Is Popcorn Healthy?

It's so hard to resist the aroma of that fresh-popped corn. But is popcorn healthy for you?

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For many of us, homemade popcorn is the perfect snack. It’s been touted as a life-changing healthy food swap because it’s low-calorie and high in fiber. But is it possible to have too much of a good thing? Is popcorn really healthy?

Is Popcorn Healthy for You?

Yes—but it depends on how it’s prepared. Your homemade popcorn (without butter) only has about 30-35 calories per cup. You can eat a few cups of it in the afternoon without blowing your healthy meal plan. The fiber in popcorn will keep you full between meals and even help with digestion.

Popcorn is also rich in disease-fighting antioxidants. According to a study in the journal Antioxidants, popcorn is high in polyphenols. These compounds protect our bodies from inflammation and are found in fruits and vegetables. Because fruits and vegetables are made up of mostly water, popcorn can deliver more polyphenols per serving because it’s more concentrated.

So, unfortunately, we can’t say that popcorn is a healthy alternative to kale, but there’s definitely room for both in your diet!

What Type of Popcorn Is Healthy?

Air-Popped Popcorn

The healthiest type of popcorn is air-popped. That’s because it does not have any added fats from butter or oil. Air-popped popcorn can be prepared in a popcorn maker and contains just one gram of fat.

Oil-Popped Popcorn

The next best type of popcorn is oil-popped (Here’s how to make popcorn on the stove, the old-fashioned way!). Look for healthy oils that can withstand high temps like walnut and avocado oils. Extra virgin olive oil is also a healthful choice, just go easy on the salt.

Buttered Popcorn

Finally, buttered popcorn ranks last due to its fat content. If you can’t do without, use a small amount of butter and salt along with a healthier oil. While movie theater popcorn dripping with liquid yellow deliciousness is tempting, it’s best to reserve that for a rare treat.

Is It Healthy to Eat Popcorn Every Day?

While it’s best to eat a variety of nutritious foods each day, enjoying a small bowl of popcorn every afternoon is a healthy choice. Opt for air- or oil-popped and try changing the flavor up. Start with this savory popcorn seasoning.

Is Store-Bought Popcorn Healthy?

It can be. There are actually quite a few healthy, store-bought popcorn options out there to help save you time and money. Just spend a minute reading the label first.

First, find out what type of oil the popcorn was cooked in. Plant-based oils like avocado or vegetable are best. If you see “partially hydrogenated” on the label, it’s best to walk away. Those oils are loaded with trans fats that are dangerous to your heart.

Next, check out the salt and sugar content. Read both the sodium and carbohydrate levels to decide if this popcorn is a good investment.

The Healthy Popcorn Brands We Love

It only has a dash of sea salt and 50 calories (or less) per cup.

SkinnyPop has a near-perfect rating on Amazon, and of course, no trans fats.

It has 50% less fat than regular movie theater kernels, with just enough of a buttery taste.

Find More Ideas for Healthy Snacks
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Carrie Madormo, RN
Carrie is a health writer and nurse who specializes in healthy eating and wellness through food. With a master’s degree in public health from the Medical College of Wisconsin, she strives to translate the latest health and nutrition research into interesting, actionable articles. During her six years at Taste of Home, Carrie has answered hundreds of reader questions about health and nutrition, such as if pomegranate seeds are safe to eat, why pregnant women crave pickles and how much caffeine is in a shot of espresso. Carrie is also a former health coach and food blogger.