Hi, hello, welcome! You’re probably here because you’re wondering: Is popcorn healthy? Well, good news: Yes, popcorn is healthy (so long as it’s prepared a certain way), and there are tons of fun and delicious ways to enjoy it as a snack.
Here, you’ll find the answers to all of your burning popcorn questions with info from the experts: registered dietitian nutritionist Maya Feller, MS, RD, CDN, founder of Maya Feller Nutrition and adjunct professor at New York University. And registered dietitian Nathalie Rhone, MS, RDN, CDN, founder of Nutrition by Nathalie.
Let’s get popping, shall we?
Popcorn nutrition facts
OK, so we’ve established that popcorn is healthy. But what does “healthy” mean anyway? Turns out, the answer is pretty nuanced and person-dependent, explains Feller. Factors like your age, health status, food tolerances, cultural background, religious beliefs, socioeconomic status, and where you live can determine what “healthy” means for you, she explains. Also, what’s healthy for you can change over time. For example, what’s healthy for you in your 20s may look different than what’s healthy for you during menopause.
Still, we know from research that certain types of food increase our risk of developing diseases, and other types of food reduce that risk. And popcorn—when in its minimally processed, air-popped form—falls into the latter category. Which means yes, popcorn technically is healthy. But a better way to think about it is that popcorn can be part of a pattern of eating that supports good health, says Feller.
OK, so what are the nutrition benefits of popcorn? For starters, it’s literally a whole-grain, says Feller. Whole grains, compared to other types of grains, are better sources of fiber and other vital nutrients, including B vitamins, iron, folate, selenium, potassium and magnesium, according to the Mayo Clinic.
The high-fiber content of popcorn—3 cups of air-popped popcorn supplies about 3.6 grams of fiber, according to the USDA—is important on several counts. Fiber feeds the good bacteria in your gut, which is involved in immune function and helps keep the body in balance, says Feller. Fiber also helps keep your GI system regular and your blood sugars level. Moreover, fiber can help regulate your blood lipids, which informs your total cholesterol. “People who consume whole grains and higher fiber as a regular part of how they eat tend to have better blood lipid profiles,” says Feller.
Another perk of popcorn is that it contains a good amount of antioxidants, says Rhone. In particular, popcorn contains polyphenols, according to the American Heart Association News, which “are antioxidants that have been linked to better blood circulation and digestive health, as well as a potentially lower risk of certain cancers.”
On top of its stellar nutrition profile, popcorn is also a shelf-stable, affordable, and tasty snack.
Types of popcorn
To get the most health benefits from popcorn, you’ll want to scope the nutrition facts first. “Not all popcorn is created equal,” says Rhone. “The way popcorn is prepared significantly impacts its nutritional quality.”
Your best bet, say Rhone, is to air-pop kernels in a pot at home rather than eating microwave popcorn or movie theater popcorn. That way, you have control over how your popcorn is seasoned (i.e. the type and amount of oil you use and the amount of salt it contains). If you’re buying pre-packaged popcorn, try to find a brand that’s minimally processed, suggests Feller, and stay away from butter popcorn. Most importantly, read the nutrition label. Skip popcorn that contains partially hydrogenated oils and trans fat, which has been linked to poor health outcomes, says Feller, and saturated fat. And note the added sugar and salt levels so you can make an informed decision, she adds. For example, if you want popcorn for dessert, you might be OK with a higher level of added sugar than if you want popcorn as a nutritious snack in between meals.
When it comes to store-bought popcorn, Rhone likes LesserEvil popcorn made with coconut oil and avocado oil, and Trader Joe’s popcorn made with olive oil. Feller is a big fan of BjornQorn and Now Foods organic popcorn kernels. No matter what kind of popcorn you choose, Rhone encourages eating it mindfully and paying attention to your body’s fullness cues. You can start by portioning it out into a bowl instead of munching straight from the bag.
Popcorn for certain health conditions and goals
You may have heard that popcorn is a good snack for weight loss and other health goals or conditions. The truth though? There are so many different factors that influence your ability to achieve health goals, and no one snack food is going to be the magic solution that helps you get there. A better approach, says Feller, is to check out the nutrition facts label on your popcorn and use that info to make an informed choice about how eating that popcorn would fit into your overall health plan.
Popcorn recipes and suggestions
Air-popped popcorn can be a delicious and nutritious snack by itself, but there are also tons of ways to jazz it up with seasonings and flavors without making it gloriously unhealthy.
Here are some of Feller’s and Rhone’s favorite seasonings and toppings for plain air-popped popcorn—get creative and have fun with it.
Tamari almonds, edamame, raisins or dried blueberries
Olive oil, chopped parsley, parmesan cheese
Coconut oil, cinnamon
Olive oil, paprika, chili powder, salt
Olive oil, salt, pepper, lemon zest, parsley
Chopped seaweed, sesame seeds
Cashews, dark chocolate chips
Originally Appeared on Glamour