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The Surprising Popcorn Power
Isn’t it great when research uncovers a healthy benefit of something you already love—as opposed to the usual guilt-inducing findings? Case in point: The ultimate healthy snack may be your go-to movie-watching munchie: popcorn. Turns out popcorn kernels contain more of the healthy antioxidant substances called polyphenols than fruits and vegetables, according to new research presented at a meeting of the American Chemical Society.
More from Prevention: Snacks That Power Up Weight Loss
Fruits and veggies do contain polyphenols, of course, but the antioxidants can be diluted since produce is made up of so much water. Popcorn, on the other hand, is made up of only four percent water, so the antioxidants—which help fight inflammation—are packed into those tiny kernels. (But don’t think you can skip fruits and veggies—they still offer tons of health benefits!)
This popcorn news adds to an already stellar reputation gained from being the only snack that's 100% unprocessed whole grain, says research author Joe Vinson, PhD, chemistry professor at the University of Scranton. “All other grains are processed and diluted with other ingredients, and although cereals are called ‘whole grain,’ this simply means that over 51% of the weight of the product is whole grain.” One serving of popcorn provides more than 70% of your daily suggested intake of whole grains; the average person only gets about half a serving of whole grains a day. "Popcorn," says Dr. Vinson, "could fill that gap in a very pleasant way.”
And don’t hate the hulls (those parts that get stuck in your teeth). The hulls—or as Dr. Vinson calls them, “nutritional gold nuggets”—are actually the most concentrated sources of polyphenols and fiber.
Ready to go grab some popcorn? Thereisone caveat: Most people don’t prepare popcorn in a healthy way, which means the ultimate snack can be a big diet no-no. Here’s how to make these corny kernels into a nutritious and delicious snack:
Swear off the microwave variety.The first reason? Microwave popcorn has nearly twice as many calories as the air-popped kind, and about 43 percent of those calories are from fat. Secondly, the microwave bags are lined with chemicals that could put your health at risk, which is why it earned a place on our list of 7 Foods That Should Never Cross Your Lips. Fortunately, making popcorn without the help of the packaged bags is actually super easy and budget-friendly.
- On the stove:Add some oil to a heavy-bottomed pot over medium high heat. Toss in a few kernels and once one of them pops, it’s time to add the rest. Cover the pot, but leave a little bit of room for the steam to escape. Routinely shake the pot so that the kernels at the bottom don’t burn. Once the popping comes to stop, remove from heat.
- In the microwave:Put 1/4 cup of popcorn kernels into a clean brown paper lunch bag, fold the top over a few times, and stand it up in the center of the microwave. (You can also put the kernels in a microwave-safe bowl loosely covered by a lid or towel.) Microwave on high until the popping slows to about one pop every two seconds, about two minutes.
Be choosy about the kernels.Corn is one of the most commonly genetically modified foods on the market. In fact, 85% of US corn is genetically altered. A growing number of health officials are concerned that genetically engineered foods have dire consequences on the environment—and our health. Sidestep the issue by choosing organic popcorn.
Lighten up.Instead of serving it movie theatre style, try a new flavor.Prevention’sfood director, Lori Powell, absolutely loves popcorn—without ever slathering it withbutter. Instead, she drizzles a bit of olive oil or a touch of truffle oil (a little bit goes a long way) over freshly popped popcorn, which acts like glue to various spice and herb toppings.
Video: 10 Explosive Facts about Popcorn
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