Although popcorn and corn on the cob are both corn products, the two foods have significantly different nutritional profiles, and based on the USDA's dietary recommendations, corn on the cob is healthier. However, different means of preparation can improve the nutritional value of popcorn, but corn on the cob is likely to be more beneficial for weight management and weight loss than popcorn. Consult product labels when available, as nutritional values may vary by brand.
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Popcorn tends to be lower in calories than corn on the cob because of its light, fluffy consistency; this results in a lower calorie-density, so you need to eat larger volumes of popcorn to obtain the same amount of calories as corn on the cob. One cup of popcorn provides 55 calories, while one 7-inch ear of corn on the cob provides 111 calories. If you are active, calorie-dense foods such as corn on the cob can be preferable, as athletic endeavors burn a significant amount of calories; an hour of jumping rope burns 730 calories, while an hour of jogging at 5 mph burns 584. To lose weight, popcorn may be preferable based on its calorie content.
Despite being lower in calories, popcorn is higher in fat than corn on the cob; one cup of popcorn contains 3 g of fat, while a 7-inch ear of corn provides just 1 g of fat. Corn on the cob is also free of saturated fat, while popcorn with a typical preparation contains 0.5 g of saturated fat per cup. Consuming too much saturated fat can increase your cholesterol levels, so the USDA recommends consuming just 7 percent of your calories from this type of fat. If you follow a 2,000-calorie diet, this equates to 15 g of saturated fat.
Carbohydrates are your body's main source of fuel, so the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academies recommends consuming at least 130 g each day. Based on this suggestion, corn on the cob is preferable, as a 7-inch ear provides 26 g of carbohydrates, compared to 6.3 g in a cup of popcorn. If you are active, consuming adequate amounts of carbohydrates is vital; a study from the April 2010 edition of the "European Journal of Applied Physiology" found that pairing intensive exercise with a low-carbohydrate diet produced a decrease in testosterone levels.
Dietary fiber is a vital nutrient that can help you manage your weight, as it produces feelings of satiety. Additionally, dietary fiber aids in digestion and can help you manage your cholesterol levels. Corn on the cob is higher in fiber, with 3 g in each 7-inch ear, while popcorn contains 1 g per cup.
Both corn on the cob and popcorn are low in protein. A 7-inch ear of corn on the cob contains 3 g of protein, while popcorn contains 1 g per cup. Protein helps build and repair your body's cells and tissues, so it's important to eat protein-rich foods each day. MedlinePlus, a publication of the National Institutes of Health, suggests eating 50 to 65 g of protein daily.