PhotoTurn up your nose at broccoli but still want to load up on healthy antioxidants? Try some popcorn instead.

Known mostly as a snack, popcorn turns out to contain more of the healthful antioxidant substances called "polyphenols" than most fruits and vegetables. Scientists who made this discovery delivered their findings this week at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

Joe Vinson, Ph.D., a pioneer in analyzing healthful components in chocolate, nuts and other common foods, explained that the polyphenols are more concentrated in popcorn, which averages only about 4 percent water, while polyphenols are diluted in the 90 percent water that makes up many fruits and vegetables.

In another surprising finding, the researchers discovered that the hull of the popcorn –– the part that everyone hates for its tendency to get caught in the teeth –– actually has the highest concentration of polyphenols and fiber.

Respect the hulls

“Those hulls deserve more respect,” said Vinson, a professor at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania. “They are nutritional gold nuggets.”

Need another reason to pop a bowl? How's this? Popcorn is the only snack that is 100 percent unprocessed whole grain. All other grains are processed and diluted with other ingredients, and although cereals are called “whole grain,” this simply means that over 51 percent of the weight of the product is whole grain.

One serving of popcorn will provide more than 70 percent of the daily intake of whole grain. 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, Vinson says.

It's all in the preparation

The downside of popcorn, of course, is how some people prepare it. Cook it in a potful of oil, slather on butter or the fake butter used in many movie theaters, pour on the salt and you've got a nutritional nightmare loaded with fat and calories.

Vinson said the most healthy way to prepare popcorn is to air pop it. That has the lowest number of calories per serving. The next healthiest method is to microwave it. But that has about twice the calories of air popped corn.

Vinson pointed out that popcorn cannot and should not replace fresh fruits and vegetables in a healthy diet. Fruits and vegetables contain vitamins and other nutrients that are critical for good health, but are missing from popcorn.

But he says an occasional serving of popcorn, prepared with a minimum of oil, butter and salt, is a pleasant way to get some extra polyphenols in your body.

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