Popcorn. It’s whats for dinner.

Next time you’re stuffing your face with popcorn, don’t feel guilty; a new scientific study shows that, far from being junk food, popcorn packs a better nutritional punch than fruit or vegetables. Kind of.

The study, conducted at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania, shows that popcorn has more antioxidants in it than fruit or vegetables. Not just that, but those pesky little husks—the ones that get stuck right between your teeth—contain incredibly high concentrations of both antioxidants and fiber. “Those hulls deserve more respect,” explains Joe Vinson, one of the researchers. “They are nutritional gold nuggets.”

In fact, Vinson seems pretty bowled over by popcorn. Speaking to Science Daily, he explains…

“Popcorn may be the perfect snack food. It’s the only snack that is 100 percent unprocessed whole grain. All other grains are processed and diluted with other ingredients, and although cereals are called “whole grain,” this simply means that over 51 percent of the weight of the product is whole grain. One serving of popcorn will provide more than 70 percent of the daily intake of whole grain. The average person only gets about half a serving of whole grains a day, and popcorn could fill that gap in a very pleasant way.”

The study found that a serving of popcorn provides up to 300 mg of polyphenols—the antioxidants in question—while a typical daily intake of fruit and vegetables provides between 200-250 mg. Vinson presented the work at the 243rd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society.

If you’re going to chow down on popcorn, though, make sure it’s the healthy kind; if possible, you should air-pop the kernels. Microwave popcorn has twice as many calories as air-popped, according to Vinson, and popping with oil in a pan can be as bad. Also, I wouldn’t give up fruit and vegetables entirely just yet. Popcorn may be good, but it doesn’t count as a balanced diet alone.

[Science Daily]