Selecting healthy snacks to maintain your weight or encourage weight loss is paramount in achieving your diet goals. Selecting from two relatively simple products may be more difficult than it seems. Hidden ingredients can derail your diet. Popcorn and pretzels, for example, may seem like nutritious snacks but, depending on the ingredients, one can easily be a diet disaster.
Natural Popcorn vs. Processed Popcorn
The most important factor in selecting popcorn is the method in which you pop the popcorn and its flavorings, such as butter. Natural, air-popped popcorn has a mere 31 calories per 1 cup has a healthy 1.2g of fiber. Although processed, prepackaged popcorn is still a whole grain, the presence of additives, preservatives, sugar and high amounts of saturated fat cancel out the benefits.
For example, 3 1/2 cups of kettle corn can contain 20g of white refined sugar with almost 0.5g of saturated fat. Movie popcorn is particularly high in calories and fat, with a medium-sized container coming in at 910 calories with 41g of saturated fat due to the coconut oil it’s popped in and the butter topping.
Natural Pretzels vs. Processed Pretzels
Natural pretzels use whole-grain wheat flour as the main ingredient with other natural items like vegetable oil, salt, yeast and baking soda, Elizabeth Somer says in her book “Eat Your Way to Happiness.” Processed pretzels, on the other hand, will usually use enriched white flour, which is stripped of nutrients and turned into a simple carbohydrate that quickly metabolizes causing blood sugar spikes, which can potentially lead to diabetes over time. However, both natural pretzels and processed pretzels can contain more sodium than is healthy.
Some processed pretzels may contain shortening or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils that are particularly dangerous as they actively increase bad cholesterol levels while lowering good levels. This in tandem with high sodium levels significantly increases your risk of high blood pressure and cardiovascular complications.
Comparatively, natural pretzels or popcorn will always trump processed and refined counterparts. Instead of focusing so much on the either or of popcorn and pretzels, the more important and relevant concept is the ingredients. About 34 small, natural pretzels, which equates to around 1 oz., has 110 calories with 1g of fat, 23g of carbohydrates, 510mg of sodium and 2g of protein. A comparable amount of natural air-popped popcorn has approximately 106 calories. If you add 1 tsp. of salt, that will topple the sodium amount at 2,300mg. Although the calories are comparable, the amount of salt should always be a concern.
The Bottom Line
Both natural pretzels and natural popcorn are healthy snacks as part of a balanced diet. If you’re requiring energy, choose the pretzels as they have more carbohydrates per serving than popcorn to deliver longer energy. Alternately, if you need to reach your recommended dietary fiber intake, air-popped popcorn with a pinch of salt is better than the natural pretzels, with 3 cups containing 3.5g of fiber. Depending on the brand of pretzels you buy, homemade air-popped popcorn may be the wisest choice as you get to control the ingredients. If you buy prepackaged air-popped popcorn, always read the label.
- "Personal Nutrition"; Marie Boyle and Sara Long; 2008
- "Eat Your Way to Happiness"; Elizabeth Somer; 2009
- American Heart Association: Know Your Fats
- "NutriBase Guide to Fat and Fiber in Your Food"; NutriBase; 2001