Is popcorn healthy? The answer to this question: it depends. There are so many types to choose from: kettle corn, movie popcorn, microwave, air-popped and pre-popped, flavored varieties. Some choices are definitely much healthier than others.
Air-popped popcorn is a whole grain and has between 30-55 calories per cup. It also has 5% of your daily recommended amount of fiber and is brimming with polyphenols, an antioxidant substance that has been shown to help reduce the risk of heart disease and certain types of cancer. It can be made without the addition of oil as seen in this Food Network Kitchens’ homemade microwave popcorn recipe—made in a brown paper lunch bag!
With air-popped popcorn, you can control the added calories when it comes to add-ons like salt, Parmesan cheese, oil or butter. Check out or tips on making your own.
You can also find microwave in lighter and 100-calorie pack varieties to help you control the calories.
Theater popcorn is loaded with calories and fat. A large order of popcorn can have over 1,000 calories and close to 60 grams of fat! Even if you share it with a friend, that’s still as many calories as you should be eating in one meal.
Microwave popcorn has its drawbacks too. Many are also high in calories and fat, but the worse is the addition of the ingredient diacetyl used as in ingredient in artificial butter flavoring. This chemical has been linked to lung disease when inhaled in large amounts, specifically by employees who work at microwave popcorn manufacturing plants. Many microwave bags are also coated with perfluorinated compounds (PFCs), which has been shown to harm the immune system in kids and has been inked to cancer in animals. Many food companies are now switching to safer ingredients.
Kettle corn is an oldie but goodie. This sweet and salty popcorn was traditionally popped in a large kettle, but many home cooks make it by popping corn in a pot before seasoning it. Both oil and sugar is added—which adds both fat and sugar to the calorie count.
Pre-flavored bags of popcorn found at the grocery store are also not the best choice. They often contain much added fat and a laundry list of preservatives.
The Verdict: Go simple. Make your own air-popped popcorn and dress it up modestly. A few sprinkles of salt, sugar, herbs, Parmesan cheese or spices are all you really need.
TELL US: What’s your take on popcorn?