Popcorn is a universally loved snack that most people assume is really unhealthy. But when the right popcorn seasoning flavors are added to air-popped popcorn, it doesn't deserve this reputation. Supersized buckets of movie popcorn aside, this snack can be a healthy option.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says popcorn that is prepared healthfully is a waistline-friendly and low-sodium plant-based food that counts as a whole grain. USDA analysis confirms this: It shows that 2 cups of air-popped popcorn has just 62 calories, only a trace of sodium and 2.23 grams of fiber.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics adds that the fiber content of popcorn helps you feel full, while the fibrous hull also contains beneficial antioxidants, specifically polyphenols.
Healthy Popcorn Seasoning Flavors
Unfortunately, many store-bought packs of popcorn are high in sugar and/or sodium, as well as containing fat and artificial flavors. But unflavored popcorn isn't particularly tasty, so making your own popcorn and adding healthier flavors is the way to go.
According to the American Nutrition of Nutrition and Dietetics, an air-popper makes the job easier, but if you don't have this gadget in your kitchen, popping the kernels in a covered microwave-safe container also works well. Alternatively, you can pop your corn in a covered pot on the stove, using a little canola oil.
Adding you own healthy popcorn seasoning, ideally to fresh hot popcorn, is the next step to creating a snack that is good for you. As for the best way to salt air-popped popcorn, less is definitely healthier. The USDA suggests trying a mixture of dried herbs such as basil and oregano with just the tiniest dash of salt. If you must add fat, use olive oil instead of butter.
If you prefer a nod to sweetness but without any added sugar, try cinnamon or a dusting of cocoa powder.
The USDA recommends that for maximum flavor you should season popcorn straight after popping, as the moisture from the steam released will help the seasoning stick. If the popcorn is already cold, you can help the flavor stick by lightly spraying it with a non-butter cooking spray prior to sprinkling on your seasonings.
Healthier Indulgent Popcorn Recipes
Even the most indulgent popcorn seasoning flavors don't have to be off the menu if you take care. Our Chocolate-Peanut Popcorn has a reasonable 94 calories per cup, while our Sneaky Salted "Caramel" Popcorn has 77 calories and only 130 milligrams of sodium (5 percent of the Daily Value) per cup.
On the savory side of things, try sprinkling your popcorn with Parmesan immediately after air popping. Parmesan cheese will also boost the nutritional quality of your popcorn snack. According to the USDA, a tablespoon of the cheese provides 1.42 grams of protein and 42.6 milligrams of calcium.
A luxury savory popcorn flavor to try is our Mexican-Style Popcorn: It's flavored with a touch of honey and spices and then topped with feta and cilantro, making a sociable shared appetizer.
Even with a healthy popcorn seasoning, portion control is still important. It's all too so easy to just absent-mindedly keep digging into a big bowl, which can result in you eating more that you had planned. A useful tip from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is to portion food into several smaller bowls or containers to help avoid over-consumption.
After helping yourself to a serving, seal any excess popcorn in an airtight container and hide it out the way. Generally, a couple of cups of popcorn is a good-sized portion.
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: “Why You Should Think of Popcorn as a Health Food”
- USDA FoodData Central: “Popcorn, Air-Popped (No Butter or No Oil Added)”
- USDA FoodData Central: “Is Popcorn a Healthy Snack? It Can Be!”
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “How to Avoid Portion Size Pitfalls to Manage Your Weight”
- USDA FoodData Central: "Cheese, Parmesan, Grated"