There is a lot to love about popcorn. It’s crunchy, satisfying, and versatile. Whole grains are also a classic snack, often enjoyed at wholesome events from county fairs to movie nights. However, if you are thinking about nutrition, you may find yourself wondering, “Is popcorn healthy?”
It depends. Popcorn can be prepared in several ways, which may affect the nutrition of the final product. This includes different cooking methods (eg, stovetop, microwave, or air blower), the types of oils used to cook the popcorn, and additional seasonings (eg salt, cheese powder, garlic powder, butter, etc.).
Needless to say, the answer to whether popcorn is healthy may not seem obvious. If you’d like a cheat sheet on feeding popcorn, find the food’s pros and cons, below.
In case you didn’t know, popcorn is made from corn kernels that have expanded or popped well. Corn kernels (and, by extension, popcorn) are a type of whole grain, which just happens to be packed with saturated fiber, according to Charmaine Jones, MS, RDN, LDN, registered dietitian and founder of Food Jonezi. Popcorn also provides modest amounts of essential vitamins and minerals, including folate, vitamin A, potassium and magnesium, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
However, as mentioned earlier, the nutritional profile of popcorn can vary greatly depending on how it is prepared. But for a general idea of the nutrient breakdown, check out the nutritional profile of three cups of regular popcorn (about 24 grams) — which is the equivalent of one serving, according to Jones — based on data from the USDA:
3 grams protein
1 gram of fat
18 grams of carbohydrates
4 grams of fiber
Again for the folks at the back: There are countless ways to make popcorn, so whether or not popcorn is healthy depends on several factors. But in general, popcorn—specifically, the kind dispersed with regular air—is considered healthy, based on the benefits below.
If you’re on a mission to fend off the relationship between meetings, look no further than popcorn. ICYMI Above, popcorn is full of fiber, which is a type of carbohydrate. Fiber helps increase satiety, or feelings of fullness and satisfaction, according to Jones. Popcorn also acts like a sponge in your gut, absorbing water and expanding. This causes the stomach receptors to release hormones [tell your brain] You’re full,” Jones explains. In contrast, you’re more likely to feel full long after eating popcorn.
Promotes regular bowel movements
As mentioned, popcorn is a high-fiber food. It’s particularly high in insoluble fiber, Jones says, which attracts water in the intestines. She adds that this increases stool volume, thus reducing the time it takes to move through the gut. This can be a game-changer if you’re consistently supported, as it can help keep you regular and potentially prevent constipation, notes Paula Dubrich, MPH, RDN, registered dietitian and founder of Happa Nutrition.
Reduces blood pressure and cholesterol
Although most of the fiber in popcorn is insoluble, it contains some soluble types as well, says Jones. Soluble fiber, as the name suggests, dissolves in water in the intestines, and this creates a gel-like substance that may help lower bad cholesterol (LDL). Soluble fiber binds to bile (a liquid containing cholesterol) forcing the bile to pass out through the stool instead of being absorbed by the body, such as appearance Previously mentioned. This reduces the absorption of total cholesterol in the body, thus reducing high cholesterol, which is a major risk factor for heart disease.
As with all good things in life, popcorn isn’t perfect; It has some flaws too. Here are some of the disadvantages of popcorn to keep in mind:
May cause digestive problems
Despite its benefits to digestion, popcorn can cause digestive problems in some people, especially when eaten in large quantities. Jones says the high fiber content in popcorn can lead to constipation, especially if you’re already prone to this problem. This can happen anytime you eat a lot of fiber quickly (from any food) without increasing your water intake. The reason: “When fiber travels through the digestive system, it needs fluid to swell and exit smoothly,” Jones explains. So, if you don’t usually eat a lot of fiber, increase your popcorn slowly and make sure you drink it.
Limited essential nutrients
Sure, popcorn contains fiber and a few vitamins and minerals…but that’s all there is to it. However, replacing most of your diet with popcorn can make it difficult for you to get all the nutrients you need. Since popcorn increases satiety, eating too much each day may cause you to consume less variety in your diet, says Jones. This can limit your intake of other essential nutrients, such as protein, healthy fats, and vitamin C. So, you want to think of popcorn as a side meal or snack, not the main event.
Not all popcorn is created equal
Back to factor how to make popcorn. Unlike air-popped popcorn, cooking popcorn on the stove often requires oil and butter, which adds calories and fat. Likewise, movie theaters and microwave popcorn are typically made with added salt and butter, Jones says. Depending on the product or recipe, other ingredients such as sugar and cheese powder may also increase the sodium, carbohydrate or fat content of the snack, ultimately changing the overall nutritional content.
It is worth noting that all foods have a place in a healthy diet. But if you need or want to limit certain ingredients, it’s helpful to stay familiar with how to make popcorn.
So, is popcorn a healthy snack?
In short, yes, popcorn is a healthy snack. “In general, all foods can be part of a healthy lifestyle, and it’s about enjoying foods that are less nutrient-dense in moderation,” Dobrich says. In the case of popcorn, “It is more about what you consume with it [rather] from the atom itself.
So, if you’re looking for the most nutritionally dense option, making popcorn at home is the way to go, Dubrich points out. This way, you can control how it is prepared and what additional ingredients are used. You can use a blower, if you are lucky enough to have one, or use a standard pot on the stove. For the healthier version, you’ll use little or no oil, but adding oil is a good thing because the fat can help increase satiety, says Dobrich. If you decide to use the oil, look for an option that has a higher smoke point, such as avocado or canola oil, she says. Fats with a low smoke point, such as coconut oil or butter, may not be ideal for higher heat [that is produced] When making popcorn on the stove,” she explains.
For flavors and toppings, use 1/2 teaspoon of salt for 3 cups of popcorn, Dubrich suggests. If you’re watching your sodium intake, you can skip it entirely or use low-sodium alternatives, such as kosher salt. Another option is to use salt-free seasonings such as seasonings (such as: garlic powder, chili powder, and dried herbs) to add flavor without excess sodium, Dubrich adds.
If you’re shopping for a bag of store-bought popcorn, try choosing salt-free or low-salt options, Jones recommends. You can also add your own seasoning to regular store-bought popcorn for a quick and healthy snack. (Pro tip: Gently sprinkle or sprinkle the popcorn with water so the spices stick.)
And if you want to enjoy some microwave or cinema popcorn? That’s perfectly fine, says Dobrich. “There’s no reason to limit occasional sweets” — again all foods can be part of a balanced diet, she says. If you’re not sure what “accidental” looks like for you, talk to your doctor or dietitian for personalized guidance.