There’s no snack quite as savory as a bowl piled high with fluffy, buttery popcorn. But as certain as we are of the pleasing taste, the nutritious aspects of the popular food have been debatable. We asked Kathy Wehrle, RDN, outreach dietitian, to settle the discussion once and for all.
Popcorn: the staple snack of movie nights everywhere. While most of us probably know that the theater version, drenched in butter or coated with cheese, is not the healthiest option, what about homemade or microwave popcorn? Can some popcorn be a healthy snack alternative compared to chips and cookies? Absolutely.
Popcorn is a whole grain. In its most natural and plain state, it provides the same nutritional benefits of all the other whole grains, such as barley, oats, and brown rice. Popcorn contains dietary fiber (about 4 grams for every 4 cups of popped corn), which adds bulk to your diet and helps you feel fuller faster. It also contains polyphenols, which are antioxidants that contribute numerous health benefits for the body. One serving of plain, air-popped popcorn contains 122 calories, 1.4g of fat, 5g of fiber and 4g of protein.
There are several simple ways to prepare popcorn that retain the healthy, tasteful quality without loading on fat and calories. The closer you keep popcorn to its natural state, the more health benefits you gain. You can pop kernels the old-fashioned way, on the stove with just a small amount of oil in the bottom of a pan, or try air popping it by placing kernels in a paper bag, folding the top down, and placing it in the microwave for about 2 minutes.
Time to add those flavorful toppings:
It’s important to remember that all popcorn is not created equal. Depending on how it’s prepared, the calories and fat can skyrocket. Some microwaveable popcorn, while convenient, contains a lot of extra calories and fat and can also contain harmful additives, sugar and trans fat. If you crave the convenience of microwave popcorn, choose a light or fat-free option with fewer calories, less fat and less sodium than the regular kind.