Whether at the movies, a ballgame or in front of the TV, people in the United States consume 16 billion quarts of popcorn per year--about 54 quarts for every man, woman and child. Not all popcorn is created equal. The differences between air-popped and oil-popped popcorn have the potential to affect your dietary or weight-loss goals.
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Air-popped and oil-popped corn are prepared with different methods. To air pop, add dry corn kernels to an inexpensive electric popcorn popper. The machine's heat turns the moisture inside the dry kernels to steam, which eventually explodes and pops the corn. To oil pop, coat the bottom of a deep, loosely covered pot with several tablespoons of oil and add dry kernels. When the oil heats to a high temperature, the corn pops. The oil gives a richer taste to the popcorn compared with air popped.
Analysis by the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that 1 cup of air-popped popcorn contains 31 calories, 1g of protein, 6g of carbohydrates and 1.2g of fiber. Air-popped corn is fat-, sodium- and cholesterol-free. In contrast, the same amount of oil-popped popcorn contains 55 calories of which 27 are from fat. It also has 1g of protein, 6g of carbohydrates and 1.1g of fiber. Oil popping also adds 3g of fat and 97mg of sodium per cup.
Low-fat and low-sodium types of some common microwaveable popcorn brands, which use oil and microwave heat to pop the corn, contain about the same amount of nutrients as homemade oil-popped popcorn. Original, butter and salted flavors of microwaveable popcorn feature higher amounts of saturated fat, sodium and artificial ingredients.
Dry popcorn kernels are inexpensive. A 2 lb. bag of store-brand popcorn usually costs $2 to $3 dollars, with the cost per serving at a few cents. The cost of prepackaged microwaveable popcorn varies by brand and type, but generally offers less value for money than dry kernels.
The Mayo Clinic suggests that air-popped popcorn is a healthful snack for people who are watching their caloric intake. Its low energy density means you can eat more while maintaining lower calorie consumption. Air-popped popcorn is made from whole grain, which provides fiber and complex carbohydrates for energy and stamina. Homemade oil-popped corn offers most of the same nutrients with higher fat and sodium, so consume smaller quantities than air-popped to maintain your weight or dietary goals.