Is Popcorn a Healthy Snack?
Popcorn is easy to make into a healthy treat. It is also a great choice because it’s, well, snackable. A bowl of it won’t disappear before you make your way to the couch. So, grab a bag of this inexpensive and easy-to-find crowd-pleaser.
Without any additives, plain popcorn is:
- a whole grain
- a great source of dietary fiber
- low fat
- low calorie
- low in sodium
- naturally gluten-free
Fiber (which is found only in whole grains and other plant-based foods) is a smart component of any snack because it makes you feel full and satisfied and helps ease bowel movements. Eating a high-fiber diet, including whole grains like popcorn, may help regulate your blood sugar, lower your cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and improve your gut health with good bacteria. All of these potential benefits of eating more fiber may help lower your risk for heart disease, diabetes and colon cancer.
Popcorn provides essential vitamins and minerals.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a one-cup serving of plain, air-popped popcorn provides approximately:
- 31 calories
- 1.16 grams of fiber
- 1 gram of protein
- a moderate amount of the daily recommended doses of magnesium, Vitamin B6 and iron
Popcorn’s nutritional content makes it a better snack choice than pretzels, which are also low in fat but don’t provide fiber and protein, and potato chips, which are typically high in fat, sodium and calories.
Pour on the flavor.
While plain, air-popped corn is the simplest and most health-conscious choice, you might be craving the movie theater version dripping with buttery flavor. You may have already guessed it: that isn’t real butter. Plus, that XL tub of popcorn isn’t low in fat, calories, or sodium.
At home, instead of microwaving “butter-flavored” popcorn, pop the corn kernels in a pot on the stove in one to two tablespoons of a plant-based oil like avocado or extra virgin olive oil, or drizzle a small amount of oil on top of warm, air-popped/microwaved plain popcorn.
If you’re seeking a cheesy treat, sprinkle a bowl of warm popcorn with grated parmesan (and cracked black pepper, if you like) or nutritional yeast (which is a vegan product with a naturally nutty, cheese-like flavor and a good source of protein and fiber).
Get creative, and mix a little oil with dried seasonings and herbs like:
- crushed red pepper flakes
- chili salt/powder
Level up your snack game with:
- Tajin chili seasoning and lime juice
- truffle-infused oil or salt
- your favorite hot sauce (can be thinned out with olive oil or lime juice, if needed)
- coconut oil and curry powder
- olive oil and herb/seasoning blends (like everything bagel or avocado toast seasonings)
- toasted sesame oil and black sesame seeds
- trail mix: mix popcorn with nuts, dried fruit, and toasted sunflower or pumpkin seeds
For your sweet tooth, add:
- a drizzle of hot/spicy honey
- honey infused with vanilla, cocoa, bourbon, lavender or truffle
- coconut oil and cocoa powder (add monk fruit powder to sweeten, if needed)
However, you and your family prefer to snack, keep portion size in mind, and limit added fats and sugars for a heart-healthy treat.
Dana Kantrowitz is a contributing writer for UHealth’s news service.
Medically reviewed by Federika Garcia, M.S., RDN, LDN, CNSC, Clinical Nutrition Manager – Oncology Nutrition, with Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, part of the University of Miami Health System.