Popcorn Contains Antioxidants? Who Knew?

My husband came home from work the other day with a spring in his step and a piece of paper in his hand. He triumphantly placed it in front of me as I sat at the computer doing research for a freelance assignment. “I’ve always told you that popcorn was good for you, and now here’s the proof,” he beamed.

Picking up the sheet he printed off of a news site also reported by Dr Mercola here, I took a quick glance at the headline “Popcorn Contains More Antioxidants Than Fruits and Vegetables”. It summarized details of a study conducted at the University of Scranton that found that popped corn serves up twice as much antioxidants as the foods we’ve been trying to eat to stay healthy.

girl eating popcorn

I immediately knew I would be eating crow, as well as eating more popcorn. For the ten years we have been married, I’ve rejected any and all notions that my husband’s favorite food was actually good for you. Of course I knew that it offered a healthy amount of fiber, but beyond that I thought it was about as nutritious as packing styrofoam.

I looked up from the paper and saw his face glowing with a mixture of vindication and relief akin to a death row prisoner being acquitted after years behind bars. I wish I could tell you that describing it as such was cheesy hyperbole, but no. My husband is undoubtedly the world’s foremost connoisseur of all things popcorn (challengers pay heed), and for the last 50 years has shot down anyone who has told him that his nightly treat was nothing but junk food.

I read on. Apparently a Scranton professor of chemistry, Joe Vinson, Ph.D., and one of his students Michael Coco, found that compared to fruit, popcorn has a greater concentration of polyphenols, a type of antioxidant purported to defend the body against free radical damage to cells.  A number of degenerative diseases including cancer and diabetes are known to be caused by harmful free radical reactions.

By grinding up corn kernels and popped corn, the researchers found the amount of polyphenols was up to 300 mg a serving compared to 114 mg for a serving of sweet corn and 160 mg for all fruits per serving. Popcorn is about 4% water compared to most fruits which average about 90% water, which helps explain the higher concentration.  And similar to fruit, the greatest amount of antioxidants are found in the skin, or hull.

I found that I was right on the fiber issue: Vinson notes that popcorn is the only 100% whole grain food (did you know that according to the Whole Grains Council, food only has to have 51% whole grain to be labeled “whole grain”?)

However, there’s always a caveat when someone releases a pioneering study on nutrition.  Of course you know what Vinson said next:  you can benefit from the polyphenols in popcorn, but you’re defeating the purpose if you load it with butter, salt, caramel, cheese or any of the other glorious toppings that make popcorn so incredibly tasty.

My husband cooks his in organic olive oil and puts on a bit of organic butter (healthier than margarine any day) and a bit of organic sea salt.  I don’t know if Vinson would approve, but if my husband’s health history is any proof, forget the apple—a bowl of popcorn a day keeps the doctor away