The key to choosing low-calorie popcorn oil is not the type of oil you select but the quantity you use. All oils are highly caloric. They vary in terms of their nutritional value, smoke point, flavor and cost. Choose the right oil to make flavorful, healthful low-calorie popcorn you will enjoy. If you are on a calorie-restrictive diet, do not overindulge.
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Oil for Popping
Oil for popping corn should have a high smoke point and a neutral flavor. Good choices include peanut, corn and sunflower oils. The smoke point is the temperature at which oil begins to create smoke. Oils with a low smoke point, such as olive or walnut oil, burn and taste rancid when they are hot enough to pop corn. All oils contain 45 calories per teaspoon, so there isn't any caloric difference between them.
Oil for Flavoring
If you make popcorn using an air popper, you can use a small amount of oil to flavor it. Oils may be rich in calories, but in small quantities, they can be a healthy alternative to butter. Butter contains saturated fatty acids that can contribute to high cholesterol levels and lead to high blood pressure. Many oils are not as flavorful as butter, but contain important fatty acids, including the monounsaturated, or MUFA variety, and polyunsaturated, or PUFA variety. These acids help your body to absorb vitamins A, D, E and K and may help lower cholesterol.
Olive, canola and peanut oils are high in MUFAs. Safflower and soybean oil are high in PUFAs. Any of these oils are good choices either for popping corn or for delivering flavor to air-popped corn. Limit oil for flavoring to one or two teaspoons per bowl to minimize your caloric intake. The University of Illinois reports that one cup of oil-popped popcorn contains about 60 calories, while one cup of air-popped popcorn contains 31 calories. Both contain 6 grams of carbohydrates. Because it is a whole grain, popcorn is also a good source of fiber.
Air-pop popcorn then drizzle it with one teaspoon of olive oil mixed with fresh basil, garlic and sea salt for a savory treat. Sweeten popcorn by tossing it with one teaspoon of peanut oil mixed with one teaspoon of honey and a dash of sea salt. Soy sauce and a splash of chili oil create a fiery snack. Experiment with other oils to flavor your popcorn after popcorn, for example, grapeseed, walnut, pumpkin seed and truffle. Add herbs, spices, nuts and seeds.