26 April 11 Popcorn

Air-popped popcorn is a healthful whole grain snack that is relatively low in calories, sodium-free and sugar-free. Two tablespoons of yellow popcorn kernels will yield about 3 cups popped. And it is really cheap! Where I live, a 2 lb bag of popcorn costs $1.99, so one serving is only 6 cents. Not bad if you are on a budget.

In addition to crunch and low cost, popcorn has nutritional merit. Three cups of air-popped popcorn contains about 93 calories, 1 g fat (mostly polyunsaturated), 18 g carbs (no sugar), 3 g fiber, and 3 g protein. It also contains a small amount of potassium, iron, niacin, and folate. To air-pop, you can use a popcorn air-popper machine or you can simply buy a microwavable bowl and top. Nordic Ware brand makes an inexpensive bowl and loosely-fitting top specifically for microwaving popcorn. I found mine at Target but you can also find it online.

Oil-Popped Popcorn

My mom used to make popcorn in a cast-iron skillet with vegetable oil (a polyunsaturated fat). That adds about 54 calories of polyunsaturated fat (about 6 grams of fat) to my 3 cups of popped popcorn. If you use canola oil, you will be adding the same amount of calories, but the type of fat will be mostly the monounsaturated fats. Any non-hydrogenated vegetable oil is a heart-healthier choice than buying movie-style microwave popcorn or theatre popcorn.


Although I am thrilled that so many people have stopped salting their food, some processed popcorn products will contain more sodium than if you simply salted your home-made popcorn. Regular salt contains 295 mg of sodium per 1/8 teaspoon. If you only use 1/16 teaspoon (one-half of a 1/8 teaspoon) – that limits sodium to about 145 mg. That is about 6% of the Dietary Guidelines goal of 2300 mg or less. Not bad.

Be careful with sea salt, however – it is only slightly lower in sodium than regular salt. For example, La Baleine sea salt contains 270 mg of sodium for 1/8 teaspoon – only 25 mg lower than regular salt.

For a handy little tip, you can help the salt stick to the popped kernels if you grind the salt very fine. But measure first and then grind. If you use spray oils, then spray your popcorn first and then salt – that will also help the salt stick to the popped kernels.

Other tasty and healthful popcorn toppings:

Cinnamon (0 mg sodium)

Lemon juice with nutritional yeast flakes (0 mg sodium)

Garlic salt (Lawry's has 120 mg sodium per 1/8 teaspoon)

Grated parmesan cheese (190 mg sodium for 2 tbsp)

Morton's Lite Salt (145 mg sodium per 1/8 teaspoon)

Old Bay 30% Less Sodium Seasoning (48 mg sodium per 1/8 teaspoon)

Spike 5 Herb Magic (0 mg sodium)

Spike Vegit Magic (15 mg sodium per 1/4 teaspoon)

Microwave Popcorn

I implore you to read the Nutrition Facts panel for any brand of microwavable popcorn. Unfortunately, there are many brands that still contain trans fats (partially hydrogenated oil). Most of the lower fat and calories-controlled bags (e.g. Orville Redenbacher's Smart Pop) will be lower in fat and salt, but to be sure, always read the label. Also, avoid buying any type that includes partially hydrogenated oil in the ingredient list, even if the trans fat is reported as "0 grams."

Theatre Popcorn

Popcorn sold in the big movie theatres is a landmine of calories, saturated fat, and salt. Even the small size will run you about 370 (AMC) – 670 (Regal) calories because of the "buttery" topping. Be sure to read "Big: Movie Theatres Fill Buckets…and Bellies." in Nutrition Action if you have a fondness for theatre popcorn!
Katherine Isacks, MPS, RD
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Disclaimer: The information provided here does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit your healthcare provider or medical professional.


Foods & Recipes/Popcorn Meal Planning & Diets/Snacks

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