Monday, April 9, 2012

The Antioxidant Punch of Popcorn

Jennifer Koslo, PhD, RD, CSSD, CPT
FT Faculty: Health & Wellness & Nutrition Dept

Did you see the news the other week about popcorn? Popcorn was already classified as a whole grain by the USDA but now it turns out that it has a high level of antioxidants too. Before I go any further, remove any wishful thinking you have in your head about ordering the large bucket of popcorn the next time you are at the movies. That isn’t exactly what I am talking about here and to make sure I hit home that point I want to share research completed in 2009 by the Center for Science in the Public Interest on movie popcorn. They found that small popcorn sold at 3 of the top theaters contained from 400 to 700 calories and the large contained from 900 to 1200 calories. Just about all sizes contained a day’s worth of fat or more and were cooked in unhealthy hydrogenated oils
 So let’s refocus and zero in on popcorn you can either make at home or buy in the bag that is of the healthier variety.

Researchers at the University of Scranton reported that popcorn contains a hefty dose of a class of antioxidants called “polyphenols” and enough to rival the content found in fruits and vegetables. The reason for the higher content the researchers reasoned is that popcorn contains far less water than fruits and vegetables, making the level of polyphenols more concentrated. For example, popcorn is about 4 percent water compared to fruits and vegetables which are about 90% water. Interestingly, at about the same time that this study was published I read an article on results of a study completed by the International Food Information Council (IFITC) on consumer’s awareness of the function of antioxidants. Unfortunately it turns out that most people really just don’t know what they do

Antioxidants basically protect our cells and act to counteract the effects of damage done to them by a variety of means including environmental pollutants, a poor diet and even physical activity. Polyphenols are just one of many classes of antioxidants within that group. The hull of popcorn (the part that gets stuck in your teeth) is high in a compound called ferulic acid. Ferulic acid is also found in beans, corn, rice, wheat, barley and other grains and is protective against a host of chronic diseases like cancer and diabetes.

But, and there is always a “but” when it comes to science, because the ferulic acid is in the hull which is largely indigestible it isn’t clear whether or not the compound stays in the body long enough to produce much of a health benefit. So before you jump ahead and substitute popcorn in place of your salad, remember that moderation is the name of the game. As I mentioned earlier popcorn is a whole grain and is a good source of fiber so if you currently snack on refined foods like pretzels and chips, think about replacing them some lightly salted, lightly buttered popcorn.


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