Whether at work or at home, you’re likely to find some popcorn in the pantry. People love popcorn, which is why it’s a staple at movie theaters, fairs, and some stores.
Many people have a set view on where popcorn fits into a healthy diet; they either see it as a light and sensible between-meals treat or an artery-clogging indulgence. The truth is, popcorn can be a satisfying and healthy snack or a dietary disaster — it all depends on how you prepare it.
January is National Popcorn Month, so now is a great time to learn about why popcorn is good for us and find out how to prepare a bowl that’s both healthy and flavorful. Read on to learn more.
The Fiber in Whole-Grain Popcorn Is Something to Celebrate
One of the best nutritional qualities of popcorn is that it’s a whole grain that provides needed fiber and serves as an excellent source of energy for our bodies. Half of the grains we eat should be whole grains, but many people don’t eat enough whole grains. Popcorn provides an easy and fun way to introduce more whole grains into your diet, and the fiber in popcorn is vital to both heart and gut health. Fiber also helps us feel full, which can aid in weight management.
Besides its fiber content, popcorn also packs many vitamins and minerals in each kernel. Popcorn contains a variety of B vitamins, which play roles in converting food into energy. Popcorn also delivers folate, which helps to repair and protect DNA. You can also find iron and small amounts of other minerals in popcorn, and these minerals support overall health.
Butter and Salt Can Turn Nutritious Popcorn Into a Calorie Bomb
While popcorn is a nutritious food, it’s easy to cancel out popcorn’s health benefits when you start adding butter and salt. When choosing popcorn, air-popped without salt is the healthiest option. However, you can still enjoy a bit of fat on your popcorn if you make it with a healthier oil such as canola and avoid adding too much salt.
Canola oil is a good choice for making popcorn since it can stand up to high heat. Some oils that are normally a healthy choice, such as olive oil, burn at popcorn-popping temperatures, and burning an oil negates its health benefits.
Whenever you can, avoid adding butter and excess salt to your popcorn. You should think of buttered and salted popcorn as an indulgent treat — something you can enjoy on special occasions such as birthdays and holidays, but not every day. The same goes for sweet popcorn such as caramel corn, kettle corn, and popcorn balls, which are more like a dessert than a healthy snack.
Two Recipes for Healthy, Delicious Popcorn
Here are two of our healthiest popcorn recipes, plus a lighter sweet option.
Air-Popped Microwave Popcorn
- 1/4 cup popcorn kernels
- Lunch-size brown bag
- Place the popcorn kernels in the bag and loosely fold over the top inch of the bag.
- Microwave for 3 minutes or until there’s a pause of 3 or more seconds between each pop. Be careful as you remove and open the bag since it will be hot! Enjoy.
Traditional Stovetop Popcorn
- 1 tablespoon canola oil
- 1/2 cup popcorn kernels
- Dash of salt (optional)
- In a large saucepan, stir together canola oil and popcorn kernels. Place the lid of the saucepan slightly ajar so steam can escape.
- Cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes or until there’s a pause of 3 or more seconds between each pop. Remove from heat and pour into a bowl. Again, be careful since it will be hot! Toss with a dash of salt, if desired. Enjoy.
For a sweet popcorn treat, follow the above stovetop popcorn recipe, but instead of adding salt, toss your popcorn with 1 teaspoon sugar and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon. For interesting variations, try experimenting with seasonings such as rosemary, Italian seasoning blend, and even pumpkin spice.
Happy Popcorn Month from Forest Hills, and enjoy!
Stephanie Edson - Regional Wellness Specialist
Stephanie is an award-winning registered dietitian who believes in empowering every individual to make nutritious food choices to support a healthy lifestyle. She believes in the power of food as medicine and loves sharing about nutrition with others.