There are many foods that are actually healthy, it’s just how we prepare them that makes the food unhealthy... and popcorn is an example of one of these foods. Since October is Popcorn Month, now is a great time to take a fresh look at this nutritious snack.
While corn is typically thought of as veggie, it is really a grain which makes popcorn a whole grain too! Whole grains are better for our bodies (compared to refined grains) since whole grains are higher in fiber and phytonutrients such as antioxidants which promote health.
From the corn we find in the produce aisle to popcorn and the corn we feed livestock, there are many varieties of corn and each have different uses. Popcorn kernels are low in moisture, but high in starches which allows it to ‘pop’ once heated!
On average, 2 (non heaping) tablespoons of popcorn kernels will make about 3 cups of popped popcorn, which is one serving. 3 cups of air-popped popcorn, or one serving, contains 100 calories about 20 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of fiber, 0 grams sugar, and 3 grams of protein. Air popped popcorn is fat-free. When preparing popcorn, air-popped will be the lowest in calories since there will not be any added fat. If preparing popcorn with oil, the oil will add fat and calories. If you choose to use oil when preparing popcorn, try to use healthier oils such as canola oil, grapeseed oil, or avocado oil. Olive oil can also be used, but burns at lower temperatures so be sure not to burn the oil! Be sure to follow instructions on the popcorn hulls to make sure you use the right amount of oil.
Looking more into the nutrition of popcorn, the starches which allow the popcorn to pop are complex, healthy carbohydrates which the body converts to energy. The fiber in popcorn promotes heart health and gut health. The fiber also aids in blood sugar control and appetite control. Popcorn is also a source of a handful of vitamins and minerals including: magnesium, manganese, and B vitamins. Without artificial additives or preservatives, popcorn makes a healthy snack between meals! Pair popcorn with string cheese or mixed nuts and/or seeds for a balanced snack.
If choosing a prepackaged microwave popcorn, look for those that are natural, light, or ‘lite’ and contain less fat and salt/sodium. If you have a popcorn popper or are comfortable preparing popcorn over the stove, choose whole kernels. Here are two of our favorite recipes to prepare air-popped and traditional popcorn prepared with oil.
2 tablespoons Our Family popcorn kernel
1 Our Family flat bottom, brown lunch-size paper bag
- Open the paper bag and place the kernels inside. Fold the top over one inch two times.
- Place in bag in microwave and microwave on high for about two minutes or until the popping has slowed and has a one second gap.
- Remove the bag from the microwave and carefully open the bag. Place the kernels in a bowl, season if desired, and enjoy!
2 tablespoons Our Family canola oil
½ cup Our Family popcorn kernels plus 10 individual kernels
- Place the oil and 10 kernels in a large pot with a lid and place over medium heat on the stove.
- Once the kernels start popping, remove the pot from the heat and add in the rest of the kernels. Be careful not to splash and oil out of the pot as it is hot and will burn! Cover with lid
- Return the pot to medium heat and gently move the pot back and forth to evenly coat the kernels with oil and heat.
- Once the kernels start to pop, open the lid a little, enough to allow the steam to escape.
- Continue to gently move the pot over medium heat until the popping sound slows to about one pop per every few seconds. Remove from heat and transfer popcorn to a bowl.
- Season as desired and enjoy.
"This medical and/or nutritional information is not intended to be a substitute for individual advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition."
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.