Popcorn, anyone?

Published 11:36 am Tuesday, November 1, 2022

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Today’s comfort food might be considered junk food by many, but that could not be further from the truth. The word popcorn was included in the John Russell Bartlett’s Dictionary of Americanisms in 1838, but this snack has been around for quite a while. In fact, the oldest piece of popcorn was discovered in New Mexico and was over 5000 years old.       

Popcorn is a special type of corn that “pops” when exposed to heat. As popcorn gets hot, water at the center of each kernel expands, building pressure, causing the kernel to explode. 

Popcorn isn’t just some delicious treat. It’s actually a superfood…but why? Popcorn is packed with healthful oils, vitamins, minerals, protein, carbohydrates, and many other essential nutrients. Some folks might not realize it, but popcorn is a whole-grain food, and studies demonstrate that whole-grain consumption is linked to reduced inflammation and decreased risk of coronary disease. Also, for those concerned about genetically modified foods (GMO), the good news is popcorn is a distinct type of corn from field and sweet corn and has not been genetically modified. 

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Popcorn should become an essential part of folk’s diets as they seek healthier snack alternatives. Here are a few of popcorn’s healthful benefits. Popcorn is gluten-free. Gluten is a general name for the proteins found in wheat, rye, barley, and triticale. Gluten can trigger an autoimmune response in some individuals. Since popcorn doesn’t contain gluten, it is an excellent choice for men and women who have dietary restrictions or choose a gluten-free diet.

Popcorn is a rich source of nutrients, including vitamins B1, B3, and B6, and minerals such as iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper and manganese, and it is a low glycemic index food which means it causes blood sugar levels to rise and fall slowly. Diets with low glycemic foods may help folks with type 1 and type 2 diabetes improve their glucose and lipid (fat) blood levels. 

Since popcorn is a whole-grain food, it’s rich in dietary fiber, with 3.6 grams per ounce. Fiber makes you feel fuller longer, and since popcorn is low in calories with only 106 per ounce, it’s actually a great food for those trying to lose weight. Popcorn is also rich in polyphenols. Polyphenols are antioxidants that help protect cells from damage by free radicals. Studies show that polyphenols may reduce the risk of cancer, including prostate and breast cancer. Popcorn is packed with polyphenols. In fact, popcorn has four times more polyphenols than the average amount found in fruit.

Here are a few more popcorn facts. The first commercial popcorn machine was invented by Charles Cretors in 1885. In 1938, Midwestern theater owner Glen W. Dickson became the first to install popcorn machines in the lobbies of his cinemas. Most movie theaters earn more profit from popcorn sales than ticket sales. In 1949, popcorn was temporarily banned from movie theaters for being too loud of a snack. Unpopped popcorn kernels have been called “old maids” or “spinsters.” Popcorn has three common shapes: rice, South American, and pearl. Pearl is the most popular popcorn shape. 

Nebraska produces the most popcorn in America, around 250 million pounds per year. Popcorn is the official state snack of Illinois. Americans eat about 17 billion quarts of popcorn a year. National Popcorn Day is January 19. October is National Popcorn month.  Popcorn can reach up to 3 feet in distance when popping.  Microwave popcorn was invented by Pillsbury in 1982. During the World War II sugar shortage, Americans ate three times more popcorn. 

David Crocker is a nutritionist and master personal trainer. Questions? Email David at dwcrocker77@gmail.com, or text to 864-494-6215.