If you have ever wondered if eating popcorn might be bad for your health, I am going to expose you to a little secret.
Popcorn is a healthy and tasty snack. In fact, my doctor even suggested popcorn when I was experiencing issues with my digestive system. I am not going to argue with a doctor.
Now I am sure my doctor is not referring to the popcorn buckets you can buy when you go and watch a movie that is full of salt and way too much butter.
Yet when you remove all the extras, popcorn is in fact nutritionally amazing. Here is more information about my analysis which is fact-checked on popcorn.
What is popcorn?
Just about everyone thinks about popcorn as those chewy and crunchy clouds that you enjoy eating while you watch a movie. But do you know how popcorn came to be?
Popcorn is derived from a maize variety and is classified as one of the whole-grain products. The scientific name for this corn is Zea Mays Everta and looks just about identical to what we more commonly know as corn-on-the-cob.
The primary differences have to do with that this corn is the sole variety that has kernels that can pop.
The popcorn seeds are bred selectively to produce desirable traits like improved popping success and favorable grain color. Most of the popcorn supply for the world is grown in a Midwestern region in the USA known as the “Corn Belt.” (source)
What is happening when the popcorn pops?
The kernels of popcorn contain moisture and oil in small amounts. When they are exposed to heat, the liquids develop pressurized steam.
As this pressure continues to increase in the hard shells, they eventually reach a breaking point at 356 °F or 180 °C.
The popping sound produces when these shells rupture and the inside of these kernels expand by turning inside out.
A snack that is 5,000 years old
The oldest popcorn that was ever found came from New Mexico from about 5,600 years ago. (source).
This corn was also used commonly by the Aztecs, for garlands and strings that formed a part of the ceremonial costumes during the festivals that honored the Rain, God.
What are the health benefits associated with popcorn?
1) Low in calories
Popcorn on its own is a low-calorie snack. The air-popped popcorn contains about 31 calories in a cup which makes it one of the best diet foods.
Many other snacks contain far more calories such as a bag of crisps or chocolate bar containing about 250 calories or even a banana that contains a minimum of 100 calories. (source)
2) Low in fat
If you are following a diet that is low in fat, popcorn is one of your safest choices. A single cup of popcorn contains under 1 gram in fat. (source)
However, due to its low fat and low protein content, it means that this food source is not very satisfying, and it won’t make you feel full. It is better to use popcorn to satisfy a craving for savory rather than using it to replace a meal.
3) High in fiber
This is the reason why my doctor suggested popcorn to assist with boosting my digestion.
It is usually difficult to get enough fiber in your diet with a daily recommended allowance of between 25g to 35g.
4) Popcorn is an unprocessed whole grain
There is a lot of hype surrounding whole-grain lately and for a very good reason. The nutritional benefits and fiber content is something that we should include more of in our diets.
Yet, whole-grain versions of the basics like cereals, flour, and bread, often cost a lot more than the originals. On the other hand, one bag of popcorn kernels is cheap, and they contain 100% unprocessed whole-grains.
5) They contain plenty of antioxidants
Another popular buzzword when it comes to nutrition would be antioxidants.
The exact benefits have not yet been pinned down, but the research is starting to look promising directing towards the prevention of conditions such as heart disease and cancer.
Researchers from the University of Scranton discovered that popcorn contains a high level of antioxidant polyphenols compared to many other vegetables, fruits or whole-grain foods.
If you suffer from Coeliac disease or perhaps you prefer to follow a gluten-free lifestyle, one of the safer snacks to consider would be popcorn.
7) Heart-healthy snack
Air-popped, plain popcorn is free from sugar, sodium, and cholesterol.
This is a great choice for people with diabetes that suffer from hypertension, provided you do not add any salty or fatty seasonings. I have included a few healthy recipes below.
8) Low-GI food
You may have heard of GI which stands for Glycemic Index before. It is the term that describes blood-sugar levels after you have eaten carbohydrates.
The food type with a lower GI will keep the blood-sugar level, which provides an energy supply that is constant. This stops you from getting hungry for longer. (source)
9) Contains trace amounts of minerals and vitamins
One of the things that popcorn does not have much of is a mineral and vitamin content. There is, however, a tiny amount of just about everything but not nearly enough to impact your daily recommended allowances.
However, popcorn still contains trace amounts of iron, copper, thiamin, zinc, phosphorous, niacin, manganese, B6, manganese, magnesium and folate.
When will be eating popcorn bad for you?
I have already provided nine good reasons why popcorn is beneficial for your health, but before you use it as an everyday snack here are a few considerations to keep in mind.
You need to use sense when you decide how to eat popcorn. This is because there are many unhealthy options.
Popcorn on its own may be healthy, but when you cover it in sugar, salt or butter, the health effects change dramatically. This is true for any other food type such as broccoli or sweet potatoes.
Eating a bucket-load of popcorn such as the type that you buy from the movie theaters is not such a great idea. A portion size that is reasonable should not exceed two cups.
The popcorn from movie theatres is usually popped using coconut oil, with a large bucket containing around 60 grams or more of fat.
One tablespoon of butter will add 102 calories, while a ¼ teaspoon of salt will add around 600 mg of sodium. The daily sodium limit is 1,500mg, so when you are heavy-handed with the salt, it is putting your health and heart at risk. (source)
So, you may think that it is a healthier option to prepare the popcorn from home. Yet pre-packaged microwave popcorn is also associated with its disadvantages. I recently learned that the compound known as diacetyl that is found in “artificial butter flavoring” could result in lung disease.
Also, the bag that you pop the popcorn is probably coated with PFCs which stands for perfluorinated compounds, which are chemicals that suppress the immune functions, especially in children or cause cancer when it comes to animals.
Most of the microwave popcorns also contains trans fats that increase the levels of “bad cholesterol.”
It does matter how you prepare your popcorn
From what I have mentioned earlier, it makes sense that it does matter about the way you are cooking your popcorn. The better method would be air-popping, which is simple to do from home using a plain paper bag and your microwave.
To prepare air-popped popcorn, use 3 to 4 tablespoons of plain popcorn kernels inside a paper bag.
Close the top of your paper bag by folding it twice and then put into the microwave for around two minutes, or until you hear that the popping has slowed down significantly. (source)
If you are eating popcorn every day, it is suggested to buy a dedicated and reliable air popper. Another method to prepare popcorn from home is in a pot on a stovetop. This method does require a little bit of oil.
Pour enough kernels to layer the bottom part of the pot, spray the kernels with a bit of olive oil and close the pot with a lid.
Set the temperature to medium heat, shaking the pot frequently to avoid burning the kernels. The popcorn is ready when the popping sound has just about stopped.
Healthy popcorn recipes
If plain popcorn is not appealing to you, here are a couple of healthy recipes:
– Sprinkle the popcorn lightly with black pepper and grated parmesan
– Make your own Italian herb seasoning with garlic powder, oregano, and basil
– Nutritional yeast is a great vegan option
– Sprinkle with cinnamon and dark chocolate shavings
– A pinch of chili powder and sea salt
My kitchen cupboard is always stocked with at least one bag of popcorn kernels, they last for a long time, and they are cheap.
This healthy snack is simple and quick to prepare when a craving strikes. I am sure this article has given you more insight and answered the question: “is eating popcorn bad for you?”