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Is Popcorn a Complex or Simple Carb?

author image Michelle Kerns
Michelle Kerns writes for a variety of print and online publications and specializes in literature and science topics. She has served as a book columnist since 2008 and is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. Kerns studied English literature and neurology at UC Davis.
Is Popcorn a Complex or Simple Carb?
A bowl of fresh popcorn. Photo Credit Torbjorn Lagerwall/Hemera/Getty Images

Your body needs carbohydrates to provide energy for your cells, to support the beneficial bacteria in your digestive tract and to aid in the synthesis of proteins and fats. The U.S. Department of Agriculture advises that you should avoid foods high in refined, simple carbohydrates like white sugar or corn syrup in favor of whole grains like popcorn that are a rich in complex carbohydrates.

Popcorn as a Complex Carb

Popcorn is 100 percent whole grain and an excellent source of complex carbohydrates. A 1-ounce serving of air-popped popcorn contains 22 grams of carbohydrates, with only 0.25 gram provided by simple sugars like sucrose, glucose or fructose. Of popcorn's carbohydrates per serving, 4.1 grams are supplied by dietary fiber. For a man between 19 and 30, this is 12 percent of his daily recommended fiber intake. A man aged 31 to 50 would receive 13 percent of his requirement, and men over 51 would get 14 percent of theirs. A woman between 19 and 30 would fulfill 14 percent of her recommended daily allowance of fiber with 1 ounce of popcorn, while 31- to 50-year-old women would receive 16 percent of their RDA. A serving of popcorn contains 18 percent of the daily fiber for women over 51.

Recommended Intake

An adult woman between 19 and 50 years old should have about 6 ounces of grains each day, recommends the USDA, while a man between 19 and 30 years old needs 8 ounces, and a 31- to 50-year old man needs 7 ounces. When it comes to popcorn, 3 cups of air-popped kernels count as a 1-ounce serving of grains. If you've got a 100-calorie, mini-microwave bag of popcorn, that counts as 2 full ounces of grains.

Benefits of Complex Carbs

Complex carbohydrate sources like popcorn typically contain more fiber than simple carbohydrates. A diet with a high intake of dietary fiber is linked to a decreased risk of stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, high blood cholesterol, obesity and digestive problems like hemorrhoids, constipation or diverticulitis, reported a 2009 "Nutrition Reviews" study. In addition, popcorn has a moderately low glycemic index at 55. This means that unlike foods such as a white-flour baguette that have a high glycemic index, eating popcorn will not cause sharp spikes in your blood sugar.

How to Eat Popcorn Healthily

The key to making popcorn a healthy snack is to be careful about what you put on it -- or to keep track of what's on it to begin with. Steer clear of prepackaged bags of microwavable popcorn that are coated in butter and high-sodium seasonings. Instead, pop your own plain, air-popped popcorn and enjoy it as-is or drizzle it with a small amount of olive oil and toss it with your choice of herbs or spices. "New York Times" food writer Mark Bittman suggests chili powder, grated Parmesan cheese, cayenne or five-spice powder.

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