blood sugar and trigger your insulin response. You should stay away from foods that do this as much as possible.

    Corn is a grain in any form and grains are not good for humans, period.

    March 27, 2012 at 11:10 | Report abuse | Reply
    • MashaSobaka

      Your blood sugar is going to rise after you eat pretty much all the time. If you eat popcorn, or any grain, in moderation, you'll be okay, particularly if you pair it with protein to regulate your sugars. Diabetics should avoid it, of course, just like they should avoid many foods that non-diabetics can eat with no problem, but someone with a functioning pancreas will be fine. Don't claim that grains are the devil when we have a huge list of cultures that subsisted almost solely on grain and legumes for thousands upon thousands of years.

      March 27, 2012 at 20:09 | Report abuse |
  21. Rebecca Tait

    I make organic popcorn (Trader Joes $1.99) cooked in organic olive oil (Costco) and I add organic melted butter (Costco or Trader Joes) and top with seasalt...share it with friends.

    March 27, 2012 at 13:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. znhcats

    Popcorn indeed is a healthy snack, but DIY. My favourite recipe is organic popcorn(black pearl) with olive oil or sprinkle some curry powder or dried herbals from my garden. Simple & delicious.

    March 27, 2012 at 14:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Dino

    Popcorn-a health food??? YES!!! I'm loading up next time at the movie theater!!!

    March 27, 2012 at 16:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Johnny Birkenstock

    I only eat free-range, fair trade, organic, multi-colored, locally grown, popcorn popped in a solar popper.

    March 27, 2012 at 17:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Ann Wilson

    Popcorn is packed with the weed killer, Roundup–courtesy of the Monsanto corporation. Both corn and soy are full
    of roundup weed killer that is now actually a component of the corn kernels and soy beans.

    March 27, 2012 at 19:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Mrdifficult

    If it wasn't for weed killer, we'd have more starving people than we already do. Well, not you, obviously.

    March 27, 2012 at 20:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Corey

    They also don't mention that over 90% of corn produced in the US is GMO.

    March 27, 2012 at 22:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Justme

    I grew up on a farm and corn was used to fatten up the steers for market. Just think about it.

    March 28, 2012 at 08:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. wikilinks

    A medium-size buttered popcorn", the report said, "contains more fat than a breakfast of bacon and eggs, a Big Mac and fries, and a steak dinner combined

    March 28, 2012 at 09:01 | Report abuse | Reply
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    April 2, 2012 at 10:51 | Report abuse | Reply
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