Is Popcorn Healthy? Get the lowdown on whether or not popcorn is a good snack, the best ways to pop popcorn, and whether not not microwave popcorn is good for you. Let's get popping!
We're big time popcorn lovers in our family. It's our salty snack of choice, and my husband, who is the master popper in our home, pops up a huuuuuge batch of popcorn a couple of times per week.
So here's the million dollar question: Is popcorn healthy? Well, yes. And no. Let’s break it down.
What is popcorn?
Popcorn is one of six types of corn cultivated around the world today. It’s scientific name is zea mays everta, and it is the only type of corn that will pop when heated. The ability to pop stems from the moisture content inside the kernel, which for popcorn is around 14%.
Is popcorn healthy?
Popcorn is an intact whole grain, which means that the bran, the germ, and the endosperm are all intact within the kernel. Popcorn is high in fiber, particularly insoluble, which is kind of like a cleanup crew for your digestive tract. It’s also a good source of vitamin C, B3, and manganese.
In it’s purest form, air-popped popcorn is a healthy whole grain snack which per 1 cup has about 31 calories, 1 gram of protein, 6 grams of carbohydrate, 1 gram of fiber, and only trace amounts of fat.
Is oil-popped popcorn healthy?
The nutritional value of oil-popped popcorn varies depending on the type and quantity of oil used to pop the corn. Oils that have high smoke-points are preferred as they won’t break down or oxidize as readily during the popping as would oils with a low smoke-point.
What kind of oil is best for popping popcorn?
Canola or coconut oil are good choices. Olive oil has a lower smoke-point and breaks down easily when heated so it is a poorer choice nutritionally. (Real talk: I pop my corn with olive oil all the dang time. I just like the flavour.)
A tablespoon of vegetable oil has about 115 calories and 15 grams of fat, so if you’re popping half a cup of popcorn kernels (which, according to popcorn.org, becomes about 16 cups of popped corn, although personal experience tells me it's about half that) in 2 tablespoons of oil it works out to about 40 calories and 1 gram of fat per cup of popped corn.
But we still haven’t put anything on it! I like my popcorn with melted butter, nutritional yeast, and Old Bay seasoning on it. Yum! Say we melted ¼ cup of butter to drizzle on that 16 cups of popcorn. We’re adding about 400 calories and 45g of fat in all, so our popcorn is now 65 calories and 4 grams of fat per cup.
That still doesn’t sound so bad, but I know that I can take down half of that batch of popcorn no problem, which means my snack has just added up to over 500 calories and 64 grams of fat. And we haven’t talked about sodium yet. It adds up quickly!
Is popcorn a good snack?
In my house we usually only enjoy delicious buttery popcorn as a treat on the weekends, but if popcorn is a daily snack for you, air-popped is the way to go. With the fiber and nutrients popcorn is bringing to the table, that buttery bowl of corn is still a better choice than opening up a bag of chips.
Air-popped popcorn would make a great every day snack, as would oil-popped if you kept it bare naked. The buttery stuff should be a moderation situation.
Is microwave popcorn bad for you?
Wellll, this is where things start to fall apart. There are two main problems here: the bag, and the contents.
The bag that almost all microwave popcorn brands use is lined with perflurooctanoic acid (say that five times fast). This is the same toxin found in teflon non-stick pans. PFOA can stay in the environment and the human body for long periods of time.
When heated, this chemical has been linked to infertility, cancer, and other diseases.
What’s in the bag isn’t much better. It changes from brand to brand, but a quick skim of ingredients lists from some of the major brands reveals a slew of added oil included hydrogenated vegetable oils (trans fats) salt, artificial flavour and colour, and preservatives.
Have you heard of popcorn lung? That artificial butter flavour is so toxic it has been linked to bronchiolitis obliterans, a rare, life-threatening, and irreversible obstructive lung disease.
This was previously thought to only affect factory workers who were inhaling air-born diacetyl in that buttery flavour, but in 2007 a heavy consumer of microwave popcorn (2 bags a day) became the first public consumer to be diagnosed with popcorn lung.
This certainly isn’t to say that the occasional bag of microwave popcorn is going to kill you, but keep it as an infrequent treat and don’t inhale when you open the bag!
Should I buy organic popcorn?
Does organic matter? Again, yes and no.
If you’re worried about GMOs then there’s good news! According to GMO expert Jeffrey Smith (executive director of the Institute for Responsible Technology), although almost 90% of the corn grown and eaten in the US is GMO corn, popcorn comes from a different seed and has not been genetically modified. Yet.
Buttt, if you want to ensure that your popcorn is free from pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, fertilizers, and other chemical residues, then organic is your best bet. The good news is that organic popcorn still works out to mere pennies when you pop it at home.
The bottom line?
Popcorn is a healthy whole grain and can be a totally nutritious snack. How you pop it and how you top it will of course influence the overall nutritional value.
Air-popped is the best choice but oil popped isn’t far behind. Be conservative with the butter or oil toppings, and avoid frequent consumption of microwave popcorn.
World's healthiest Foods - Popcorn
Is Coconut Oil Healthy?
That Salt Study
This post was originally published June 19, 2014. It was edited and updated on January 17, 2019. Some of the photos in this post were purchased from Canva.
I use both a glass popcorn popper and do not use butter. I drizzle olive oil on it. I also heat olive oil on medium and pop on stove top...I ALWAYS use organic popcorn. I eat it often.
I am a popcorn finatic. I cannot recommend a popcorn brand more than Amish Ladyfinger popcorn. You can buy it on Amazon and it’s miniature and has NO HULLS! It’s absolutrly delicious. I pop it in high quality grape seed oil. Olive oil makes it a bit chewy because it doesn’t heat hot enough. But almost any other oil is great. I use Amish popcorn seasoning (also on Amazon) or salt and Parmesan cheese.
I use this bowl to air pop in my microwave and it works beautifully: https://www.nordicware.com/microwave-popcorn-popper
I usually spray with some olive oil or butter spray after and add salt and cinnamon if I'm looking for something sweet. I have some Austrian pumpkin seed oil that I've been drizzling on too if I am ok with the extra calories (it's DELICIOUS! And a weird color, but I digress).
Story Tellers Vintage
I make mine on the stove top with coconut oil and a small amount of butter and salt. Happy to learn it's fairly healthy 🙂
I just made 1/4 cup popcorn in 1/4 cup olive oil on the stove. Not all the olive oil is on the popcorn because the pot is greasy. According to your formula my popcorn is 80 calories per cup. I had 6 cups. That would be 480 calories. I just don't think it's that much. I like air popped popcorn (or copporn as my nephew used to call it LOL). and I use Kernal Season's flavors using no calorie olive oil spray to make it stick. (I eat virtually no sodium so the sodium still doesn't bring me anywhere near the us rda. I'm not worried. I ate very well today and no snacking at all. I lost 3 pounds since Monday just by eating clean (except for pizza on Wednesday), no snacking and no more than 1200 calories./day. Hoping for another 3 pounds by Monday. 🙂
And THIS is why I'm never eating microwave popcorn ever again O.O
I pop my popcorn on the stove with olive oil and Mrs Dash garlic and herb with substitute salt.
what a great post enjoyed reading this and eating my popcorn that was pop in coconut oil
Great article! I really appreciate what you said about popcorn corn not being of the same GMO modified nature as the rest of the corn out there- that is really significant and great to know! Thanks for the great article!
Keep up the great work,
Great article addressing the nutritional side of popcorn. My favorite method of cooking it in in the Whirley Pop on the stove. 1/2 cup of kernels, 1 Tbsp olive oil, 1 Tbsp coconut oil and 3/4 tsp of Flavacol and you have popcorn that tastes just like the movies without having to add all the extra butter.
I used to have a whirley popper and enjoyed it very much. When it broke down after many years of use I switched to just using a heavy-bottomed pot on the stove and I prefer that now. I just looked up the ingredients in Flavacol... yikes! I'll be sticking with real butter.
Daring to Dream it
Reblogged this on Daring to Dream...... and commented:
This is a well stated article about my favorite snack... popcorn!
I'm so excited to read you will accept questions!! Thank you!!
I make popcorn in the microwave, no oil, glass popcorn popper. Three minutes, and there are very few, if any, spinsters. 🙂
I usually have it plain, if I want something on it I will add a quick, very fine mist spray of olive oil, and then sprinkle whatever on top. A quick shake, and it gets covered and sticks. (If you just shake something on top, it all settles on the bottom.)
I'm glad you're excited! I'm excited to start doing it too. Is this glass popcorn popper of yours specifically for popcorn? It sounds perfect!
Yes! It is Catamount Glassware Popcorn Popper. There are two sizes: 1 qt. "personal" size and a 2.5 qt. (Do not put butter on the top and let it melt - it melts too quickly, keeping the popcorn from popping, and burns what has popped.)
Great to know! Thanks for the information 🙂
Popcorn is our 'go to' snack. We use grape seed oil, (though I'm sure it's not as tasty as olive) on an old fashioned stove top popper. No butter, just a bit of salt and nutritional yeast. (We are such stoics!) But we scarf down several cups. You can't do this with cheese.
Looks like we can get a bit more adventurous on the seasonings, and check for exotic varieties.
Thanks for a great post.
No, you definitely can't do that with cheese! But I do love the cheesy flavour nutritional yeast adds to the popcorn - one of my favourites for sure.
Carol Ann Hoel
I've been curious about popcorn's true value. Thanks for the enlightenment. I'll definitely switch from microwave to my own kettle. Blessings to you...
Glad to have helped enlighten you! Making your own is definitely the way to go, then you truly know what you're eating!
How about in the microwave but in Tupperware or glass (Pyrex) (with kernals) either air popped or with oil?
I think from a nutritional standpoint that kind of microwave popping is perfectly fine, though I'm not sure how oil stands up to microwaving. I prefer the way my stove top corn turns out, but if you're happy with the results when microwaving in pyrex, then go for it!
Love the corn popped in my microwave popper. I use a small amount of oil and salt.
spell check doesn't like nooch 🙂
Yes, I've done the paper bag in the microwave thing, and no flames. I find it doesn't pop as well as air or stove top though, and I often end up with a lot of unpopped kernels (technically referred to as 'spinsters') but it is a good technique to be aware of. Interesting about the polyphenols, I'll have to look I to that further!
I had a rant last year on by blog about those horrid bags. A reader wrote in to say that as a microwave alternative he popped his corn in an old-fashioned paper bag. I had read about this before but always worried about fire risk. Since then my Dad and others I know have done the homemade popcorn bag thing, and it is all perfectly cooked and no flames 🙂 I have popcorn once or twice a week, air-popping usually and then spraying with a quality butter spray and topping with notch and popcorn salt. Sometimes with nori flakes or leftover crumbled kale chips (the latter is rare as I always scoff the kale chips!). Thanks for reassuring all that popcorn is in fact good for us. Apparently the polyphenol content rivals that of many nuts. Not sure how many studies confirm this, but I'll believe it until otherwise rebutted.
I tried the paper bag thing and then I saw this bright light in my microwave. yup--- set the damn bag on fire. My landlord didn't even smell it. how I have no idea. I never did THAT again. I just make it on the stove w/ oil or air pop it.
This is great to hear because I do probably eat more popcorn then I should, but I use GMO free heirloom varieties of corn (blue corn popcorn is really awesome) But I'm sure I probably put a little too much butter on sometimes 😉 Hope you are having fun on your trip!
I always put too much butter on my weekend popcorn! During the week I've taken to popping it in coconut oil and having it bare naked. I love it!