Healthy Eating Help: Is Popcorn Healthy?

Article posted in: Diet & Nutrition Experts’ Corner

If popcorn is your go-to snack, you’re in luck: Popcorn can be a great addition to your healthy diet. Just as long as you’re making smart choices.

Plain, air-popped popcorn is definitely a nutritious snack option. Popcorn kernels are whole grains so they deliver fiber, vitamins and minerals. Also, one cup of air-popped popcorn only contains around 30 calories, making it a great low-calorie snack selection if you’re trying to lose weight. Unfortunately, though, it doesn’t take much to sabotage popcorn’s health benefits. Start adding butter and salt and it can quickly become a junk food.

Nutrisystem’s Registered Dietitian, Courtney McCormick, gave us the low-down on how to keep your popcorn healthy:

Be Careful with the Toppings

cinnamon sugar popcorn healthy

According to McCormick, while popcorn itself is healthy, people often go astray when they start adding toppings. Adding butter can quickly increase calories and fat, while going heavy on the salt shaker can easily sneak your sodium well above daily requirements. And caramel might add a lot of flavor, but with that flavor comes extra calories and sugar.

“For the truly healthiest popcorn, stick with air-popped and add your own flavor by adding herbs and spices,” suggests McCormick. Plain, air-popped popcorn is an excellent vehicle for adding healthy herbs and spices to your diet that you wouldn’t otherwise be getting. “These go a long way in flavor, but provide fewer calories, sodium and sugar,” she explains. McCormick’s favorite toppings include “curry powder, Italian seasoning, chili powder, apple or pumpkin pie spices or even a small amount of Parmesan cheese.”

Have some fun and get creative!

Whether you have a sweet tooth or crave a salty snack, there are many healthy variations on some of your favorite versions of popcorn so that you don’t have to feel like you’re missing out. The possibilities are really only limited to your imagination. Check out our awesomely sweet and healthy recipe on for Strawberry Chocolate Covered Protein Popcorn here on The Leaf.

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Popcorn & the Movies

You may feel like popcorn and the movies go together like peanut butter and jelly. But it hasn’t always been that way. In fact, according to a Smithsonian Magazine article on the history of popcorn, movie theater owners initially wanted nothing to do with the messy snack. Americans’ love affair with popcorn at the movies appears to have grown out of the Great Depression, when theater owners no longer cared as much about keeping their rugs pristine as they did about surviving financial ruin. Popcorn was an inexpensive snack that the average moviegoer could afford and that extra revenue helped keep theaters afloat.

While popcorn might feel like a staple snack during a trip to the movies, you should recognize that you’re not getting a healthy, air-popped treat when you order movie theater popcorn. According to McCormick, movie theater popcorn is loaded with calories, saturated fat and sodium. And it’s almost always sold in portions that are way above a normal serving size. For example, one major movie theater chain has 11 cups of popcorn in their small size and the calories in a movie theater popcorn can range anywhere from 600 to 1,200 calories!

So although it’d be ideal to forgo the popcorn, if you feel it’s a necessary splurge, McCormick suggests choosing the kid size and aiming to eat only half. “Just be realistic with yourself and ask if you can truly limit yourself to half,” says McCormick. “If you can’t, maybe give half to a friend or even ask the movie theater staff to only fill it half way.” Better yet, Nutrisystem offers Popcorn and White Cheddar Popcorn, so sneak some in some of your own!

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So Is It Healthy? The Answer is YES—Sort Of

To sum it up: Yes, popcorn is a healthy treat—as long as you are opting for air-popped and being mindful about your toppings. If you’re a regular popcorn eater, consider an air popper machine that will make your life much easier. All you need is plain kernels and heat. Avoid any popping method that requires you to add too much oil as that will automatically add fat. Keeping it simple will make it healthy—and that will go a long way in helping you maintain good eating habits.