Popcorn has changed from being viewed as a decadent movie theater treat to a healthy snack option. But is popcorn really good for you? The oil used to pop it, any seasonings applied, and perhaps even the corn kernels themselves, are the factors that determine the answer.

The Corn

Whole grains are a vital source of important vitamins, minerals, fiber, and disease-preventing antioxidants, and corn is one among them (even in its popped state). Because they contain the complete grain, whole grains are also satisfying, in contrast to refined grains, which have been depleted of fiber and minerals. According to research, eating whole grains may increase lifespan, reduce inflammation, and reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, and obesity. Even a lower BMI and less abdominal fat have been associated with eating three daily meals of whole grains.

But one thing to consider is whether your popcorn comes from a crop that was genetically altered. The unknown hazards associated with consuming GMO crops have several scientists and medical professionals worried. Look for popcorn or kernels that are USDA Certified Organic (which guarantees they don’t contain GMOs) or goods with the “Non-GMO Project Verified” label if you choose to avoid GMOs.

The Oil

Examine the oil indicated in the ingredients before selecting a brand of bagged popcorn. The best oils are monounsaturated fats (MUFAs), particularly avocado oil and extra virgin olive oil, which are heart-healthy and anti-inflammatory.

Higher omega-6 fatty acid oils likely to have pro-inflammatory properties. Examples of these oils are corn oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, and cottonseed oil.

olive, oil

Making your own popcorn on the stove gives you the option to use a high-MUFA oil or air-pop it using a hot air popper or a paper bag in the microwave, followed by a healthy oil mist. Also available are microwaveable popcorn brands like Quinn’s Just Sea Salt and Organic Popcorn that don’t use any oil.

The Seasonings

Lastly, think about the additions to your snack. The flavors on bagged popcorn may be as basic as sea salt and black pepper. Or the ingredients could consist of regular dairy products like butter and cheese that isn’t made with grass-fed or organic milk. Sugar or other sweeteners are sometimes used to season certain popcorn (think kettle corn). Check to see exactly what is in the bag before you delve in.

If you are making your own popcorn, you may get creative with healthy toppings like cinnamon and cocoa powder, dried fruit without preservatives, nuts or seeds, Italian or chipotle flavor, turmeric, and black pepper. You may manage the amount of salt you use while making your own.

The Bottom Line

Popcorn can be a nutritious snack, however the nutritional quality varies greatly. I always choose organic or non-GMO popcorn seasoned with sea salt or pink Himalayan salt and cooked with extra virgin olive or avocado oil.

If you prefer more decadent popcorn flavors, make them as occasional treats rather than regular staples. Also, be mindful of portion quantities. Popcorn has a serving size of three to three and a half cups, but it’s easy to finish a full-sized bag in one sitting. That may be the carb equal of five slices of bread. Furthermore, the increased sodium may promote fluid retention, which causes bloating.

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