Next time you’re craving a crunchy, guilt-free snack, get popping. Turns out popcorn packs even more cancer- and heart disease-fighting antioxidants than most fruits and vegetables.
Researchers from the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania found that since popcorn is composed of just 4% water, it has a higher concentration of antioxidant substances called polyphenols than in vegetables, which are about 90% water. The hulls—the hard parts that get stuck in your teeth—are where the magic happens. “They are nutritional gold nuggets,” said study author Joe Vinson, Ph.D., in a press release.
Vinson also touted popcorn’s other health benefits. “One serving will provide more than 70% of the daily intake of whole grain,” he said. “The average person only gets about half a serving of whole grains a day, and popcorn could fill that gap in a very pleasant way.” It’s also full of fiber, which may help lower your risk of heart disease and diabetes and aid in weight loss. (Related: 8 Surprising Foods for Heart Health)
Keep in mind that popcorn can quickly turn into a nutritional nightmare. In fact, if you stock your pantry with microwaveable bags of Pop Secret, you won’t be doing your health any favors. "Microwave popcorn has twice as many calories as air-popped,” said Vinson. “About 43% of it is fat.” You’ll also want to steer clear of the butter-drenched movie-theater variety. The smallest serving typically has close to 1,000 calories.
Vinson also cautions against replacing fresh fruits and veggies with popcorn. Produce contains critical vitamins and nutrients that the salty stuff lacks. (Related: 5 Healthier TV Snacks)
As long as you air-pop your own kernels and flavor it using just a light coating of salt and oil, though, you’ll have a near-perfect snack. One plain cup is fat-free and just 30 calories.
More Healthy Snack Ideas: Try the Eat This, Not That No-Diet Diet today!