Nutrition and Calories in Popcorn: Air-Popped, Oil-Popped and More

Making your own at home is one way to control the nutrition and calories in popcorn.
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Popcorn is a whole-grain food that can be eaten as part of a healthy diet. Unsalted, air-popped popcorn is a low-cost and nutritious snack that loses nutritional value when we add ingredients like butter, Heli Roy, PhD, RD and associate professor in the Nutrition and Health Department at Louisiana State University, says.

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The fat and calories in popcorn will vary greatly depending on how you're preparing your snack. For example, the popcorn from the movie theater has way more calories, fat and sodium than the air-popped popcorn you make at home.

Popcorn, when prepared without butter, has health benefits. It's high in energy-sustaining complex carbs and also has some fiber, which is linked to staving off hunger and keeping you fuller for longer.

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Tip

One serving of popped popcorn is equal to 3 cups, according to the Popcorn Board.

Air-Popped Popcorn Nutrition

Air-popped popcorn is made without butter or oil, so it is the lowest in calories of all the varieties. According to the USDA, a 3-cup serving of air-popped plain popcorn will give you:

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  • ​​Calories​:​ 93
  • ​​Total fat​:​ 1.1 g
    • ​​Saturated fat​:​ 0.2 g
    • ​Trans fat​:​ 0 g
  • ​Cholesterol​:​ 0 mg
  • ​​Sodium​:​ 1.9 mg
  • ​Total carbs​:​ 18.7 g
    • ​Dietary fiber​:​ 3.6 g
    • ​Sugar​:​ 0 g
  • ​​Protein​:​ 3 g

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Popcorn Calories and Macros

  • Calories:​ The calories in popcorn are low relative to other snaps. A 3-cup serving of popcorn only gives you 93 calories.​ Keep in mind, this is the number of calories in popcorn with no butter added.
  • Total fat​:​ One cup of popcorn has 1.1 grams of total fat, which includes 0.2 grams of saturated fat and 0 grams of trans fat.
  • ​Carbohydrates​:​ The carbs in popcorn are high because corn is a grain. One cup of popcorn has 18.7 grams of carbs, which includes 3.6 grams of fiber and 0 grams of sugars.
  • ​Protein​:​ One cup of popcorn has 1 gram of protein.

Vitamins, Minerals and Other Micronutrients

  • ​​Manganese​:​ 12% Daily Value (DV)
  • ​​Magnesium​:​ 8% DV
  • ​Phosphorus​:​ 7% DV
  • Zinc:​ 7 % DV
  • Copper:​ 7 % DV
  • Niacin (Vitamin B3):​ 3%
  • Potassium:​ 2% DV

Stovetop Oil-Popped Popcorn Nutrition

Oil-popped popcorn is typically made on the stove and popped in cooking oil such as olive oil. The number of calories in popcorn with olive oil will vary depending on how much oil and popcorn you're using.

According to the USDA, 3 cups of a standard homemade popcorn with olive oil will give you:

  • Calories​:​ 165
  • ​​Total fat​:​ 9.3 g
    • ​​Saturated fat​:​ 1.6 g
    • ​Trans fat​:​ 0 g
  • ​Cholesterol​:​ 0 mg
  • ​​Sodium​:​ 291.7 mg
  • ​Total carbs​:​ 18.9 g
    • ​Dietary fiber​:​ 3.3 g
    • ​Sugar​:​ 0 g
  • ​​Protein​:​ 3 g

Popcorn With Olive Oil Calories and Macros

When you add oil for popping, even extra virgin olive oil, you'll increase the calories in the food because the fat from the olive oil sticks to the kernels.

Olive oil, though, is mostly monounsaturated fat, which are linked to beneficial effects on cholesterol levels, while butter is half saturated fat.

While it is high in calories, olive oil has health benefits. It has been linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, diabetes and some cancers, including breast cancer, according to a December 2019 meta-analysis of studies in Maturitas.

Extra virgin olive oil has also been associated with reducing inflammation, per July 2019 research in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. This is attributed to oleic acid — the primary fatty acid in olive oil — as well as other components.

Tip

Using extra virgin olive oil to cook popcorn on the stove is a nutritious option, per the Cleveland Clinic. While air-popping popcorn without oil will give you the least amount of calories, adding olive oil will amp up your healthy fats, which are linked to controllilng hunger, among other benefits.

Yellow vs. White Popcorn Nutrition

White popcorn, aka rice popcorn, is made from small kernels that look a bit like rice grains, according to Bob's Red Mill. Popped white popcorn is soft and crunchy. On the other hand, yellow popcorn is made from medium or large kernels and takes on a durable, fluffy texture.

Check out the differences in yellow and white popcorn nutrition below for 1 ounce of unpopped popcorn.

Yellow and White Popcorn Nutrition

Yellow Popcorn

White Popcorn

Calories

124

130

Fat

7.1

7

Carbs

14.2

16

Fiber

3.5

3

Protein

3.5

3

Source: USDA

Kettle Corn Popcorn Nutrition

Kettle corn popcorn is traditionally made in an iron kettle and is seasoned with salt and sugar to give it that signature sweet-and-salty flavor. Kettle corn has more sugar than regular popcorn.

A 1-cup serving of popped kettle corn popcorn will give you:

  • Calories​:​ 72
  • ​​Total fat​:​ 3.8 g
    • ​​Saturated fat​:​ 0.5 g
    • ​Trans fat​:​ 0 g
  • ​Cholesterol​:​ 0 mg
  • ​​Sodium​:​ 59.4 mg
  • ​Total carbs​:​ 8.2 g
    • ​Dietary fiber​:​ 1.6 g
    • ​Sugar​:​ 0.3 g
  • ​​Protein​:​ 1.4 g

Nutrition in Microwavable Popcorn Bags

The fact that you can read how many calories your microwaved popcorn has can be very convenient — just make sure to look at the amount per serving and do the proper math.

A microwavable bag of Orville Redenbacher's Movie Theater Butter popcorn has 2.5 servings in it. According to the website, one serving of popped popcorn will give you:

  • Calories​:​ 170
  • ​​Total fat​:​ 11 g
    • ​​Saturated fat​:​ 6 g
    • ​Trans fat​:​ 0 g
  • ​Cholesterol​:​ 0 mg
  • ​​Sodium​:​ 380 mg
  • ​Total carbs​:​ 17 g
    • ​Dietary fiber​:​ 2 g
    • ​Sugar​:​ 0 g
  • ​​Protein​:​ 2 g

Concerns About Microwave Popcorn

Based on these numbers, a bag of microwaved popcorn will give you 425 calories and 27.5 grams of fat if you were to eat the whole thing.

If you're trying to limit your portion sizes of microwave popcorn, another option to consider is buying mini popcorn bags, which generally offer just one serving per bag.

While choosing mini bags might keep your calories down, experts say microwave popcorn has some other pitfalls. Microwavable popcorn bags often have a lot of salt and artificial flavorings, per the Cleveland Clinic.

A high-salt diet is associated with a higher risk for high blood pressure, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. This, then, puts you at a higher risk for heart disease and kidney disease.

Another concern: The specially designed microwave bags have chemicals called perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), the same chemical used in Teflon nonstick coating, and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), per a December 2013 report in Environmental Health Perspectives. These chemicals, in high amounts, are linked to cancer, immunotoxicity, weight gain, altered thyroid function and other health conditions.

Eating microwave popcorn increased the concentration of PFOA and PFOS in the blood in an October 2019 study in Environmental Health Perspectives.

As the public becomes more aware of these types of chemicals in food, manufacturers have made tweaks to ingredients and packaging. It's important to read labels so you can be aware of what your food has in it.

Tip

A simple way to make DIY microwave popcorn with plain unpopped popcorn kernels is to place about 1/4 cup of your kernels in a small paper bag, fold over the top and place it in the microwave.

Use the "popcorn" setting if your microwave has one, or cook on high for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the popping slows to a few seconds between pops. (Check often to make sure it doesn't scorch or burn.)

Popcorn Benefits

Popcorn can be prepared as a nutritious snack, if it's done the right way. Unlike chips or crackers, plain popcorn, when served without butter or salt, is low in fat and calories.

Popcorn Is a Whole-Grain Carb

Your body needs carbs 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 USDA advides people to avoid foods high in refined, simple carbs like white sugar, bread and pasta, and to eat more whole-grain complex carbs like popcorn.

Adults should eat between 5 and 8 ounces of whole grains per day, depending on age, according to the USDA. At least half of all grains eaten per day should come from whole grain foods.

Popcorn Is High in Many Other Nutrients

Besides having more of those beneficial carbs, popcorn is also high in other important nutrients. For one, popcorn is high in fiber, with a 3-cup serving giving you 3.5 grams, or 12 percent of your daily value.

Popcorn also boasts a decent amount of nutrients like manganese, magnesium, phosphorous, zinc, copper, niacin and a small amount of potassium.

Buying popcorn with no salt can be a better option because you can control how much salt you add yourself, or choose salt-free flavorings.

Tip

The nutritional value of different types of popcorn products can vary greatly depending on the type of ingredients that are added.

If you buy microwavable, stove-top or packaged popcorn, check the nutrition facts label to see how many calories, grams of fat and milligrams of salt the product has.

For the most nutritious popcorn, compare brands and varieties and choose those with the lowest calories and the least saturated fat and salt.

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