Popcorn power: Why whole grains are healthier than we thought

Think popcorn is a forbidden food? Think again. Research shows that whole grains can be as healthy as fruits and vegetables

Popcorn power: Why whole grains are healthier than we thought

Source: Best Health Magazine, March/April 2009

We always knew grains were good for us, since they’re so high in fibre. Now scientists are saying they might have levels of antioxidants similar to fruit and vegetables.

When grains are unprocessed, as in oatmeal, popcorn and unrefined flour, they have more antioxidants than previously thought, says Joe Vinson, a professor of chemistry at The University of Scranton in Pennsylvania, who is now testing a new method for determining the amount of antioxidants in various foods.

‘Grains are comparable in concentration of antioxidants to fruit and vegetables,’ says Vinson, adding that while berries and other colourful foods are high in anthocyanin antioxidants, grains are high in phenolic acid antioxidants, which may be easier for the body to absorb.

And that’s important because antioxidants protect against cell damage, offering a host of anti-inflammatory, anti-aging and anti-cancer benefits, says Vancouver-based registered dietitian Ramona Josephson.

Also, a research scientist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Elsayed Abdelaal, is developing purple and blue wheats grown in Saskatchewan for commercial use because of their anthocyanin properties, and he is fortifying grains with lutein to prevent cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. His research suggests that antioxidants in grains also help to inhibit oxidation of bad cholesterol and fight free radicals.

‘Most of the antioxidants, which are phytochemicals, are located in the outer layers of the grain,’ says Abdelaal. Processing strips grains of their fibre and antioxidants. When buying grain foods such as bread or cereal, check the ingredient list, says Josephson. ”’Whole’ should be the first word on the list.’

The power of popcorn

Popcorn scores high in antioxidants on Vinson’s analysis test of whole grains, compared to other grain snacks such as crackers and tortilla chips.

‘The key to good health is how the popcorn is prepared,‘ says Josephson, who suggests using an air popper. When it’s popped, spritz with olive oil and toss with Parmesan cheese or garlic powder for a healthy snack.
‘Adding globs of butter will defeat any health benefit.’

This article was originally titled “Good news about grains!” in the March/April 2010 issue of Best Health. Subscribe today to get the full Best Health experience’and never miss an issue!’and make sure to check out what’s new in the latest issue of Best Health.