Popcorn Nutrition Benefits vs. Pitfalls

Popcorn can be healthy if made with whole grain and low-fat ingredients, but it can also be unhealthy if the butter used to season the popcorn is high in calories.

Popcorn is a tasty, crunchy snack that provides excellent texture to any movie night. It has also been found to have some nutritional benefits for those who consume it regularly. However, the downside of popcorn’s high-fat content can lead to weight gain and heart disease if eaten too often or in large quantities.


Some foods are just unknown to most people, and popcorn is at the top of that list. Popcorn is marketed as a low-calorie, healthful snack by specific sources while harmful to others. So, is popcorn good for you?

The solution isn’t as easy as a simple label, like most things. The maize used to make popcorn is never a GMO product (yay! ), but it is often sprayed with chemicals (no!). Some popcorn brands carry an entire day’s worth of calories in one bucket (I’m looking at you, movie theaters), while others have a low-calorie count for such a delicious snack.

So, is popcorn good for you? Unfortunately, the solution isn’t as simple as it seems. Popcorn nutrition has certain advantages, mainly because of its high fiber and manganese content. Still, these benefits are all exclusive to one form of popcorn, which I will discuss below.

Is Popcorn Good for You?

Is popcorn good for you? Of course, what sort of popcorn we’re talking about makes a big difference.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest published a report in 2009 that revealed the proper calorie and fat content of movie theater popcorn. The researchers discovered that a medium popcorn at the movies includes 1,200 calories and 60 grams of fat based on their nutritional analyses. This is the recommended daily calorie and fat intake for most adults.

Instead, several experts started advising consumers to carry their microwave (calorie-controlled) popcorn to the movies. Although it may be a healthier option in terms of fat and calorie content, microwave popcorn includes substances that might be just as harmful to your health.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has discovered that microwave popcorn bags are coated with a chemical that breaks down into cancer-causing perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). When PFOA, which is also present in nonstick cookware, is cooked, it releases poisons. PFOA is found in the body of around 95% of Americans, and it stays there for an extended period. PFOA has been linked to tumor development and has been linked to liver, prostate, and renal damage. It may also harm children’s growth and development and the reproductive system.

In 2009, numerous American corporations signed a voluntary agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to remove all PFOAs from their goods by 2015, which they have already done. The EPA’s website has all of the information on this agreement, known as the Toxic Substances Control Act.

The health effects of artificial butter flavor on popcorn have also been discovered. The flavoring includes a chemical called diacetyl, linked to a kind of pneumonia known as cryptogenic organizing pneumonia (COP) among employees exposed to it repeatedly. In general, diacetyl is only an issue when inhaled in high amounts, but experts aren’t sure that consumers won’t be impacted.

A few reports of consumers being diagnosed with COP (bronchiolitis obliterans) have been reported. However, those persons often regularly ingested (and breathed in) vast quantities of popcorn. As a result of consumer concern, some major popcorn makers have removed diacetyl from their products, with the first removal occurring in 2007.

Popcorn is on my list of healthy foods you should never consume for all of these reasons.

How to Make Healthy Popcorn

Given all of this information, the answer to the issue of whether popcorn is healthy seems to be a resounding negative. That is true for the most part, but not always.

You may, however, air pop your own if you want to test one of the healthier varieties at home. Most health food shops provide simple, organic versions of popcorn that offer a good amount of fiber and manganese in a low-calorie snack — avoid covering it with sugar or pasteurized butter, or you’ll be back to square one.

Here are some tips for making your homemade popcorn by air popping it:

  1. A natural foods shop can provide you with simple, organic popcorn kernels.
  2. Pour 3 tablespoons of healthy oil (coconut oil or organic butter work well) into a heavy stainless steel pan.
  3. Place two seeds in the pan and wait for one to pop before pouring in 1/3 cup of popcorn and covering it.
  4. Shake the pan while the popcorn pops to let the steam out and prevent the popcorn from burning.
  5. When the popping stops, remove from the pan and season to taste. (Nutritional yeast, garlic powder, and cayenne pepper are excellent toppings.)

Health Advantages

1. Antioxidant-rich to combat free radical damage

Professor Joe Vinson, Ph.D. of the University of Scranton, released research on the nutritional benefits of popcorn in 2012, which he co-authored with Michael G. Coco, an undergraduate chemistry major. With the title “Popcorn contains more antioxidants than fruit, research suggests,” the study was widely publicized by practically every news organization and nutrition website in the world.

According to Vinson and Coco, a serving of popcorn includes 300 milligrams of antioxidants known as polyphenols, roughly double the 160 grams found in most fruits. They explained this by showing that polyphenols in fruit are more broadly dispersed among the water in fruit (up to 90% in certain goods), while popcorn only contains 4% water and has a greater polyphenol content.

But hold off on throwing out your fruit and replacing it with popcorn just yet.

Even in his initial research, Vinson stated that popcorn could not substitute fruits and vegetables in a balanced diet. Despite its high antioxidant content, popcorn lacks many of the essential nutrients that we get from fruits and vegetables.

The research also didn’t go into much detail on the antioxidants’ bioavailability, which is highest in the hull of popcorn – you know, the part you spend a few days pulling out of your teeth where it got lodged. So what is the significance of bioavailability? Because, likely, the enzymes responsible for breaking down food and absorbing the beneficial things in the human body don’t break down popcorn in such a manner that we obtain all of the antioxidants it contains.

Regardless of one’s reservations, the fact that popcorn contains antioxidants is excellent news. In the appropriate amounts, polyphenols are beneficial to the body and may prevent it from various ailments. In addition, they are antinutrients that interfere with the body’s capacity to digest food. Still, overall, the finding is a good one — make sure you purchase plain, organic popcorn instead of the horrible bagged variety.

2. Contains a Large Amount of Fiber

One serving of popcorn provides 16 percent of your daily fiber requirement, which is impressive given it includes just 93 calories. It’s essential to have a high-fiber diet for various reasons: Fiber is good for your heart stomach and may even help you avoid diabetes.

Popcorn’s “net carbohydrates” are reduced by fiber, so although it’s not on the keto diet’s acceptable snack list, it’s not nearly as high in carbs as chips or tortilla chips.

3. A filling, healthy snack that might help you lose weight

What are some of the first things that spring to mind when you think about fast and simple snacks? Chips made with potatoes? Cookies? Crackers?

Snacking on high-calorie, highly processed meals is the norm for many individuals. But unfortunately, they often discover that these items are not satisfying and never truly fulfill the urge that prompted them to nibble in the first place.

This is one instance when organic, air-popped popcorn nutrients may be beneficial. According to research conducted in Florida in 2012, popcorn is a considerably more satisfying snack than potato chips. In addition, popcorn was shown to reduce hunger cravings in those who were attempting to lose weight.

Remember that there are various healthy strategies to lose weight quickly, so don’t rely entirely on reducing your hunger.

Popcorn contains fiber, which makes it a possible weight-loss tool. High-fiber meals keep you full and help you maintain a healthy weight. Diets high in fiber are linked to lower body weight and a better overall diet.

4. It is never made from corn that has been genetically modified

You’ve most likely heard the statistics on genetically modified maize by now. In the United States, about 90% of maize is genetically engineered. Previously thought to be a healthy option, GMO foods have recently been linked to allergies, cancer, and death.

But there’s good news: the maize subspecies used in popcorn aren’t part of that 90%, and it’s never been genetically engineered yet. As a result, the popcorn seed is never genetically changed, according to Jeffery Smith of the Institute for Responsible Technology.

However, some authorities say popcorn is still very sensitive to pesticide residue; therefore, you should always try to buy certified organic popcorn.

5. Aids in the development of strong bones

Popcorn is an excellent source of nutrients that may help you grow and maintain thick, strong bones since it includes a lot of manganese. Manganese is a well-known supplementary vitamin that supports bone development. In addition, it protects against osteoporosis, arthritis, and osteoarthritis (particularly in persons prone to weak bones, such as menopausal women).

Facts to Ponder

Corn was cultivated about 9,000 years ago in Mexico and is still one of the most widely grown crops today. Popcorn has been found at archaeological sites going back to 3600 B.C. in Mexico. Unconfirmed tales suggest that Squanto himself taught European immigrants how to popcorn during the colonization of North America.

The origins of popcorn are unknown, although it initially gained popularity in the United States in the Great Lakes area, where the Iroquois people arrived in huge numbers. The earliest verifiable references to “popped corn” originate from about 1820, and documents from the mid-nineteenth century mention popcorn as a favorite family pleasure.

Popcorn’s popularity soared again in the 1890s due to candy shop owner Charles Cretors. He invented the first commercial-grade popcorn popper to properly roast nuts for commercial sale at his business, which he subsequently displayed in a horse-and-buggy manner. In addition, cracker Jack was created during this decade as a sweet snack containing — you guessed it — popcorn.

Then came the early twentieth century, when popping popcorn in a movie theater became commonplace. Within cinema theaters, street vendors are known as “hawkers” would reach to sell individual popcorn bags. Theater owners were initially opposed to the notion, but things changed during the Great Depression.

Popcorn was the snack item whose sales increased during the Depression, not decreased, due to its inexpensive cost and pleasant taste. Theater owners altered their minds after realizing that it was a low-cost luxury item that audiences would gladly pay for. Glen W. Dickson, who opened his cinema in 1938, was the first to rebuild it and include popcorn machines in the lobby. Within a few months of installing the devices, his chain of theaters throughout the Midwest had recouped a large amount of money they had spent on renovations.

Side Effects and Risks

Popcorn, like other meals, has the potential to cause allergic reactions in certain people. Be mindful of any initial allergic symptoms, such as a swollen lip or trouble breathing that may occur after eating popcorn.

Popcorn is included on a list of foods that regularly exacerbate inflammatory bowel disease symptoms. Avoid this snack item if you have a disease that irritates your digestive system.

Last Thoughts

  • Is popcorn good for you? The answer is contingent on several factors. First, popcorn is a complex snack to pin down since it comes in so many different varieties. On the other hand, organic, air-popped popcorn provides a large amount of nourishment.
  • Theatrical popcorn is known for being rich in calories and low in nutritional value. According to one study, a medium-sized bucket at one famous restaurant had enough calories to nourish a person for a day — but lacked the majority of the essential vitamins and minerals.
  • Microwavable popcorn may seem to be a healthier option at first sight — after all, it has considerably fewer calories per serving — but the chemicals are often included in the package, as well as the additional flavors, sweeteners, and butter products commonly included, negate any previous benefits.
  • Buying simple, organic kernels and air popping them yourself is the most acceptable way to enjoy popcorn.
  • Popcorn includes a considerable amount of antioxidants in the form of phenols; however, how much of this is absorbed by the body is unknown.
  • This low-calorie snack is packed in fiber and satisfying, making it a healthy alternative to many other junk food snacks.
  • Because popcorn contains manganese, it may aid in the formation and maintenance of strong bones.
  • Popcorn is created from a non-genetically modified seed, but pesticide contamination is still a concern if you purchase it in non-organic form.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is popcorn bad for you?

A: Popcorn is terrible for you because it has no nutritional value. It contains a lot of calories, but that’s not the only thing that makes popcorn unhealthy. When people eat large amounts of unsalted butter on their popcorn, they can also get fat and experience health issues like high cholesterol

Does popcorn cause inflammation in the body?

A: Yes, popcorn is a typical inflammatory food. The oil that it contains can cause inflammation in the body, and the salt content may also increase this effect.

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