Is popcorn a healthy snack alternative?

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Popcorn is, strictly speaking, not much more than crispy hot air. That should make the popular snack comparatively healthy, right? That’s right – as long as you make it yourself and use sugar and fat sparingly.

Archaeological excavations suggest that indigenous people in the Americas were already popping popcorn more than 4,000 years ago. That means they were way ahead of other peoples when it came to snack culture. The inflated, inexpensive corn experienced its worldwide triumph in the 1920s along with the cinema boom. The enthusiasm for it remains unbroken to this day. For some years now, scientists have been finding out more and more that popcorn – compared with chips, fruit jelly, ice cream and the like – is downright healthy. In addition to vitamins and other nutrients, the proportion of valuable antioxidants is even higher than that of many types of fruit.

Healthy nutrients found in popcorn
According to the U.S. Nutrient Database, all-natural popcorn corn is a little powerhouse. For example, 100 grams of the air-dried product contain:

Vitamin B1: 7 percent of the daily requirement
Vitamin B6: 8 percent of the daily requirement
Iron: 18 percent of the daily requirement
Vitamin B3: 12 percent of the daily requirement
Magnesium: 36 percent of the daily requirement
Phosphorus: 36 percent of the daily requirement
Potassium: 9 percent of the daily requirement
Zinc: 21 percent of daily requirement
Copper: 13 percent of daily requirement
Manganese: 56 percent of daily requirement
All wrapped up in 13 grams of protein, 78 grams of carbohydrates and 5 grams of fat, for a combined total of 387 calories.

In 2012, U.S. researchers at the University of Scranton, Pennsylvania, made a surprising discovery. In an analysis of several popular snacks – including chocolate, chips and nuts – they found that the amount of polyphenols in popcorn was as high as 300 milligrams per serving. In contrast, many fruits and vegetables contain only 160 milligrams per serving. At the same time, the popping process was found not to significantly reduce antioxidant capacity. What’s more, 100 grams contain 15 grams of dietary fiber, which puts them in the shade of all other snacks (and even whole-grain flour).

What science knows about polyphenols
Polyphenols are compounds found in all fruits and vegetables. More than 8,000 species have now been identified. Their most important property is to neutralize free radicals. Free radicals have a cell-damaging effect and, according to numerous studies, increase the risk of cancer, diabetes and various heart diseases. In turn, this means that popcorn corn (preferably organic) can make a valuable contribution to cellular health. Likewise, polyphenols can help lower blood sugar levels, contributing to said lower risk of type 2 diabetes. Last but not least, they also appear to play an important role in digestion, promoting the growth of beneficial gut bacteria while warding off harmful ones.

High fiber content helps to lose weight
Popcorn, with 15 grams per 100 grams, has more fiber than whole wheat (11 grams per 100 grams) and even more so potatoes (3 grams per 100 grams). There is actually a study where researchers compared the satiety level of potato chips with that of popcorn. With the result that 15 popcorn calories proved to be as filling as 150 chips calories. This also makes popcorn an ideal weight loss snack, or rather, figure-conscious people don’t have to worry about gaining weight. To illustrate, a small bowl of homemade, healthy popcorn contains just 35 calories.

Just no microwave popcorn
Now comes the fly in the ointment: sugared ready-to-eat popcorn that’s been loaded with plenty of fat and salt (even the kind at the movies) pretty much cancels out any health benefits. Even fancy versions with caramel, chocolate and co. are no fitness snack. Microwave popcorn proves particularly perfidious. Many microwave bags are lined with a chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which has been linked to a variety of health problems (including ADHD). Although the substance has recently been banned in the EU, it continues to be used in other countries.

Microwave popcorn may also contain diacetyl (artificial butter flavoring), which is considered controversial. It has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease, according to studies, and has been shown to pollute the lungs. In addition, there are harmful trans fats, which are suspected of damaging the heart in the long run. All in all, hands off!

How to make delicious and healthy popcorn yourself
Popcorn corn doesn’t need any fat to pop. All it takes is a little hot air. The slim version can also be made at home in a pan without a popcorn machine. The important thing is to use a coated pan and freshly purchased kernels. So not the ones that have been waiting in the pantry for two years.

Of all the popular snack classics, popcorn is by far the best choice. When crunched in the homemade version, you don’t even feel like you’re cutting back or giving up anything. “Popcorn kernels are nutritional gold nuggets,” explains study leader Joe Vinson in the analysis cited at the beginning of this article. He points out, however, that the snack can of course never completely replace fruits and vegetables. Still, his conclusion is that “popcorn may be the perfect healthy snack food. And it’s the only one that’s 100 percent unprocessed whole grain.”

  • source: Friederike Ostermeyer |Fitbook.com/picture: pixabay.com
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