Popcorn is a type of corn that resembles corn on the cob, but it has the ability, when heated, to pop into the fluffy snack enjoyed in countless homes and movie theaters. People in the United States eat over 18 billion quarts of popcorn annually, according to the Popcorn Board. The snack is generally safe, although it is linked to some dietary concerns.
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Popcorn is a whole grain and is a low-calorie, high-fiber healthy snack when prepared in an air popper. However, adding substances such as melted butter, salt, powdered cheese or caramel to the popcorn raise the calorie count significantly; eating too much of this augmented popcorn can make you fat. The snack is also more fattening if you pop it in oil rather than air.
Popcorn has a reputation of being bad for the colon and worsening a common intestinal problem, diverticulosis. As many as 47 percent of colorectal surgeons routinely advise their patients with the disease to stop eating popcorn, according to "Time" health writer Hilary Hylton. The theory is that the food can lodge itself in bulges or pouches in the colon wall. A 2008 study by Seattle and Boston researchers published in "The Journal of the American Medical Association" found that popcorn had no ill effects on the colons of diverticulosis sufferers. Nuts, another food commonly linked to colon problems, also caused no problems.
Colon health and weight control are affected by lifestyle choices. Your entire digestive system, including your colon, stays healthy if you eat a high-fiber diet. You do not get fat if your diet consists mainly of healthy foods and you routinely exercise for at least half an hour per day, unless you have a health condition that makes you gain weight. You can work popcorn into your diet in moderation without any ill effects.
Popcorn made at home is healthy because you control how it is popped and what you use for toppings, but most movie theater popcorn contains excess calories and fat that contribute to obesity. The Center for Science in the Public Interest warns that a typical medium-sized serving of popcorn and a medium soda at a well-known movie theater chain is nutritionally equivalent to three Quarter Pounder hamburgers and 12 pats of butter. The calories come from popping the corn in oil and topping it with butter. Theaters do not typically air pop corn because consumers strongly prefer the oil-popped version, the National Association of Theater Owners advises.
- Popcorn.org: From Seed to Snack
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Carbohydrates; February 2011
- "Time" Health; Nuts and Popcorn, Okay for the Colon?; Hilary Hylton; August 2008
- The Journal of the American Medical Association; Nut, Corn, and Popcorn Consumption and the Incidence of Diverticular Disease; August 2008
- "Los Angeles Times"; Movie Popcorn Is Still a Horror; Mary MacVean; November 2009
- Mayo Clinic; Dietary Fiber: Essential for a Healthy Diet; November 2009
- Mayo Clinic; Weight Loss, 6 Strategies for Success; December 2010