January 18, 2017

Four Tips for Healthy Popcorn

shutterstock-popcornBy Mary Jackson, RD, LDN, and Robert A. Poarch

Popcorn is a popular snack in America; walk in any movie theater and you’ll expect to be bombarded with the familiar smells of this snack. Although it is usually laden with butter and salt, popcorn can be made into a healthy, balanced snack with a few minor tweaks.

Nutrition-wise, one serving (3 cups) of air-popped popcorn provides 93 calories and 3.5 grams of fiber, along with a solid dose of antioxidants called polyphenols. Compared to three cups of potato chips, which provides around 450 calories, popcorn is a much lighter alternative for a snack.

Despite some of these positive nutrient aspects, some of the health benefits can easily be counteracted by the additives or way in which the snack is eaten. Popcorn tends to be eaten mindlessly while watching TV or with other distractions, which can lead to overconsumption of calories. It also tends to be coated in butter or salt to increase the flavor; a tub of popcorn at the movies can get upward of 1,200 calories with three days’ worth of saturated fat! Follow these tips below to protect your popcorn from falling into these traps:

Four Ways to Lighten Up Popcorn:

  1. Air Pop It – Traditionally, homemade popcorn is made over the stove in several tablespoons of oil, which can easily add hundreds of calories. A quick, low-fat cooking method to cook popcorn instead is to use an air popper. Spritz the finished popcorn with butter spray or olive oil mister.
  2. Use Proper Portions – Three cups of air-popped popcorn is an appropriate serving size. Try to measure this out rather than munching straight from a bottomless bowl.
  3. Keep It Light – If choosing a microwaveable popcorn, pick one that’s lighter in sodium and fat (< 100 calories per bag). The benefit of prepackaged popcorn is that it’s already portioned out.
  4. Spice It Up – Instead of salt and butter, try flavorful seasoning combinations that include garlic powder, onion powder, chili powder, pepper, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, Cajun, Italian seasoning and other favorites. Sprinkling nutritional yeast on popcorn adds a nutty-cheesy flavor and protein, fiber, B vitamins and minerals. These can pack a flavor punch without the usual fat and sodium.

Finally, pair your popcorn with protein such as Greek yogurt or 1-2 oz of reduced fat cheese. This will provide a better balance of nutrients and satiate your appetite much more effectively.

Mary Lindsey Jackson, RD, LDN, is a Clinical Nutritionist Educator for Mission Weight Management — missionweight.org or (828) 213-4100.