Popcorn and Chocolate: Some Wisdom Before You Start Scarfing It Down in the Name of Health

Categories: Wake Up Call


Why is the Swedish chef stuffing a Costco flat of popcorn into the microwave? Probably because he heard the findings announced by a researcher from the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania. In short: Air-popped popcorn is not only delicious but also contains high concentrations of a type of anti-oxidants called polyphenols.

Perhaps even more exciting news is in an Archive of Internal Medicine journal report claiming that "moderate frequent" chocolate consumption correlates to lower body mass indexes (BMI). In other words, everything else being equal (or as statistically equal as the researchers could make it), healthy people who workout, eat right, and consume a moderate amount of chocolate tend to be skinnier than similar folk.

chocolate cupcake.jpg
Gina Guillotine/Flickr
Sadly, just because chocolate is good for you doesn't mean this is.
Reality Time:
You should not run out and stuff your face with chocolate-covered popcorn whilst canceling your gym membership. Some key points you want to keep in mind.

1. These foods are not going to magically make you healthier. This is particularly true in the case of popcorn. Buried at the bottom of the press release is this vital nugget, "By quantifying and identifying the polyphenols in popcorn; some predictions about their bioactivity can be made." The keyword there is "predictions," these researchers have figured out how much of this wonder chemical is in popped corn but their study didn't identify if any of it actually makes it into your body and if any of that actually has a positive effect on your health. The fancy science term for this is "bioavailability." They may be making some very educated guesses but further studies would have to be conducted to see if it actually makes you healthier. The case for chocolate is a bit stronger though. There have already been studies demonstrating the positive health benefits of pounding down moderate quantities of the holy cacao. But again, this is only a correlation study so future research will need to identify exactly what it is about eating chocolate that makes you less fat. In fact the New York Times story notes that this research also identifies that people who are gobbling down large quantities of chocolate at each sitting tend to have, surprise, a higher BMI.
2. The wonder chemical mentioned in both of these reports, polyphenols, are a general class of chemicals produced by plants. Some of them are helpful, some may not be, some we don't know yet. For the love of all that is holy, please do not start buying everything that trumpets, "Now with more polyphenols!" More is not better, especially when it comes to a healthy diet.
3. The take home lesson here should be: If you have a healthy lifestyle don't be afraid to eat some chocolate and snack on some popcorn. If you're not leading a healthy lifestyle, smashing chocolate-covered popcorn into your face is not going to make your life appreciably better.

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