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Breakfast Cereal and Popcorn Are Rich Sources of Polyphenols

Aug. 18, 2009 -- Whole grains pack a powerful antioxidant punch along with their well-known fiber muscle, according to a new study.

For the first time, researchers have measured the total antioxidant content of many popular breakfast cereals and whole-grain snacks, and it turns out that the fiber powerhouses are also heavyweights in the cancer-fighting antioxidant division as well.

Raisin Bran and popcorn topped the list, but the study shows that many other popular whole-grain breakfast cereals and snacks may be an overlooked source of healthy antioxidants known as polyphenols.

Polyphenols are often associated with the seeds and skins of fruits and vegetables and are a major reason why wine, chocolate, and coffee have been become well known for their potential role in fighting cancer, heart disease, and other ailments.

"Early researchers thought the fiber was the active ingredient for these benefits in whole grains, the reason why they may reduce the risk of cancer and coronary heart disease," researcher Joe Vinson, PhD, of the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania, says in a news release. "But recently, polyphenols emerged as potentially more important. Breakfast cereals, pasta, crackers, and salty snacks constitute over 66% of whole grain intake in the U.S. diet."

Grains Have Antioxidants, Too

The study, presented this week at a meeting of the American Chemical Society, measured the total polyphenol content of nine whole-grain flours, 28 ready-to-eat breakfast cereals, four hot cereals, and 38 grain-based foods and snacks, including pasta, crackers, chips, and popcorn.

"We found that, in fact, whole-grain products have comparable antioxidants per gram to fruits and vegetables,” Vinson says.

Based on the typical serving size, researchers say that oat cereals had the most antioxidants, followed by corn, wheat, hot oat cereals, and rice cereals.

Of the breakfast cereals tested, Raisin Bran had the highest antioxidant count per serving at 524 milligrams. But researchers say this was primarily because of the addition of phenol-rich raisins.

The results showed a wide variation in the antioxidant content of each class of cold cereals. For example, cinnamon- and cocoa-flavored cereals were much higher in antioxidants than would be expected from their grain content alone.

Researchers say bran cereals made from wheat are not much higher in antioxidants than other wheat cereals, but they have more fiber. Whole-grain flours were also very high in antioxidants.

Among snack foods, the results showed that popcorn had the highest levels of antioxidant polyphenols.

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