Popcorn fans eat more whole grain: study

People who snack on popcorn may consume more whole grains and less meat than their peers who don’t, new research shows.

Fewer than 10 percent of Americans meet current dietary guidelines recommending they eat at least three servings of whole grain foods each day, Dr. Ann C. Grandjean of The Center for Human Nutrition in Omaha, Nebraska and her colleagues note the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. Popcorn is a whole-grain product and whole grains have been tied to a number of health benefits, including reduced heart disease and diabetes risk, they add.

To investigate the role of popcorn in the US diet, Grandjean and her team looked at data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey for 1999-2002, in which a nationally representative sample of 15,506 Americans reported what they had eaten in the past 24 hours.

Six percent of the study participants had eaten popcorn in the past day. On average, popcorn eaters consumed 38.8 grams (about 12 cups) of popcorn per day.

Compared with people who did not eat popcorn, those that did had roughly 250 percent higher intake of whole grains (2.5 versus 0.70 servings per day) and approximately 22 percent higher intake of fiber (18.1 versus 14.9 grams per day), the researchers found.

Popcorn eaters also had higher overall grain consumption and lower meat consumption.

Popcorn eaters also got more magnesium and carbohydrates than non-popcorn eaters. While people who ate popcorn consumed less protein, niacin and folate, they were still getting enough of these nutrients based on Institute of Medicine requirements.

There was no relationship between eating popcorn and heart disease risk factors such as obesity and High cholesterol, the researchers found.

“The present findings support that popcorn may offer a healthful alternative to high-energy-dense, low-nutrient-dense snacks,” Grandjean and her colleagues say.

More studies are needed, they conclude, to confirm the findings and to determine if eating popcorn can indeed help increase people’s whole grain intake over time.

ConAgra Foods, which makes several brands of popcorn, funded the study.

SOURCE: Journal of the American Dietetic Association, May 2008.

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