By Anne Palumbo
My love affair with popcorn began after my first child. Desperate to shed pregnancy pounds, I reached for the puffy stuff daily. Oh, the satisfaction! It filled me up, I lost weight, it became my BSF: Best Snack Forever.
The main perk of popcorn is that it’s a whole grain snack. Unlike refined grain snacks that have been stripped of some nutrients, popcorn, with its entire seed intact, boasts a slew of health benefits.
As with other whole grains, consuming popcorn may reduce inflammation, lower cholesterol and decrease the risk of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity and some forms of cancer.
A three-cup serving of popcorn provides a whopping 3.5 grams of fiber, which is about 14% of the recommended daily intake of fiber for women and about 12% for men. These days, with my finicky digestion and high cholesterol, all that fiber makes me deliriously happy, not to mention, remarkably full. A recent study, in fact, found that 15 calories of popcorn was just as satisfying as 150 calories of potato chips.
Beyond its fiber, popcorn is a good source of polyphenols, which are powerful antioxidants that have been linked to better circulation, improved digestion and a reduced risk of certain cancers and age-related diseases.
Looking to lose some weight? Popcorn is a dieter’s best friend. It’s super low in calories (a three-cup serving of air-popped popcorn has fewer than 100); it provides prolonged satiety because its complex carbohydrates take longer to digest; and it has scant fat and salt.
Of course, popcorn can quickly become an unhealthy snack if it’s doused with oil or butter, salt or sugar. A big tub of movie theater popcorn, for example, can inflict over 1000 calories and several days’ worth of salt and fat. So, mindful preparation is key. Air-popped popcorn is your healthiest bet because it provides some control over the seasonings added afterwards. Microwave popcorn can be a healthy choice, too, especially since most brands have removed trans fats and the chemical linked to “popcorn lung” — the wheezing disease that resulted from fumes inhaled when a bag was opened.
¼ cup popcorn kernels
1 tablespoon olive or canola oil
½ teaspoon chili powder
½ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon paprika
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon dried oregano
pinch of cayenne (optional)
¼ teaspoon salt
Pop the popcorn kernels: in the microwave (using a folded-over brown lunch bag or a silicone popcorn popper) or in an air popper. If using a microwave, cook until there are 2 to 3 seconds between pops, about 3 minutes. Transfer the popcorn to a big bowl.
In a small glass bowl, mix together the olive oil and all the spices, then microwave for 20 seconds and stir again. Drizzle the oil mixture over the popcorn, tossing with your hands. Enjoy!
When buying microwave or popped popcorn, read labels carefully. You might be surprised by the calorie and sugar counts of kettle corn, as well as the calorie and salt counts of cheddar cheese popcorn. Pop your own kernels in the microwave using a brown paper bag or (my favorite!) a silicone BPA-free popcorn popper.
Anne Palumbo is a lifestyle columnist, food guru, and seasoned cook, who has perfected the art of preparing nutritious, calorie-conscious dishes. She is hungry for your questions and comments about SmartBites, so be in touch with Anne at firstname.lastname@example.org.