Movie night with your family often isn't the same without popping some corn and adding your favorite toppings. Whether you enjoy making your own air-popped popcorn or microwave popcorn, or prefer caramel popcorn, the nutritional value of the snack varies slightly. Adding toppings to your popcorn increases the calories, fat and sodium.
Plain Air-Popped Popcorn
Air-popped popcorn, on its own, doesn't contain many calories and is also low in fat and carbohydrates. A 3-cup serving of white, air-popped popcorn has 92 calories, 1 gram of fat and 1 milligram of sodium, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The snack also has 2.9 grams of protein, 18.7 grams of carbs and 3.6 grams of dietary fiber. It contains no cholesterol and only trace amounts of vitamins.
Adding Butter and Salt
If you don't enjoy the taste of air-popped popcorn on its own, you're probably used to adding some butter and salt to your bowl. Doing so dramatically increases the fat and sodium levels of your snack. Two tablespoons of unsalted butter contain 204 calories and 23 grams of fat. Sprinkling 1 teaspoon of salt doesn't increase the snack's calories or fat, but adds 2,325 milligrams of sodium. Adding salt to your popcorn can result in you approaching or exceeding the daily limit of sodium. The Institute of Medicine suggesting limiting daily sodium intake to 2,300 milligrams or 1,500 milligrams if you're older than 51, diabetic or have hypertension. Consuming too much sodium can increase your risk of high blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease.
Microwave popcorn is a hassle-free alternative for those who don't enjoy using an air popper. Three cups of butter-flavor microwave popcorn made with palm oil has 128 calories, 7.4 grams of fat and 169 milligrams of sodium. The snack also has 13.3 grams of carbs and 2.4 grams of dietary fiber. Low-fat, low-sodium microwave popcorn is a lighter snack. The same size serving has 102 calories, 2.3 grams of fat and 116 milligrams of sodium. It's slightly higher in carbs and fiber, with 17.4 grams or carbs and 3.4 grams of dietary fiber.
Caramel-coated popcorn provides a sweet, chewy alternative to the standard version of the snack. A 1-ounce serving of caramel corn contains 122 calories, 3.6 grams of fat, 58 milligrams of sodium, 22.4 grams of carbs and 1.5 grams of fiber. The chief addition, however, is sugar. Air-popped and microwave popcorn have just trace amounts of sugar per serving, but a 1-ounce serving of caramel corn has 15.1 grams of sugar. Sugar has about 4 calories per gram, so a 1.5-ounce serving of caramel corn has about 60 calories from sugar alone. According to the American Heart Association, women and men should only get 100 and 150 calories from added sugar, respectively, per day.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference: Snacks, Popcorn, Air-Popped, White Popcorn
- U.S. Department of Agriculture National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference: Butter, Without Salt
- U.S. Department of Agriculture National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference: Salt, Table
- Institute of Medicine: Studies Support Population-Based Efforts to Lower Excessive Dietary Sodium Intakes, But Raise Questions About Potential Harm From Too Little Salt Intake
- U.S. Department of Agriculture National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference: Popcorn, Microwave, Regular (Butter) Flavor, Made With Palm Oil
- U.S. Department of Agriculture National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference: Popcorn, Microwave, Low Fat and Sodium
- U.S. Department of Agriculture National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference: Snacks, Popcorn, Caramel-Coated, Without Peanuts
- American Heart Association: Sugars and Carbohydrates
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Where's the Sodium?