Is popcorn healthy? 4 benefits and the healthiest way to eat it
- Popcorn is a naturally healthy snack, but loading it with butter can double the calories.
- It also contains nutrients like potassium, iron, zinc, magnesium, and protein.
- You can pop popcorn in an air fryer or on the stovetop with a few drops of oil for a healthy snack.
- Visit Insider’s Health Reference Library for more tips.
Popcorn is more than a popular snack. Because popcorn is a fiber-rich, antioxidant-rich whole grain, it can also be a key part of a healthy diet.
Here’s a rundown of the healthiest ways to enjoy this snack and the benefits of incorporating popcorn into your diet.
How to Eat Popcorn the Healthiest Way
Although popcorn can be a high fiber, low calorie snack, your typical bag of microwave popcorn is not a healthy choice.
Pre-packaged microwave popcorn can be convenient, but those packages often contain added oils, fats, sugar and salt, says Kim Pierpont, registered dietitian at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
Instead, buy plain grains and put them on the stove. Simply place the kernels in a saucepan with a few drops of water, cover with a lid, and wait for them to pop. You can also pop popcorn in an air fryer if you have one.
And you will find that it makes a big difference in calories. Here’s how a cup of different types of popcorn stacks up:
- Air-popped popcorn contains 30 calories
- Popcorn popped in oil has 35 calories
- Lightly buttered popcorn contains 80 calories
Of course, plain popcorn won’t be as deliciously indulgent as buttery microwave options. However, you can still flavor your popcorn. Pierpoint suggests opting for low-calorie seasonings, like:
- garlic powder
- onion powder
- Cocoa powder
And you might even find you like plain popcorn “because stovetop popcorn naturally tastes great,” says Natalie Allen, RD, assistant clinical professor of biomedical sciences at Missouri State University.
Health Benefits of Popcorn
Along with its satisfying taste and crunch, popcorn is also an excellent source of fiber, antioxidants, and several vitamins and minerals that make it a great addition to a well-balanced diet. Here’s a look at four health benefits of popcorn.
1. Popcorn contains essential vitamins and minerals
A cup of air-popped popcorn contains:
A typical serving of popcorn is about three to four cups, which would total about three to four grams of fiber, which is a good amount for a snack, Allen says. This equates to about 16% of the recommended daily value of fiber for women and 10% for men.
2. May Reduce Risk of Heart Disease
Popcorn is considered a whole grain, which means it contains all parts of the grain, including the bran, endosperm and germ, Pierpoint explains.
In contrast, refined grains, such as white rice and bread, contain only the endosperm and, therefore, offer less nutritional value.
A diet high in whole grains is associated with a lower risk of heart disease. For example, a 2010 study of healthy middle-aged adults found that eating three servings of whole-grain foods daily 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 binds to cholesterol in the intestines, eliminating it through waste, says Pierpoint. Therefore, whole grains can lower cholesterol levels and improve heart health.
3. Supports Digestive Health
Popcorn is a great source of fiber, which can support digestive health, Allen says.
Because fiber helps bulk up the stool, it promotes regular bowel movements, says Pierpoint, which reduces constipation. In fact, a 2016 review found that 77% of adult participants in seven different studies successfully treated chronic constipation by consuming more dietary fiber.
Plus, whole grains contain complex carbohydrates that support a healthy gut microbiome.
4. May Reduce Risk of Certain Cancers
Popcorn is rich in a type of antioxidant called phenolic acids or polyphenols. Several studies have shown that polyphenols may reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, including breast and prostate cancer.
“Polyphenols are found naturally in plant foods and can help neutralize free radicals,” says Allen. “Free radicals can damage cells and increase the risk of
, so eating foods that fight free radicals is good for the body.”
Popcorn is a high-fiber, low-calorie, and naturally filling whole-grain snack. Consuming a diet that includes whole grains may also reduce your risk of heart disease, support your digestive health, and reduce your risk of certain cancers.
“It’s a hearty, flavorful snack that’s fun to make and good for you,” says Allen.
To prepare popcorn in the healthiest way possible, aim for the popcorn and limit toppings that are high in fat, calories, and sodium, like butter and salt.