The Health Benefits Of Plain Popcorn

Movie theater staple packs in cancer-fighting antioxidants.
Kirk Zamieroski, Contributor

(Inside Science TV) -- Nothing goes better with a summer blockbuster than freshly popped popcorn. But, popcorn can become a nutritional nightmare once it is drenched in butter and salt. Now, chemist Joe Vinson and his team at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania are looking at the unsung health benefits of plain, unadorned popcorn.

“Microwave popcorn is healthier than other snacks. It has more fiber, more polyphenols, and less calories, less fat,” said Vinson.

According to Vinson's research, one serving of popcorn contains high levels of healthy antioxidants called polyphenols. 

 “You’re getting about 200 milligrams of antioxidants per serving size, and for comparison purposes, an average person eats about two grams of polyphenols per day,” explained Vinson.

Fruits and vegetables are also high in this antioxidant, but because of their high water content the healthy antioxidants are diluted. 

“So on a weight basis, popcorn is high in antioxidants because it doesn’t have water,” said Vinson.

In fact, the new study found that the amount of polyphenols found in popcorn was up to 300 milligrams per serving compared to 114 milligrams per serving of sweet corn and 160 milligrams per serving in any fruit. In addition, one serving of popcorn could provide 13 percent of an average intake of polyphenols a day per person in the U.S.

Polyphenols may combat deadly diseases like cancer and heart disease, but none of popcorn’s great health benefits are found in the white fluffy part of the food

“If you want the maximum benefit to your health – the fiber and the antioxidants – then you need to eat that little kernel, despite the fact that it sticks between your teeth,” Vinson said.

Researchers also said that microwaving, or air-popping, popcorn does not affect its antioxidant levels. 

Despite its health benefits, popcorn cannot replace fruits and vegetables in a healthy diet because they contain other essential vitamins and minerals that are absent in popcorn. 

But if you’re craving a crunchy, healthy snack, look no further than a bag of microwavable popcorn.

Get inside the science:

Popcorn: The snack with even higher antioxidants levels than fruits and vegetables

Popcorn Study Puts Faculty Member and Student in National Spotlight

Joe Vinson – The University of Scranton

Author Bio & Story Archive

Kirk Zamieroski is a science filmmaker and contributor to the American Chemical Society's video blog, Bytesize Science.