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Healthy Oil for Popcorn

author image Diane Lynn
Diane Lynn began writing in 1998 as a guest columnist for the "Tallahassee Democrat." After losing 158 pounds, she wrote her own weight-loss curriculum and now teaches classes on diet and fitness. Lynn also writes for The Oz Blog and her own blog, Fit to the Finish. She has a Bachelor of Science in finance from Florida State University.
Healthy Oil for Popcorn
Popcorn can be a healthy, filling snack. Photo Credit Terry Vine/Blend Images/Getty Images

In the 1600s, the Indians in Peru popped corn and ate it as a “confection,” according to the Popcorn Board. More than 990 million lbs. of popcorn was sold in the United States in 2009, and each American eats about 52 quarts a year, according to the board. When preparing your own popcorn, using healthy oil can increase the nutritional value of your snack.


The most common varieties of oil are olive, canola, vegetable, corn, peanut and sunflower oil. The oils come from the pressing or processing of the vegetable or fruit. Olive oil remains after olive manufacturers press the olives, while corn oil originates from the oils in corn. Any of the oils will adequately pop popcorn, as popping corn requires a combination of heat and steam for the small amount of water inside the popcorn kernel to explode.

Calories and Nutrients

All oils contain about 120 calories per tablespoon, with coconut oil containing 117 calories, and canola oil having 124 calories. Oils by nature are 100 percent fat; thus, all the calories in the oil are in the form of fat grams. The oils are mainly devoid of vitamins and minerals. When you pop the corn in oil, you add calories to the finished popcorn. The Popcorn Board indicates that 1 cup of air-popped popcorn has about 30 calories, while popcorn cooked in oil has almost double the calories, at 55.

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Canola and Olive Oil

Canola oil has a mild flavor that enables you to enjoy the subtleties in the flavors of the popcorn. Canola oil contains only 1.1 g of saturated fat in each tablespoon. In contrast, olive oil contains 1.9 g of saturated fat per 1 tbsp. A 1-tbsp. serving of canola oil also has monounsaturated fats and omega-3 polyunsaturated fat, and olive oil contains almost 10 g of healthy monounsaturated fats and 1.4 g of polyunsaturated fats in the same serving size. The majority of fat in your diet should be from healthier fats. Olive oil, which is a large part of a heart-healthy Mediterranean diet, offers a stronger flavor, which pairs well if you want flavored popcorn. The smoke points of refined olive oil and canola oil are between 400 and 425 degrees Fahrenheit according to D. Enette Larson-Meyer, registered dietitian and author of “Vegetarian Sports Nutrition.” This smoke point makes both oils appropriate for popping corn.

Corn and Peanut Oil

The flavor of a corn-based oil matches the flavor of the popcorn. Corn oil has 8.2 g of monounsaturated fat, 4 g of polyunsaturated fat and a gram of saturated fat per 1 tbsp. Like canola oil, corn oil contains the lowest percentage of its calories from saturated fat, at about 8 percent per tablespoon, and a high smoke point. Peanut oil has about 17 percent of its calories from saturated fat, making it a less healthy choice than some other oils. A single tablespoon of peanut oil also has 6.2 g of monounsaturated fat and 4.3 g of polyunsaturated fat. Peanut oil’s smoke point is between 350 and 450 degrees, depending on whether you use unrefined or refined oil. If you use an oil with a lower smoke point, cook the popcorn quickly to avoid burning the oil.

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