With a little bit of salty and a lot of sweet, caramel popcorn may very well be the snack you were searching for. Just make sure to have it in moderation, as caramel popcorn calories can add up.
1 ounce of caramel adds about 140 calories to popcorn, which generally has 20 to 30 calories per cup.
Caramel Popcorn Calories
According to the USDA's Agricultural Research Service, air-popped popcorn is relatively low in calories, containing 20 to 30 calories in 1 popped cup. The amount of calories in popcorn made stovetop with different types of oil is also relatively low, ranging from 35 to 45 calories per cup as shown in the nutrition facts on the Popcorn Board website.
However, adding butter or caramel to your popcorn may increase the calorie amount significantly. Just 1 ounce or 28 grams of caramel adds 140 calories to popcorn, says the USDA. It will also add 21 grams of carbohydrates — air-popped popcorn contains 6 grams per cup — and 15.1 milligrams of cholesterol added to the 0 grams in air-popped popcorn.
A tub of movie theater popcorn, equivalent to about 11 cups, contains 1,090 calories, says the American Heart Association. That's nearly 100 calories per cup. If you're looking to lower your daily calorie count, plain air-popped popcorn is the way to go. Caramel corn may be OK for an occasional snack, but only in moderation.
Read more: Popcorn Nutrition Facts
Popcorn Health Benefits
You may be surprised to learn that popcorn has a number of health benefits. In addition to containing few calories and no cholesterol, popcorn has a good glycemic index (GI), an indication of how much your blood sugar will rise after eating carbohydrates. A high GI means a greater increase in blood sugar, explains USDA's Agricultural Research Service.
The American Heart Association also points out that popcorn is rich in fiber and polyphenols, antioxidants known to aid in digestive health and better blood circulation. Eating popcorn may also give you the sensation of feeling full quickly due to its high fiber content.
What's more, just 1 cup of popcorn can provide a hefty percentage of the recommended daily intake of whole grain, at 70 percent. You can also find essential vitamins in your popcorn snack, including folate, niacin, thiamin, vitamins A, E, K and more, says the Agricultural Research Service. The popcorn hull, or kernel, is especially rich in nutrients that aid in eye health.
That said, caramel popcorn makes for a less healthy snack than plain air-popped popcorn. While it's high in calcium (19.9 milligrams per ounce) and vitamin A (200 International Units), it has a higher calorie count and 14 grams of sugar.
Read more: Popcorn Side Effects
Moderation is Key
Plain air-popped popcorn makes for a fairly healthy snack, though popcorn with added ingredients, such as butter or caramel, is another story.
The caramel topping contains high added sugar content, which can increase the risk of high blood pressure, inflammation, diabetes and weight gain, all linked to a higher chance of heart attack or stroke, says Harvard Health Publishing. The recommended amount of sugar per day, according to Harvard Health Publishing, is 36 grams or 9 teaspoons.
As a general matter, you should be mindful of the amount of caramel popcorn you consume, as caramel contains high amounts of sodium and cholesterol, both unhealthy in large amounts. The Food and Drug Administration recommends a daily value of less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day.
Moreover, microwave popcorn comes with its own set of health issues. According to the American Heart Association, microwave popcorn can contain harmful chemicals, such as diacetyl, linked to symptoms of coughing and wheezing from "popcorn lung."
- Popcorn Board: "Popcorn Nutrition Facts"
- Agricultural Research Service: "Is Popcorn a Healthy Snack? It Can Be!"
- American Heart Association: "Popcorn as a snack: Healthy Hit or Dietary Horror Show?"
- USDA: "Caramel"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "The Sweet Danger of Sugar"
- FDA: "Use the Nutrition Facts Label to Reduce Your Intake of Sodium in Your Diet"