Happy National Popcorn Day!
According to The Popcorn Board, Americans consume about 13 billion quarts of popcorn annually; that’s about 41 quarts per person.1 From caramel to Sriracha, popcorn is available in both sweet and savory flavor profiles, which may be why we like it so much.
Nutritionally speaking, popcorn has a lot of offer. If consumed in the right portion and prepared in a healthful manner, popcorn makes for a nutritious and delicious treat. It’s naturally 100% whole grain and gluten-free. It’s also low in calories and a source of dietary fiber. In fact, a 3 cup serving of air-popped popcorn has less than 100 calories and about 1 gram of total fat, 3.5 grams dietary fiber, and only 2 milligrams sodium. Another interesting fact? According to the Popcorn Board, “there has never been, nor is there currently, any Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) popcorn or popcorn seed for sale in the U.S.”1
The problem arises when fat, sodium, and sugar are added to popcorn. A tub of movie-theater popcorn can have over 1,000 calories, 37 milligrams saturated fat, and up to 1,500 milligrams of sodium. Of course, this can vary based on a number of factors, but it goes to show how a healthy food can easily become a vehicle to disaster. So how do we keep popcorn healthy? Here are 5 tips that will allow you to enjoy popcorn free of guilt.
- Buy it pre-portioned. Purchase pre-portioned bags of popcorn, such as Medifast’s Cheddar & Sour Cream Popcorn or Sea Salt Popcorn, to keep portion sizes in check. Look for options with 100 calories or less per serving that have little to no saturated fat and sodium.
- Keep it simple. Sometimes less is more. Be sure to check the ingredient list on the food package so that you know what’s been added to it. Avoid popcorn that has a lot of added fat, salt, and sugar.
- Season with herbs & spices. Boost flavor and nutrition by adding herbs and spices to your popcorn instead of butter, salt, and other less healthful seasonings. Try chili powder and lime juice, nutritional yeast and rosemary, or cayenne pepper and cinnamon.
- Go light on the fats. Opt for healthy fats when possible, namely mono- and polyunsaturated fats, which can be found in olive, canola, sunflower, peanut, and flax seed oil. Lightly drizzle or measure out a small amount to add so that your popcorn doesn’t get too calorically dense. Avoid the unhealthy fats, including saturated and trans fats, which are found in butter and coconut or palm oil.
- Think outside the bag. Mix popcorn with your favorite roasted nuts, seeds, and dried fruit for a heart-healthy snack, or add it to soup as a garnish.
Looking for a lower carbohydrate alternative? Try cauliflower popcorn! Simply roast small cauliflower florets with a light drizzle of olive oil and then season with herbs and spices.
- Facts & Fun. The Popcorn Board Website. http://www.popcorn.org/Facts-Fun/Corny-Facts. Updated in 2015. Accessed December 31, 2015.