Having high cholesterol puts you at increased risk for a heart attack or stroke. Making certain changes to your diet may help you lower your low-density lipoprotein, or "bad" cholesterol, and increase your high-density lipoprotein, or "good" cholesterol. Replacing less healthy snack foods, such as potato chips, with plain air-popped popcorn is one way to improve your diet.
Fat and Cholesterol Content
Popcorn itself doesn't contain any cholesterol, but you add cholesterol to your snack if you prepare it with butter, which does contain cholesterol. Air-popped popcorn is almost fat-free, with a 1-cup serving containing only 0.4 grams of fat. Popping your popcorn in oil brings the fat content up to about 2.3 grams per cup, and butter-flavored microwave popcorn contains 2.7 grams of fat per cup. Adding butter after preparation increases both the fat and saturated fat content, as well as your popcorn's ability to increase your cholesterol levels.
Eating more whole grains and high-fiber foods, such as popcorn, may help you lower your cholesterol levels. People who eat popcorn consume more whole grains, fiber and magnesium than people who don't regularly eat this snack food, according to a study published in the "Journal of the American Dietetic Association" in May 2008. Popcorn contains about 1 gram of fiber per cup, so eating just 3 cups of popcorn will provide you with more than 10 percent of the daily value for fiber of 25 grams.
As a Replacement for Other Snacks
Replacing other salty snacks with popcorn may help you improve your dietary quality and health. People who ate 6 cups of 94 percent fat-free popcorn each day for 12 weeks decreased their consumption of fat, saturated fat and cholesterol and increased their fiber intake compared to a control group that didn't consume any popcorn in a study published in "The FASEB Journal" in 2011. These dietary changes could result in improvements in your cholesterol levels.
While home-prepared popcorn can be a healthy snack, you may want to avoid movie popcorn drenched in butter. A large popcorn with butter can contain as many as 1,591 calories and 113 grams of fat, and even if you skip the butter, you could wind up consuming as many as 1,216 calories and 81 grams of fat. If you have to have movie popcorn, buy the smallest size and skip the extra butter. Check the labels before buying microwave popcorn because some brands use hydrogenated oils, which add trans fats to your popcorn and trans fats increase your cholesterol even more than saturated fat.