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Popcorn Nutrition Facts: Is Popcorn a Healthy Snack?

What is Popcorn?

Popcorn, which is also called popped corn, is a low-calorie snack prepared by popping kernels of maize. Once popped, they are usually coated in some kind of topping, whether that be sugar, butter, or a spice blend. You can buy pre-popped popcorn at most grocery stores and you can find freshly popped corn in many places, especially in movie theaters and fairs.

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The Nutritional Profile of Popcorn

Popcorn is one of the world's healthier snacks, especially when it's stovetop popcorn without any additional seasonings. It is loaded with essential nutrients and provides a wide range of health benefits.

However, it is often prepared with high levels of fat, sugar, and sodium, which may lead to weight gain. For this reason, it's important to prepare your popcorn the right way. You can make it healthy or unhealthy depending on how you cook it.

Below is a breakdown of the nutritional profile of 100 grams of plain air-popped popcorn, when it has no toppings or additives:

Vitamin B1 (Thiamin): 7% of the RDI.
Vitamin B3 (Niacin): 12% of the RDI.
Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine): 8% of the RDI.
Iron: 18% of the RDI.
Magnesium: 36% of the RDI.
Phosphorus: 36% of the RDI.
Potassium: 9% of the RDI.
Zinc: 21% of the RDI.
Copper: 13% of the RDI.
Manganese: 56% of the RDI.

    100 grams of air-popped popcorn is equal to 387 calories, 13 grams of protein, and 15 grams of fiber, making it a low-calorie, high source of fiber, healthy snack.  

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    Is Popcorn Healthy or Unhealthy?

    Popcorn is one of the most nutritious snack foods around, according to nutrition experts. A single serving of homemade air-popped popcorn made from fresh popcorn kernels contains just 30 calories, less than half the amount found in a typical bag of microwave popcorn. Plus, popcorn is loaded with vitamins like vitamin K and folate as well as minerals like potassium and magnesium.

    While popcorn isn't a complete source of protein, it does contain significant amounts of zinc, iron, copper, and manganese. Plus, unlike sugary treats, popcorn doesn't spike blood sugar levels. That's because popcorn is made up primarily of air, water, carbohydrates, and very few grams of fat. 

    Obviously, the type of popcorn you consume makes a big difference, and it will change the fat content, saturate content, and overall calorie count. For example, homemade popcorn with no added toppings is extremely healthy, but when you start adding things such as butter, sugar, and salt, you instantly increase the calories per cup.

     

    What is a Healthy Portion Size of Popcorn?

    A serving of popped corn is roughly four to five cups popped, which is approximately the amount one gets from two tablespoons of unpopped corn and will make up roughly a small bowl of popcorn. A serving of air-pooped corn contains about 120 to 150 calories. This is a healthy amount of your favorite snack. 

    If you are working off of serving sizes of pre-made popcorn, you can safely assume that most of the sizes of movie theater popcorn you get are too big to be considered a healthy serving for one person. The small bags of microwavable popcorn are closer to the true serving size.

     

    Is It OK to Eat Popcorn Every Day?

    You can eat popcorn every day if it’s air-popped and topped and topped with ingredients that are not high in fat, salt or sugar. Popcorn is high in good nutrients and has a high fiber content. It’s a healthy alternative compared to other snacks which is why many people on a diet eat it regularly. 

     

    Is Popcorn Safe for Everyone?

    Just like with all other foods, popcorn is safe for everyone in moderation. Plain popcorn which has not had anything added to it, is safe for everyone to eat. However, when you start adding things such as melted butter or an excess of sugar to this popular snack food, that's when you start to enter dangerous waters, especially if you have compromised heart health, digestive health, or an underlying condition such as diabetes. 

     

    Health Benefits of Popcorn

    Lots of Polyphenol Antioxidants 

    Popcorn is high in polyphenol antioxidants. These compounds are found in plants and fruits. They are associated with numerous health benefits, such as improving cardiovascular health, reducing inflammation, preventing certain types of cancers, and protecting against age-related macular degeneration. 

    High in Fiber

    Popcorn contains about 5 grams of fiber per cup of popcorn kernels. This is actually pretty good considering it’s one of the few foods that you can eat without feeling guilty. Many people don’t realize how important fiber is; it helps regulate blood sugar levels and keeps our bowels healthy. In fact, according to research, dietary fiber might even lower the risk of some chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes.

    Eating It May Help With Weight Loss

    Studies suggest that people who consume popcorn regularly tend to weigh less than those who don't. Researchers looked at data from nearly 40,000 participants in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey over a 10-year period. Participants completed surveys about how often they ate popcorn and weighed themselves every four years.

    Over the course of the study, researchers saw that participants who reported eating popcorn once a week had lower body mass indexes (BMIs) than those who didn't eat popcorn at all. The findings suggest that eating popcorn could lead to weight loss because it provides a feeling of fullness without adding extra calories. This makes sense since popcorn doesn't contain much fat or added sugar. 

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    How to make healthy popcorn

    Making healthy popcorn is super easy and recipes are simple to follow. All you need to do is throw your popcorn kernels into a stove pot, cover it in some oil over medium-high heat and wait for it to pop.

    Healthy cooking oil options

    Below are some of the most popular cooking oils that you can use to pop your popcorn:

    Extra virgin olive oil: You can absolutely make popcorn with extra virgin olive oil as long it is cooked over medium heat. Extra virgin olive oil is the healthiest option.
    Coconut oil: Movie theaters cook popcorn in coconut oil and it's delicious. Choose unrefined coconut oil, which has more redeeming qualities than the highly refined version sold at movie theaters.
    Vegetable oils: Grapeseed oil, avocado oil, and sunflower oil are all good options to cook popcorn.

      Healthy seasoning options

      Here are some of the most delicious popcorn toppings which are a crowd pleaser:

      Black pepper and olives: This combination might sound odd, but if you like savory popcorn, you should definitely give it a go!
      Cinnamon honey butter: This popcorn is sticky but it's irresistible. Mix together 2 tablespoons of softened butter (melted), 1 tablespoon of honey or maple sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon. Then, sprinkle it with cayenne, red pepper flakes, or freshly cracked black pepper.
      Spices: You can sprinkle your popcorn with chili powder, cayenne pepper, paprika, cumin, garlic salt, or onion powder.
      Nutritional yeast: This is an excellent vegan option that provides a rich buttery flavor.

         

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