A new study has revealed that the popular snack popcorn is actually a nutritious food, and contains more antioxidants and fiber than any other snack food. In addition, many popular oat-based breakfast cereals and whole-grain snacks have also been found to be great sources of these healthy ingredients, rivaling fruits and vegetables in their antioxidant content.
The study findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society, by Professor Joe Vinson.
According to Vinson, there are a number of reasons that popcorn is good for you. Foods like cereal and popcorn may provide disease-fighting antioxidants. He says, "The more processed the grain is, you're losing nutrients and antioxidants." He added, "The closer you can get to the plant, the better off you are." And, popcorn is a whole grain, after all.
He explained that the antioxidants contained in popcorn are well protected from the sun during the drying process. The corn then loses only a small amount when popped, and these processes do not remove the fiber from the whole grain. Regarding preparation of the popcorn, Vinson points out, "If you can air-pop your popcorn and then add a minimal amount of salt, you'd have the best popcorn."
The problem is that many people load the snack with butter, sugar and salt, and this makes all the difference between a nutritious snack and junk food. The same can be said for the increasingly popular tortilla chip. Vinson explained that although tortilla chips are made with whole grain corn, they are alkali-processed, which destroys a good portion of the antioxidants.
The researchers also found that almost all whole-grain breakfast cereals, as well as many common grain-based snacks, contain considerable amounts of polyphenols, which are a form of antioxidant believed to offer key health benefits.
Polyphenols are known to have anti-inflammatory properties and research also suggests that they can reduce the risk for many diseases including cancer. Polyphenols occur naturally in plants and are the most plentiful antioxidant. According to Vinson, "Early researchers thought the fiber was the active ingredient for these benefits in whole grains -the reason why they may reduce the risk of cancer and coronary heart disease. But recently, polyphenols emerged as potentially more important. Breakfast cereals, pasta, crackers and salty snacks constitute over 66 percent of whole grain intake in the U.S. diet."
Regarding the results of the study, Vinson stated, "We found that, in fact, whole-grain products have comparable antioxidants per gram to fruits and vegetables." He further added, "This is the first study to examine total phenol antioxidants in breakfast cereals and snacks, whereas previous studies have measured free antioxidants in the products."
The researchers found that the highest content of polyphenols were contained in whole-grain corn or oats cereals at about 0.2 percent by weight per box, while wheat-based cereals contained an average of 0.07 percent, and rice cereals contained only 0.05 percent. Although raisin bran had the highest content of 3 percent by weight, Vinson credited the higher polyphenols content to the raisins present in the cereal. For snacks, the researchers found popcorn to contain the highest content of polyphenols at 2.6 percent, followed by whole-grain crackers at 0.45 percent.
However, remember that moderation is the key when it comes to consumption of these foods. Many cereals also contain excessive amounts of sugar, and other ingredients that are not so good for you.