- Popcorn is a naturally healthy snack, but loading it with butter can double the calories.
- It also contains nutrients such as potassium, iron, zinc, magnesium and protein.
- You can pop popcorn in an air fryer or on the stove with a few drops of oil for a healthy snack.
- Visit Insider’s Health Reference Library for more tips.
Popcorn is more than just a popular snack. Since popcorn is a fiber-rich whole grain rich in antioxidants, it can also be an essential part of a healthy diet.
Here’s a look at the healthiest ways to enjoy this snack and the benefits of including popcorn in your diet.
How to eat popcorn the healthiest way
While popcorn can be a high-fiber, low-calorie snack, your typical bag of microwave popcorn isn’t a healthy choice.
Prepackaged popcorn in the microwave can be convenient, but these packages often contain added oils, fats, sugar, and salt, says Kim Pierpont, a registered dietitian at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
Instead, buy regular kernels and put them on the stove. Simply put the cereal in a pan with a few drops of water, cover it with a lid, and wait for it to explode. You can also pop popcorn in an air fryer if you have one.
And you’ll find that it makes a huge difference in calories. Here’s how to stack one cup of different types of popcorn:
- Popped popcorn contains 30 calories
- Popcorn with oil contains 35 calories
- Low-fat popcorn contains 80 calories
Of course, air-popped popcorn won’t be nearly as ordinary as the microwaveable buttercream options. You can still taste your popcorn. Pierpoint suggests choosing low-calorie condiments, such as:
- garlic powder
- onion powder
- cocoa powder
And you might even discover that you like regular air-popped popcorn “because stove-top popcorn naturally has a great flavor,” says Natalie Allen, M.D., assistant clinical professor of biomedical sciences at Missouri State University.
Health benefits of popcorn
In addition to its satisfying taste and delicious taste, popcorn is also a great source of fiber, antioxidants, and several vitamins and minerals that make it a great addition to a complete diet. Here’s a look at the four health benefits of popcorn.
1. Popcorn contains essential vitamins and minerals
One cup of air-popped popcorn contains:
A typical serving of popcorn is about three to four cups, for a total of about three to four grams of fiber, which is a good amount for a snack, says Allen. This equates to about 16% of the recommended daily value for fiber for women and 10% for men.
2. May reduce the risk of heart disease
Popcorn is considered a whole grain, which means it contains all parts of the grain, including the bran, endosperm, and embryo, says Pierpoint.
By contrast, refined grains, such as white rice and bread, contain only the endosperm and as a result offer less nutritional value.
Eating a diet rich in whole grains is associated with a lower risk of heart disease. For example, a 2010 study of healthy middle-aged adults found that daily consumption of three portions of whole-grain foods significantly reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease by lowering blood pressure.
Not only can whole grains lower blood pressure, but the soluble fiber they contain bind to cholesterol in the gut, removing it through waste products, Pierpoint says. As a result, whole grains can lower cholesterol levels and improve heart health.
3. Supports digestive health
Allen says that popcorn is a great source of fiber that can promote digestive health.
Because fiber helps increase stool bulk, Pierpoint says, it promotes regular bowel movements, reducing constipation. In fact, a 2016 review found that 77% of adult participants in seven different studies were successful in treating chronic constipation by consuming more dietary fiber.
Plus, whole grains contain complex carbohydrates that promote a healthy gut microbiome.
4. May reduce the risk of some types of cancer
Popcorn is rich in a type of antioxidant known as phenolic acids or polyphenols. Several studies have shown that polyphenols may reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer, including breast cancer and prostate cancer.
“Polyphenols are found naturally in plant foods and can help neutralize free radicals,” says Allen. “Free radicals can cause damage to cells and increase the risk of infection.”
So eating foods that fight free radicals is good for the body.”
Popcorn is a high-fiber, whole-grain snack that is naturally low in calories and filling. Eating a diet that includes whole grains may also reduce the risk of heart disease, support digestive health, and reduce the risk of certain cancers.
“It’s a filling, delicious snack that’s fun to prepare and good for you,” says Allen.
To make popcorn in the healthiest way possible, aim for an airy topping and limit additives that are high in fat, calories, and sodium, such as butter and salt.