Popcorn is a favorite snack and has been around for over a century. The massive market for popcorn is perhaps why companies try to keep it as interesting as they can by constantly reinventing it with new exciting flavors ranging from cotton candy to pumpkin. However, concerns about its impact on health have been raised, especially by women who worry that it may cause weight gain or belly fat.
Popcorn does not cause weight gain or belly fat when prepared correctly. Air-popped, lightly seasoned, or buttered popcorn may even aid in weight loss owing to its high fiber content, low-calorie count, and low energy density.
According to the American Heart Association, popcorn’s low energy density gives you a feeling of fullness before you’ve had too many mouthfuls. It’s also a great source of polyphenols which have been linked to improved blood circulation, lower risk of cancer, and better digestive health.
What Is A Healthy Way To Prepare Popcorn?
Now that you know popcorn doesn’t have to be banished from your diet, there’s a caveat.
Popcorn should be air-popped with just the right amount of seasoning and butter without artificial flavors that might have a high salt or sugar content, so it is best to make your own popcorn at home.
Popcorn may have the vote of health experts as a healthy snack but too much butter, seasoning, or other additives can quickly disqualify it as a healthy snack. Here are some things to bear in mind when fixing yourself a bowl of popcorn for your Netflix binge:
Air-popping is the process of popping popcorn by exposing the kernels to rapidly circulating heated air within a closed chamber. Air-popping is a healthy option as it eliminates the necessity for oil, which contains trans fats. Cooking oils rich in trans fats are the cheaper alternative to butter and are widely used in popcorn stands because it is more cost-effective.
Some people like to have their popcorn buttered which is fine if it’s used in considerable moderation. If you don’t have an air-popping machine, you don’t need one. You can make stovetop air-popped popcorn, and all you need is a nonstick pot with a tight-fitting lid.
Fresh popcorn is best for air-popping as the moisture in the kernels is what enables the corn to pop even without added oil. Popcorn that has been sitting in your cabinet since last year probably won’t pop as well because it has lost most of its moisture.
Even air-popped popcorn can be unhealthy when seasoned too heavily. Be wary of salty popcorn as it may cause weight gain. Sodium causes water retention, so increased sodium intake can cause weight gain due to the bloating that follows the water retention.
Increased sodium levels also suppress thirst and increase the feeling of hunger which can lead to overeating and eventual weight gain. So go easy on that salt-shaker. Even if you aren’t using salt as a flavoring, commercial popcorn seasoning packets have a high sodium content.
Keep the flavoring modest. We’ve already mentioned cotton candy-flavored popcorn. Regardless of what you think about the more novel flavors, it’s wise to avoid the sugary flavors altogether. Even good old caramel can bring your popcorn’s healthy snack rating down to the trash. A high sugar intake provides you with excessive calories, which can result in increased visceral fat (fat around your organs).
A few sprinkles of caramel probably won’t start you down the road to diabetes or any chronic illness. Still, if movie nights with popcorn is a weekly tradition, the cumulative effects may be felt later down the road.
Also, these sugary flavorings can cause a temporary spike in blood sugar which usually precedes a crash, causing you to feel hungry again, leading to overeating. If you’re trying out a low-carb diet, it’s probably best to skip the caramel.
With that in mind, it is probably best to limit the caramel-topped and cotton candy flavored popcorn to special occasions, not weekly movie nights. It’s also worth noting that these sweet flavorings can cause tooth decay and popcorn hulls can cause gum injuries.
Do It Yourself
If you’re trying to strip your popcorn down to its healthiest form, the best way to do this is to avoid the popcorn stands and pop your corn at home. The health benefits are worth the extra effort needed to pop your own bowl of popcorn.
Although some popcorn stands offer air-popped popcorn and let you decide how heavily or lightly you want it seasoned, most popcorn at the stands is dispensed from a huge tub of already popped and flavored corn, so you have little control over what gets served to you.
On that last note of do-it-yourself corn popping at home, you should probably know, if you don’t already, that microwave popcorn has earned itself a bad rep in the past due to its being linked to what is called “popcorn lung.”
Diacetyl, a chemical responsible for microwave popcorn’s buttery taste and aroma, is linked to irreparable damage to the lungs when inhaled in huge amounts because it causes the narrowing of airways resulting from scarring.
While you probably don’t inhale your popcorn, other chemicals in your microwave popcorn packet give rise to cancer risks. Perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) are used in the production of microwave popcorn packaging because of their ability to resist grease, making them ideal for preventing oil from seeping through popcorn bags.
Companies that still produce microwave popcorn assure consumers that the problem has been fixed but critics continue to warn against the potential dangers.
When prepared the right way, health experts agree that popcorn comes with a host of health benefits that health-conscious consumers will find assuring. On top of the benefits already mentioned, popcorn is also packed with nutrients, including vitamins and minerals.
A regular-sized bowl of popcorn contains 15 grams (0.03 lb) of fiber, which is considered quite high by nutritional standards. Foods with a high fiber content are known to aid in regular bowel movement and clean the gut on its way out. So you have nothing to fear from your kitchen air-popped, lightly seasoned, mildly flavored bowl of popcorn.