Dismissed as a snack, popcorn and other whole grain cereals, including popular breakfast cereals, contain "surprisingly large" amounts of polyphenol, a type of anti-oxidant linked to lower risk of heart disease, cancer and other diseases.
These were the findings of a study led by Joe Vinson, chemist at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania (US-P), which also funded the research.
Polyphenols remove free radicals (chemicals that can damage cells and tissue) from the body. They are present in fruits, vegetables and other foods like chocolate, wine, coffee and tea.
But while these foods have all been widely researched, no one until now knew that commercial hot and cold whole grain cereals, already counted as "healthy" because of their fibre content, were also a rich dietary source of the antioxidants.
Over two-thirds of the American diet comprises breakfast cereals, pasta, crackers and salty snacks, said the researchers.
Vinson said that everyone was under the impression, because of early research, that the main health value of whole grains was the fibre, and that this was the active ingredient that also accounted for their link with reduced risk of cancer and heart disease.
But what he and his colleagues found was that whole grain foods have similar levels of antioxidants per gram as fruits and vegetables, said a release of US-P.
"This is the first study to examine total phenol antioxidants in breakfast cereals and snacks, whereas previous studies have measured free antioxidants in the products," explained Vinson.