Popcorn got a bad rap, nutritionally speaking, back in the ’90s, when a health group released a report that condemned it for being a fatty, salty, nutritional disaster.
But, really, they were just talking about movie popcorn, which is popped in oil and often drenched in butter flavoring. On its own, popcorn can actually be a healthy snack, and a good alternative to other salty snacks like chips!
Seriously, it is. Without the extra salt and fat, popcorn is a whole grain that is low in calories (less than 30 calories per popped cup) and high in fiber (about 1 gram per cup.) Alone, it doesn’t contain sugar, salt, or fat.
Of course, that changes if you pop it in a lot of oil, add a ton of butter, or turn it into kettle corn, with both salt and sugar. But there are ways to enjoy your popcorn and maintain a healthy diet, too:
- Go old school: Invest in an airpopper, and you cut the fat and calories to almost nothing. (Choose some of the add-ins below to give it more flavor.) Or, you can use an old-fashioned popper that uses oil, but just cut way back on the oil. A quarter cup of popcorn kernels, which will produce at least 8 cups of popped corn, will pop in a tablespoon of oil, or less, in a regular popper. That tablespoon of oil will add about 120 calories. Don’t have a popper? You can make popcorn in a heavy-bottomed, covered skillet on the stovetop. Shake it occasionally while the corn is popping, to get more kernels to pop.
- Easy, cheesy: Sprinkle air-popped or lowfat popcorn with parmesan cheese or another hard grated cheese, like Mexican cotija, for a burst of flavor without too much extra fat.
- Spice it up: Instead of just plain salt, sprinkle popped corn with a bit of your favorite herbs, like powdered garlic, onion salt or garlic salt, chile powder or crushed red pepper. To get the spices to stick better to air-popped corn, you can mist with a tiny bit of water or a butter-flavor spray.
- Practice portion control. Three cups of air-popped popcorn – a decent-size serving – is just about 100 calories. Add a tiny bit of butter and your favorite flavorings, and you’re still looking at a satisfying, 150-calorie snack. If you eat microwave popcorn, look for “lite” versions, which can contain half as much fat as other varieties, and either buy individual-size bags, or make sure you find someone to share the bag!
- Popcorn trail mix: Skip butter or oil, and add a sprinkle of good-for-you snacks to your bowl of popcorn, like dried cherries, raisins, pumpkin seeds, slivered almonds or chopped dates.