We know popcorn as a very popular and fun snack to accompany a movie marathon or date. However, popcorn is not always limited to the movies with a lot of us enjoying it as our go to treat whenever we feel like snacking. For a lot of us, popcorn can be one of our favorite treats to binge on. Sometimes, a bowl of popcorn is not enough so we make another one!
Given the popularity attached with popcorn, it is important for us to know what exactly is in a bite of these crunchy grub.
What is popcorn?
Popcorn, in simple terms, is a corn based snack which “pops” into a crunchy and flowery form when exposed to high amounts of heat. We can eat popcorn as is without adding anything. However, it is often paired with toppings such as salt, butter, cheese, and more to enhance its flavor.
Did you know that the snack was first discovered in New Mexico and is said to be over 5,000 years old? Yup, that’s how old these crunchy treats are.
It first became popular during the Great Depression due to its cheapness. It was fairly cheap considering that a bag would cost around 5 to 10 cents. During the Great Depression, a lot of business failed but the popcorn business thrived instead.
In the United States of America, it is the most popular snack food by volume. 1.2 billion pounds or 500 million kilograms are consumed everyday by Americans. That’s a lot of popcorn popping every second!
Despite its popularity however, how healthy is it really? Let us take a look at the facts so we can know for sure and assess whether popcorn is truly worth consuming for health conscious people.
Nutrition facts of popcorn
A cursory glance at the typical nutrition facts of popcorn reveal a lot about this unsuspecting yet avidly consumed snack.
Popcorn contains the following vitamins and minerals: 7% of the recommended daily intake (RDI) of vitamin B1 (Thiamin); 12% of the RDI of vitamin B3 (Niacin); 8% of the RDI of vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine); 18% of the RDI of Iron; 36% of the RDI of Magnesium; 36% of the RDI of Phosphorus; 9% of the RDI of Potassium; 21% of the RDI of Zinc; 13% of the RDI of Copper; and lastly 56% of the RDI Manganese.
Popcorn is loaded with all sorts of vitamins and minerals we need for a healthy mind and body. With this alone, we can thus see that this unsuspecting snack does indeed pack a lot of vitamins and nutrients. What does this mean however? What sort of health benefits do these nutrients result in? Let us take a look at some of the health benefits of these fun, crunchy, and delicious snacks.
1. Popcorn can help you lose weight
Popcorn can be good for those who are watching their weight. The snack is surprisingly very low in fat and calories. Three cups of popcorn contains only 110 calories and 1 gram of fat. You can compare that with a chocolate bar that has 556 calories and 32 grams of fat per 100 grams.
Well, this is if you keep it simple. The healthiest popcorn is those which are low in butter and oil.
2. Popcorn is high in fiber
The recommended daily intake of fiber is 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men. When you eat even just 100 grams of popcorn, you are already supplying your body with 15 grams of fiber that it needs. This satisfies more than half of recommended daily fiber intake for women, and almost half of daily recommended fiber intake for men.
3. Popcorn is whole grain
Popcorn is a whole grain and that means a single kernel of popcorn contains the bran, germ, and endosperm.
Refined grain products like most of the bread we eat contain less nutrients than whole grain products. This is because refined grains have been milled, removing the bran and germ. The process gives the grain a finer texture and improves their shelf life. However, it also removes most of the dietary fiber, iron, and a lot of B vitamins, making it not the top choice for health buffs.
4. Popcorn helps keep your blood sugar low
A food’s glycemic index (GI) shows how much your blood sugar rises after consuming a particular food. With this, in terms of GI, popcorn has a decent score of 55 which categorizes it as a low GI food, as compared to sweets like vanilla wafers with a GI of 77, and oven baked pretzels which have a GI of 83. This makes it a decent snack option for persons with diabetes who have to watch their blood sugar levels carefully.
The next time you are thinking of snacking on some vanilla wafers or oven baked pretzels, think again. Be kinder to your body and have a bowl of popcorn instead. A bowl of popcorn is better for you.
What are unhealthy ways to cook popcorn?
Not all popcorn is equally healthy. For example, air-popped popcorn is low in calories, while ready-made popcorn is extremely high in calories. Meanwhile, popcorn in theaters often comes with unhealthy fats, artificial flavorings, and high amounts of sugar and salt which cancel out the initial health benefits of popcorn. A medium sized bag can have up to 1,200 calories without even factoring toppings such as butter and salt. That’s more than the 207 calories you will get from 100 grams of sweet ice cream! Commercial popcorn therefore is not really the pinnacle of health, and ought to be avoided for those watching their health.
How to make popcorn healthy?
Given that commercial varieties are not the best for your health, the following are tips to help you make popcorn that is healthier and kinder for your body.
1. Keep the amount of oil decent, and stick to the likes of olive oil or coconut oil.
2. Avoid artificial flavorings and copious amounts of butter.
3. Additional flavor can be added by using fresh herbs and spices. For those seeking something sweet, cinnamon or chocolate shavings can often be a good topping.
4. Lastly, consume popcorn in moderation. Like all food, too much popcorn is never good for you, even with its initial health benefits.
Popcorn, when made right, can benefit your health greatly. It can contain high loads of the nutrients that we need such as vitamins, minerals, and fiber. However, at the end of it all, it is important to note that we should consume popcorn in moderation. We know how surprisingly tasty these crunchy treats can be, but as with all things, too much can be bad.
Lastly, as a helpful tip, the next time you are in the grocery shopping for a bag of popcorn, check the label first before buying anything.