Popcorn may only seem like a delicious snack for movie theaters and comfy nights at home, but there are also many health benefits associated with this air-popped food that most people have never heard of. The health benefits of popcorn include its ability to regulate blood sugar, lower cholesterol levels, improve the digestive process, protect against osteoporosis, prevent cancer, inhibit cognitive decline, prevent premature aging, and help you lose weight.
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What is Popcorn?
Popcorn is quite simply, a type of corn that has a hard endosperm, hull, or shell, containing a starchy interior. When this popping corn is heated, the pressure inside the hull increases and eventually a POP! occurs. There are a number of varieties of popcorn, including types that are meant to be cooked in a microwave, as well as other unaltered kernels that can be made in small appliances specifically made for popping corn.
Historically, there is evidence that popcorn has been enjoyed by cultures for more than 6,000 years, since corn (maize) has been an important part of many cultural diets in ancient times. Simple heating of that plant product over a fire would have created the very first popcorn, what a pleasant surprise! The earlier archaeological discoveries of popcorn were in Peru, but New Mexico and Central America also showed remnants of popcorn creation approximately 5,000 years ago. Popcorn can even come in different colors, if different color corn kernels are used.
Popcorn is enjoyed around the world, in nearly every place where normal corn is consumed. However, its limit as a healthy food ends when you begin pouring salt, butter, or other flavorings or toppings on the popcorn, and then it moves into the realm of unhealthy junk food. However, if popped corn is eaten plain, it is both a delicious and beneficial snack for many people. Heat alone is enough to create popcorn, so avoid cooking with olive oil or other vegetable oils, since it can impact the polyphenolic content of the hull once it “pops”, which removes a lot of the healthy benefits.
Popcorn Nutrition Facts
The health benefits of popcorn are mainly derived from its impressive content of fiber, polyphenolic compounds, antioxidant, vitamin B complex, manganese, and magnesium content. Let’s explore how these important nutrients make popcorn a healthy choice for your snacking habits!
Health Benefits of Popcorn
Eating popcorn provides energy along with many benefits that include the following:
It is important to realize that popcorn is a whole grain, which is a designation for grains that contain the endosperm, germ, and bran. This is similar to whole grain cereals, rice, and breads that also contain all three of these vital parts. Since popcorn is a natural whole grain, it contains all of the fiber from the bran, not to mention the minerals, B complex vitamins, and vitamin E that is stored there. In terms of digestion, the high fiber content keeps your body “regular”, meaning that your bowel movements move smoothly and quickly through your digestive tract and conditions like constipation are avoided. Fiber stimulates peristaltic motion of the smooth intestinal muscles and induces the secretion of digestive juices, both of which help keep your entire digestive system healthy.
Lowers Cholesterol Levels
Fiber functions in another beneficial way within the body, and whole grains contain the type of fiber which can strip off excess cholesterol from the walls of blood vessels and arteries, thereby reducing your overall cholesterol levels, and lowering your chances of dangerous cardiovascular conditions like atherosclerosis, heart attacks, and strokes. This also reduces the strain on the cardiac system, since the heart doesn’t need to work so hard to move blood through clogged vessels and arteries.
Controls Blood Sugar
The third vital role of fiber is its impact on blood sugar within the body. When the body has ample amounts of fiber, it regulates the release and management of blood sugar and insulin levels better than people with low levels of fiber. Reducing these fluctuations in blood sugar is a major bonus for diabetic patients, so popcorn is always a recommendation if you suffer from that difficult disease.
Researchers in recent years have been shocked to find an amazingly large amount of antioxidant capacity within popcorn. It used to be considered a relatively unhealthy junk food, but it now appears that the hull of popcorn contains large amounts of polyphenolic compounds, one of the more powerful types of antioxidants that you can put in your body. In fact, research has even shown that popcorn consumption can do more for the antioxidant potential in your body that a daily dose of fruits and vegetables! Antioxidants are the powerful defensive agents that scavenge and eliminate free radicals, those byproducts of cellular metabolism that are associated with a variety of diseases in the body, particularly cancer. Free radicals are notorious for mutating healthy cellular DNA into cancerous cells, which is a big problem. Popcorn can seriously help reduce those risks.
Free radicals do a lot more damage than cancer; they have been closely linked to of age-related symptoms like wrinkles, age spots, macular degeneration and blindness, muscle weakness, cognitive decline, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, hair loss, and a wide variety of other things we generally don’t look forward to as we age. Popcorn can keep you feeling healthy and happy well into your old age thanks to the powerful antioxidants that combat these effects of free radicals.
A normal cup of popped popcorn contains only 30 calories, which is approximately 5 times less than the same amount of greasy potato chips. Furthermore, the fiber content in popcorn makes you feel full, and inhibits the release of the hunger hormone, ghrelin. This can prevent overeating and keep people who are battling the bulge happy and thin, without making them feel like they aren’t eating enough. Popcorn is also very low in saturated fats, and its natural oils are primarily healthy and essential in the body.
A Few Words of Warning
Popcorn certainly seems like a healthy snack, but the vast majority of people douse it in salt, butter, or other toppings that negate much of the positive impact that popcorn can have on the body. Also, avoid pre-packaged microwave popcorn, as it usually has butter and salt already included, and the packaging has been under some speculation. Once the popcorn begins to pop, some of the chemicals in the packaging material actually break down or destroy the phenolic compounds of the hull, severely decreasing its impact on protecting your body against free radicals.
Other than these few words of warning, pop in a good movie, fix yourself a big bowl of popcorn, and get healthy!