Scientist: Popcorn may be perfect snack food

Popcorn may not be as bad for your health as you thought. In fact, it may be the perfect snack food, according to a researcher.

Scientists reported that popcorn may contain as many or more of a healthful antioxidant than fruits and vegetables.

The compounds, called polyphenols, are in produce, red wine and chocolate and are known to fight cancer.

Researchers said they found the compounds in popcorn by grinding up popped kernels and their waxy hulls and simulating the digestion process that would normally occur in the stomach. They discovered that about 1.5 percent by weight of air-popped popcorn is made up of polyphenols.

Joe Vinson, a professor of chemistry at University of Scranton, presented the findings on Sunday at the American Chemical Society meeting.

Vinson said that the polyphenols are more concentrated in popcorn, which averages only about 4 percent water. By comparison, polyphenols in fruits and vegetables are diluted because much of the produce is 90 percent water, according to a news release .

"Popcorn may be the perfect snack food," Vinson said. "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."

And you might just want to endure those hulls when they get stuck in your teeth: The study also said hulls have the highest concentration of polyphenols and fiber.

"Those hulls deserve more respect," Vinson said. "They are nutritional gold nuggets."

TIME reported that about two tablespoons of kernels, or 33 grams of popped corn, provides about 500 mg of polyphenols. That's about half of what the average American consumes in polyphenols each day.

Popcorn can also be a good source of fiber because it is 100 percent whole grain. Its health value diminishes if you don't air pop it and you smother it in butter, oil or salt.

Vinson did caution against substituting popcorn for fruits and vegetables since produce has a lot of other nutritious vitamins and minerals that you don't get from popcorn.

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