Summer 2012

Kernel of Truth

Just how good for you is popcorn, anyway?

Popcorn, already known to be a good source of fiber, contains higher levels of beneficial antioxidants than some fruits and vegetables, according to a recent study. The big question is how much of those antioxidants does the body absorb?

Researchers at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania analyzed four commercial brands of popcorn for antioxidants called polyphenols that are concentrated in the hulls. These compounds are found in a wide variety of plants. Generally speaking, antioxidants undo the damage that can be done by unstable molecules known as “free radicals.”

The four brands tested had slightly different serving sizes, from a little under an ounce to just over an ounce. Antioxidants per serving ranged from 242 to 363 milligrams (mg). By comparison, a serving of fruits contains about 160 mg.

While the study is a good first step, it wasn’t designed to measure health benefits, notes Jeffrey B. Blumberg, a professor of nutrition at the Friedman School and director of the Antioxidants Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts, where he studies polyphenols and other substances in whole grains.

“We already know whole grains are good for you,” he says. The next step is to figure out how much of popcorn’s good stuff gets out of the hulls and into your gut.

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