Popcorn is a type of corn kernel that, when people heat it, it pops to become light and fluffy. Popcorn contains plenty of nutrients and vitamins when people make it in the right way.
Low in fat and high in fibre, popcorn can be a healthy snack – if you choose the right kind. Discover the perfect portion size and the healthiest flavourings.
Freshly-popped popcorn is one of the most satisfying snacks around, and instantly evokes that movie night excitement with each bite. In recent years our appetite for popcorn has sky-rocketed, with manufacturers advertising it as a better-for-you alternative to other snack options, such as crisps or chocolate. But does it really deserve its health halo? Read on to find out…
What is popcorn?
Popcorn is made from maize (corn) kernels that puff up and expand when exposed to heat – this can be done using butter or oil, or it can be air-popped where just heat is applied to the kernels. Once popped, flavourings such as salt, sugar or spices can be added.
Nutritional profile of popcorn
Air-popped, unflavoured popcorn is mostly made up of carbohydrate. It’s low in fat and high in fibre, making it a good snack option in comparison to crisps. It does contain some vitamins and minerals such as iron, zinc, magnesium and some B vitamins but not in large quantities, and it is traditionally low in calories, with a 30g portion providing just 122 calories.
However, the minute you start cooking popcorn in oil or butter and adding flavours, this can quickly turn it into quite an unhealthy snack. For example, a 30g bag of microwavable buttered popcorn provides over 10% of your recommended salt intake, and increases your daily saturated fat content. Sweet or salted popcorn will, of course, quickly increase the amount of salt and sugar in your daily diet.
Popcorn itself is gluten-free, but always check the label on any pre-made or pre-flavoured popcorn that nothing extra has been added if you are avoiding gluten.
What is a healthy portion size for popcorn?
A healthy portion size of popcorn is around 25-30g. While plain popcorn can be enjoyed as a low-calorie snack, portion size is key to keep calories in check. Flavoured varieties are best enjoyed as an occasional treat rather than as part of your daily diet.
How to buy the healthiest popcorn
The healthiest way to enjoy popcorn is to make it yourself at home using the kernels. Tuck into air-popped popcorn either plain, or using herbs and spices such as cinnamon or paprika for a burst of flavour.
If buying pre-made popcorn, the plainer the better. Always check the label to see what ‘extras’ have been added. Simple salt or sugar varieties will usually have fewer added ingredients than flavours such as toffee or chocolate marshmallow.
Popcorn has gained in popularity over recent years as it’s a low-calorie food, but if you’re going to the cinema just be mindful that a large bucket of salted popcorn contains around 1,400 calories and over 5g of salt!
Popcorn is diabetic friendly
Even though fibre is listed on food labels under total carbohydrates, it doesn’t have the same effect on blood sugar as refined carbs like white bread. High-fibre foods don’t contain as much digestible carbohydrate, so it slows the rate of digestion and causes a more gradual and lower rise in blood sugar, according to 2015 research in the journal Circulation.
It’s the perfect dieting snack
High-fibre foods take more time to digest than non-fibrous foods, so they can keep you fuller longer. Snacking on air-popped popcorn in between meals can make you less tempted by sweets and fatty foods. Just don’t load up on butter and salt.
Popcorn may help relieve constipation
Since popcorn is all whole grain, its insoluble fibre helps keep your digestive tract in check and prevents constipation. A 3-cup serving contains 3.5 grams of fibre, and a high-fibre diet can help promote intestinal regularity, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Source: BBC Good Food