By Kristen Hicks-Roof PhD, RDN, LDN, CLC and Kristi Chipman DCN, MS, RDN, LD, FAND
National Popcorn Day is Jan. 19. Popcorn is known for its high dietary fiber and is typically low in calories — but before you grab that large bucket of popcorn at your next movie, keep in mind that all popcorn is not created equal. Air-popped popcorn that is lightly seasoned can be a healthy snack, while movie theater popcorn and some commercial bags are usually high in fat, salt, and sometimes sugar.
Popcorn is considered a whole grain and is high in fiber. Whole grains have been linked to a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers. Using an air popper is a great way to make popcorn because it gives you control over how much butter and seasoning is added. Did you know? One cup of air popped popcorn only contains 30 calories and is virtually fat-free. Popcorn also contains folate, niacin, riboflavin, thiamin, pantothenic acid, and vitamins B6, A, E, and K. One serving of popcorn also contains eight percent of the daily value of iron.
In addition to popcorn’s whole grains, it is also high in polyphenols. Polyphenols are antioxidants that help protect cells from damage by free radicals and may improve blood circulation, digestive health, and reduce the risk of some cancers. Due to the high fiber content and low calories, popcorn can increase satiety, which may help with weight loss.
One of the more common ways to enjoy popcorn is from a microwavable bag. First, check the bag to look at added ingredients to see if they already added oils, salt, or sugar. When preparing popcorn at home, you can use 1 – 2 tablespoons of oil to help pop if you don’t like the air popper. In addition, there are lots of wonderful ways to flavor your popcorn. Some seasonings to add include flavored salts, grated parmesan cheese, salt-free seasonings, nutritional yeast, paprika, ranch dressing seasoning (powdered), or cinnamon/sugar; these can add some fun flavors to your popcorn.
Kristen Hicks-Roof PhD, RDN, LDN, CLC, FAND is an assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics, Brooks College of Health, University of North Florida.