Popcorn: A Healthier Snack Option Than You Thought

Hey, who are we to refuse an excuse to eat more of our movie theater favorite?

PopcornWait, you mean … this is good for me? (Photo by Ciaran Griffin/Stockbyte/Thinkstock)

Popcorn hasn’t always had a glowing reputation. With reports floating around of movie-goers unwittingly eating over 1,000 calories in a single bucket, some — fearing for their diets — have sworn it off all together. But would you believe me if I told you popcorn is actually an inherently healthy choice? Seriously. Not only is it naturally low in calories, but it’s also high in fiber and new research is even highlighting a whole new benefit it offers: antioxidants.

Just recently, Pennsylvania researchers delivered a presentation at the annual American Chemical Society meeting, declaring that popcorn in fact has more antioxidants (called here by their other name, polyphenols) than many fruits and vegetables. The hull — or the outer shell — has the highest concentration, and a single serving of the fluffy snack can offer up to 300 mg of polyphenols — compared to about 160mg per average serving of fruit. The study hasn’t come out yet, but the preliminary news has already boosted popcorn’s reputation above and beyond its usual claim to fame as a whole grain (which of course, also means healthy fiber, vitamins, and minerals).

There is one catch: Popcorn got its bad name in the first place because of the way it’s served, which usually means doused in butter, covered with salt, and served in an oversize bucket you need two hands to hold. In that context, it’s a terrible snack, laden with enough calories and fat to constitute a meal. However, when prepared without those toppings, popcorn has only 30 calories per cup! So if you really are looking to add popcorn to your diet, try popping corn kernels in a covered pan on the stove top or use a simple plug-in air popper. If you prefer to buy microwave popcorn, look for those options without added salt or butter — they are out there. And if you try out some of these flavoring ideas I’ve listed below, you won’t even miss the added butter and salt — I guarantee it!

  • Sprinkle popcorn with a tablespoon of grated Parmesan while it’s still hot, so it melts a little and sticks to the pops.
  • Toss with your favorite seasonings like oregano, rosemary, thyme, or garlic. You can add a teaspoon of olive oil or dust with cooking spray to help the spices stick to the kernels.
  • Add chili powder and garlic if you’re going for savory
  • Try lemon pepper for a some extra punch or,
  • If you like spice, sprinkle with cayenne or toss with your favorite hot sauce