Is Popcorn Healthy?

As a result of a recent media segment I did on popcorn, it inspired me to write a blog on this irresistible, and highly popular, crunchy, salty snack. While most of us agree that it tastes pretty great and is a must-have on movie nights,  not many fully understand the how it stacks up from a nutrition standpoint.

Well, plain popcorn with absolutely NOTHING added, is just 30 calories per cup making it one of the lowest calorie snacks available.  Potato chips have up to 5 times  the amount of calories and fat per cup. Popcorn is also nutrient dense as it is rich in fiber and antioxidants. Of course, like with any other whole food, the problem starts when man gets hold of it and decides to increase the flavor by adding butter, oil, sugar and of course, salt! For example, Movie Theater popcorn, which is definitely loaded with oil, salt, and often topped with butter, can have over 200 calories per cup and is chock-full of artery-clogging saturated fat.

Having said that, whether you’re crunching on popcorn from a movie-theater, out of a sealed bag, or straight from the microwave, there are a few things to be aware of:

1) Ready-to-eat, bagged popcorn: This includes any popcorn that you can purchase in a sealed bag in the stores that is all ready to eat.  Whichever brand you choose, make sure there are no more than 2 or 3 ingredients listed (primarily popcorn, salt, and some kind of heart-healthy vegetable oil) and, no more than 40 calories and 2g of saturated fat per cup. Also check out the sodium content. If its over 400mg of sodium per serving, then look for a better brand.

Recommended Brands: Skinny Pop, Half NakedSmart Food Light.

2) Microwaved popcorn: Nothing says movie night at home better than a hot bowl of microwaved popcorn. But buyer be aware! A lot of microwave popcorn brands are swimming in sodium, saturated fat, and even trans fat. Trans-fat is the one ingredient you should NEVER eat. The other warning with microwaved popcorn is that some brands are still being manufactures with potentially harmful carcinogenic chemicals found on the inside lining of the bags.  Many trusted health professionals agree that as long as it’s not an every day snack, and you at least avoid the trans fat-containing brands, it will not pose a serious health risk.

Recommended Brands: Orville RedenbachersNewman’s Own.

3) Movie Theater Popcorn: As mentioned earlier, this type of popcorn can be by the far the most unhealthiest version. You might as well change your Friday night to dinner AT a movie instead of dinner AND a movie. Even the smallest bag has almost 700 calories and a whopping 30g of cholesterol-spiking saturated fat, and that’s not including the added butter. So next time you decide to catch a flick at the theater and a popcorn-craving strikes, either share a small size with your movie partner and get a salad for dinner, or eat before you go to prevent the urge from happening at all.

Recommended Brands: No comment.

Nick VanMeter