One serving of popcorn may contain more antioxidants than a day's worth of fruits or vegetables, according to a new study by Joe Vinson, a chemist at Pennsylvania's University of Scranton, reports WebMD. Vinson calls the popped treat “the perfect snack food,” the only snack that is 100% whole grain. Whole grains have “antioxidants and a lot more fiber than most other vegetables and fruits,” Vinson said in a statement.

Antioxidants are substances found in food that prevent damage to cells and may play a protective role against cancer, heart disease and other ills. Vinson and one of his chemistry students studied the quantity of an antioxidant called polyphenol, which is found in a wide variety of plants, in four commercial brands of popcorn (two air-popped and two microwave varieties). They found that the hull of the popcorn — the annoying piece that gets stuck in your teeth — packed the highest concentration of polyphenols (90%) and fibers.

The four brands had slightly different serving sizes, from a little under an ounce to a little over. The antioxidants per serving ranged from about 242 to 363 milligrams. In comparison, they found that a serving of fruit has about 160 milligrams of polyphenols, while a single serving of sweet corn contains 114 milligrams.

Vinson presented his findings at the American Chemical Society's annual meeting in San Diego on Monday, a professional organization for chemists and scientists.

Of course, adding butter, oil and salt dilute the health benefits of popcorn, so dietitians recommend seasoning it with a healthy oil such as olive or canola and sprinkling it with spices such as chili powder, cinnamon, curry powder, dried dill or a teaspoon of grated parmesan cheese, ABC News reports.

It also doesn't mean that popcorn should replace fruits and vegetables, which contain vitamins and minerals that popcorn lacks. Dietitians say popcorn makes a good substitute for unhealthy snacks such as potato chips. Aside from the high fiber and antioxidants, a serving of four cups of air-popped popcorn has only about 100 calories.

Follow Samantha Bonar @samanthabonar.

LA Weekly