Is popcorn a healthy snack?

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
While popcorn is a healthy snack, it isn't when it is doused in buttery chemicals and served in huge quantities. A small bucket of buttered movie or stadium popcorn delivers more than a 400 calories! So a serving of popcorn is 200 calories vs, at 140 calories for the tortilla chips. The solution? Bring your own air-popped popcorn and season it yourself.

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Marisa Moore
Nutrition & Dietetics
Popcorn can certainly be a healthy snack as long as it's not smothered in butter, salt or some sort of cheese powder.
If you're looking for a high volume snack, popcorn is the perfect match. Three cups of air-popped popcorn has 93 calories, 3.5g fiber and only 1 gram of fat. And yes, you heard right -- 3 cups! You might also be happy to know that popcorn is a whole grain. 

To keep it healthy, season it yourself. Add a southwestern flair by adding chipotle chili powder, cumin and a squeeze of lime. Go Italian with dried basil, oregano, garlic powder and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.
Kate Geagan
Nutrition & Dietetics
One of my favorite simple snacking secrets is popcorn. One serving of popcorn is 3 cups (a nice hefty portion) and packs 3.5 grams of fiber, which is good for your heart, your blood sugar and your digestive system. All for only 93 calories! One study suggests there’s another perk as well: Popcorn seems to be particularly high in antioxidants, a health benefit that can’t be tacked on to many other foods in the snack aisle.

Choose plain, air-popped popcorn, as it is lower in calories and sodium than microwave popcorn (and more budget-friendly). If you can find colorful heirloom varieties (many gorgeous red, purple and black corns are making a comeback), you may boost the antioxidant content even further, and the vibrant colors are a fun twist.
Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
The once noble reputation of America's iconic snack has been badly damaged. First we found out that a bag of movie popcorn and a soda delivers a total of more than 1,600 calories, and a nuclear bomb of 60 grams of saturated fat. Then we discovered a chemical-laced toxic treat called microwave popcorn. (The packaging sheds perfluorooctanoic acid, a carcinogen that lingers in the body.) So much for a healthy snack!

Well, I am here to support healthy popcorn -- the 100% whole grain goodie that, when prepared correctly, delivers the highest dose of heart-protecting phytonutrients of any grain around. It's high in fiber, too, which helps to control low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, smooth digestion, and make your heart younger. Plus, 4 cups of fat-free popcorn is a great 100-calorie snack!
Toby Smithson
Nutrition & Dietetics

Popcorn can be a healthy snack if it is low in fat content. Popcorn is a whole grain and a source of energy boosting carbohydrate. The serving size for 15 grams of carbohydrate is 3 cups popped popcorn and contains less than 100 calories. Beware of the pre-packaged or microwave popcorns for the portion size and fat content per serving. It is easy to eat a larger serving and the calories and fat can add up quickly.

Rose Reisman
Nutrition & Dietetics
“Unadulterated” (or air popped) popcorn has to be one of the healthiest snacks we could consume. This whole grain contains:
  • over 40 nutrients including all the B complex vitamins, vitamin E, Riboflavin and Thiamine
  • high source of fiber and heart protecting phytonutrients
  • more protein than many other grains, excluding quinoa
  • more iron than eggs, roast beef or spinach
  • only 30 calories per cup
Only true if it’s air popped! A large movie popcorn (22 cups) has 1200 calories, 79 g fat and 1300 mg sodium! That’s a day’s worth of calories, fat and sodium. Have a small (11 cups) at 600 calories, 40 g fat and 600 mg sodium or better have the kid’s size (5 cups) at 300 calories, 18 g fat and 250 mg sodium. An acceptable treat!

“Smartfood” popcorn isn’t such a smart snack! Each kernel is coated with corn oil and cheddar cheese. A 5-cup serving will cost you 430 calories, 25 g fat and 640 mg sodium. The same amount of fat as 3 Lick’s “Chick’n’lick’n” burgers on a whole wheat bun with ‘Guk’!

5 cups of Orville Redenbacher’s microwave “Smart Popcorn” is only 260 calories, 4 g fat and 360 mg sodium. That’s a decent after dinner snack. But 5 cups can be consumed pretty quickly. Microwave popcorn is also chemically laced with Perfluorooctanoic acid, which is toxic and a carcinogen that stays in your body when consumed. That no longer tastes so appealing.

Instead try:
  • Stove top popcorn: Add 1 tbsp. of oil to a small pot and put on a medium heat. Add 3 tbsp. kernels, cover and cook for about 3 minutes or until you no longer hear popping. This will give you about 4 cups at about 240 calories and 12 g of fat. Add some seasonings of your choice and spray with some vegetable oil to increase the flavor.
  • Air popper: Add 3 tbsp. kernels to the machine and 2 minutes you have crispy kernels. If you enjoy this without added butter you’re only eating 120 calories with no fat. Spray some vegetable oil over the popcorn, add sea salt or other seasoning for more flavor with only a few more calories.
  • Paper bag: Another method that your kids will love! Take a handful of kernels and place in a small lunch paper bag. Fold over the top, lie flat in the microwave and cook on high for 3 minutes, just until the popping stops. Add some vegetable spray, salt or any spice you like such as parmesan cheese, garlic powder, curry powder or red pepper flakes!
Popcorn, one of America's munching staples, can be a healthful snack. We're not talking about the greasy tubs you get at the movie theater. Instead, go for the air-popped corn dressed up with a little heart-healthy olive oil and a pinch of sea salt.
Judy Caplan
Nutrition & Dietetics
Popcorn can be a very healthy snack but you need to pay attention to how it is cooked. Popcorn that is cooked in hydrogenated oils, drenched in butter or coconut oil, and over salted is not healthy. If you cook popcorn in canola or olive oil or air pop it, you will be eating a high fiber snack. Season popcorn with a drizzle of olive oil, Parmesan cheese, and garlic powder for a delicious healthy snack. Popcorn is a carbohydrate so limit the amount to a reasonable serving.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.