The consumption of popcorn is associated with a substantially higher intake of whole grains and dietary fibre, says research, indicating its benefits as a healthy snack.
The study was funded by international company ConAgra and published this month in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.
Researchers used data from the 1999-2002 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) to determine average popcorn consumption among Americans.
Popcorn consumers were identified as people who ate any amount of popcorn within the 24 hour period before taking the survey.
It found that people who ate an average of 38.8 grams of popcorn a day had about 2.5 servings of whole grains a day - about 250 per cent more than the 0.7 servings consumed by people who do not eat popcorn.
Popcorn eaters also had an intake of 18.1 grams of dietary fibre per day, which is 22 per cent higher than non-eaters who consumed 14.9 grams, according to the study.
The researchers said that this intake pattern could not be attributed entirely to popcorn consumption.
"Popcorn may offer a healthful alternative to energy-dense, low-nutrient-dense snacks, and may have the potential to improve nutrient status in Americans of all ages and help them meet dietary guideline recommendations to consume three whole-grain servings per day," they concluded.
However, according to a Whole Grain Awareness survey conducted on behalf of popcorn manufacturer Orville Redenbacher, only 12 per cent of Americans know popcorn is whole grain.
This suggests anopportunity for marketing directed at flagging up the health benefits as health and wellness become increasingly influential in consumer choices.
Whole grains have received considerable attention in the last year, especially in the US where the FDA permits foods containing at least 51 per cent whole grains by weight and also low in total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol, to carry a health claim linking them to a reduced risk of heart disease and certain cancers.
It is recommended that Americans eat three or more one ounce servings of whole grain per day. However, according to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), fewer than 10 per cent of Americans meet this recommendation.
Dietary guidelines also recommend a daily consumption of 28 grams of fibre.
"Snacks account for one third of whole grain consumption, and popcorn is the most popular whole grain snack food," said Kristin Reimers, manager of nutrition for ConAgra.
According to ConAgra, this is the first study to investigate popcorn consumption among American consumers and to examine its association with nutrient intakes using the NHANES 1999 to 2002 database.
The survey identified 910 participants out of 15,506 (6 per cent) as being popcorn eaters.
Total grain consumption was found to be higher (20.8 percent), and total meat consumption lower (14.9 percent), in popcorn eaters.
Popcorn consumption was reported to be higher among females than males, as well as among whites than those from other ethnic groups, and consumers were most likely to be aged between 12 and 19 years old.
Journal of the American Dietetic Association
May 2008, 108(5):853-6
"Popcorn Consumption and Dietary and Physiological Parameters of US Children and Adults: Analysis of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 1999-2002 Dietary Survey Data"
Authors: AC Grandjean, VL Fulgoni, KJ Reimers, S Agarwal.