Probably my favorite nutrition fun fact, and one I share with family, friends, and pretty much anyone who will listen, is that popcorn is a whole grain! My reasons for spreading this fact far and wide are twofold: First, I love popcorn (love it!) and second, popcorn has gotten an unfair reputation over the years as a junk food that should be avoided.
In its pure, unadulterated form, popcorn is an incredibly healthy snack. Popcorn is low in calories and fat and a good source of fiber, per data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). You can enjoy 3 cups of air-popped popcorn for fewer than 100 calories and get 3.5 grams (g) of fiber to boot! Itís also a naturally gluten-free food, which is great for anyone with celiac disease or those following a gluten-free diet. Research has even found that popcorn has higher levels of powerful antioxidants known as polyphenols than fresh corn or fruits.
Donít get me wrong, you can make popcorn into an unhealthy food with the ingredients you add to it and, here in the United States, we seem to love to do just that. The problem is how popcorn is commonly served: coated in butter, salt, cheese, sugar, and candy and mixed with nuts.
Take a tub of movie popcorn, for instance. According to data from the USDA, in one medium tub of movie popcorn with butter you can expect to get 1,190 calories, 107 g fat, 64.6 g saturated fat (nearly five times the daily amount recommended by the American Heart Association), 58 g carbohydrates, and 1,380 milligrams (mg) sodium. Even if you split your tub with someone, these numbers are alarming. And microwave popcorn isnít much better. One bag is almost 500 calories, according to the USDA, and the packaging can make it feel like a single serving. Plus, as UCLA Health discusses, most microwave popcorn contains chemicals known as perfluoroalkyls and polyfluoroalkyl substance (PFAS), which can be stored in body tissues and increases the risk of high blood pressure, liver damage, thyroid disease, female infertility, and cancer.
Popping corn yourself allows you to control what goes into your bowl, and itís easy ó you donít even need an air popper. Iíve never owned one; Iíve been making popcorn on the stove for more than 20 years, ever since my mom showed me how. All you really need is a small amount of oil, popcorn kernels, and a large, heavy-bottomed pot with a lid.
Hereís How I Make Popcorn
Here Are A Few Of My Favorite Combos.
Furikake: My all-time favorite (and very surprising) popcorn topping! This delicious mixture of seaweed, sesame seeds, and salt pairs perfectly with popcorn, and just a little bit adds so much flavor.
Nutritional yeast: This is a deactivated yeast that is known for its distinctive savory cheesiness. Itís the perfect popcorn topper for anyone, but is especially nice for vegans who enjoy the flavor of cheese. As a bonus, nutritional yeast is a good source of B vitamins ó common nutrient deficiencies for those following a vegan diet.
It's time to get poppiní!