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9 Reasons You Need Popcorn in Your Diet

Eating popcorn is one of the healthiest snack habits. It helps fight cancer, fills you with fiber, and has more antioxidants than fruits and vegetables.

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container of popcorn with popcorn on the tablePeopleImages via iStock
PeopleImages via iStock

It has few calories, if you pop it the right way

When we talk about the benefits of eating popcorn, we’re talking about air-popped popcorn, not the fatty, butter-drenched stuff you get at the movies. The Center for Science in the Public Interest found that the medium and large popcorn sizes at Regal theaters each had 1,200 calories and 60 grams of saturated fat. A large popcorn at AMC wasn’t much better: 1,030 calories and 57 grams of saturated fat.  The healthiest type of popcorn is air-popped, which only has 30 calories, but what about the other kinds of popcorn? Here’s the scoop on what kinds of popcorn are healthy (and what ones are not).

For air-popped popcorn, use a hot air popper or try this hack: Put 3-4 tablespoons of kernels in a brown paper bag, fold the top of the bag twice to make sure it’s closed, and then microwave for two minutes, or until there are only a few seconds between pops.

Try: Hamilton Beach Hot Air Popcorn Popper

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OJO_Images via iStock

Popcorn could be healthier than fruits and vegetables

Yep, you read that right. Scientists from the University of Scranton found that popcorn is loaded with polyphenols, compounds found in plants that act as antioxidants and can reduce inflammation. Polyphenols are heavily diluted in fruits and vegetables, which are 90 percent water. Yet popcorn is made up of about 4 percent water, so the polyphenols are more highly concentrated, especially in the hulls (the hard shells that get stuck in your teeth). One serving of popcorn can contain up to 300 mg of polyphenols, or 13 percent of the average American’s daily intake. Fruits account for 255 mg of polyphenols per day, and vegetables bring in even less (218 mg per day). That said, popcorn doesn’t have many other vitamins and nutrients, so it can’t completely replace fruits and veggies in your diet. Learn the secret to making amazing DIY popcorn.

Try: Orville Redenbacher’s Gourmet Popcorn Kernels

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freemixer via iStock
freemixer via iStock

Popcorn may help fight cancer

One of the many powers of polyphenols, like those found in popcorn, is their ability to block enzymes that cancers need to grow and, in doing so, regulate the spread of cancerous cells. The traditional way to reap these health benefits is by eating fruits and vegetables, but the high concentration of polyphenols makes eating popcorn a healthy alternative. Since they can also prevent inflammation and plaque buildup, foods rich in polyphenols can help prevent cardiovascular disease.

Try: Smartfood Delight Sea Salted Popcorn

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Vladislav Nosick via iStock
Vladislav Nosick via iStock

Popcorn gives you your fill of whole grain

Popcorn is the only snack that is 100 percent unprocessed whole grain. Just one serving contains more than 70 percent of the recommended daily whole grain intake. Joe Vinson, PhD, the lead researcher on the revealing popcorn eating study from the University of Scranton, explains that even though cereals are considered whole grains as well, that just means that more than half of the weight of those products is whole grain.

Try: SkinnyPop Popcorn Original

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woman with a stomach ache clutching stomachAndreyPopov via iStock
AndreyPopov via iStock

Popcorn may help relieve constipation

Since popcorn is all whole grain, its insoluble fiber helps keep your digestive tract in check and prevents constipation. A 2008 study found that people who enjoyed eating popcorn regularly increased their daily fiber intake by 22 percent and their overall whole grain intake by a whopping 250 percent. Who knew this small snack could make such a huge impact on digestive health?! But eating more fibrous foods is only one way to relieve constipation. Find out why movie theater popcorn used to be banned.

Try: 365 Everyday Value Organic Microwave Popcorn Light Butter Flavor

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person standing on a scale, person weighing themselvesRostislav_Sedlacek via iStock
Rostislav_Sedlacek via iStock

It’s the perfect dieting snack

High-fiber foods take more time to digest than non-fibrous foods, so they keep you fuller longer. Snacking on air-popped popcorn in between meals can make you less tempted by sweets and fatty foods. Just don’t load up on butter and salt. Check out these other healthy snack ideas to keep your diet on track.

Try: Angie’s Boom Chicka Pop Sweet and Salty Kettle Corn

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person with diabetes taking their testAMR-Imag via iStock
AMR-Imag via iStock

Popcorn is diabetic friendly

Even though fiber is listed on food labels under total carbohydrates, it doesn’t have the same effect on blood sugar as refined carbs, like white bread, that get digested. Fiber isn’t broken down by the body, so it won’t cause a sudden blood sugar spike.

Try: Good Health Half Naked Organic Popcorn with a Hint of Sea Salt

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bowls of popcorn, popcorn with seaweedalamourus via iStock
alamourus via iStock

There are endless options for popcorn toppings

You can put way more on popcorn than just salt and butter. Add cinnamon or apple pie spice for a sweet treat. Go spicy with hot sauce, wasabi, or curry. Give your snack an Italian flair with grated Parmesan and a dash of olive oil. Basically, anything in your spice rack can add more flavor without the calories when you’re eating popcorn.

Try: Kernel Season’s Popcorn Seasoning Mini Jars Savory Variety Pack

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a bunch of spinach in a bowlLecic via iStock
Lecic via iStock

Popcorn has more iron than spinach

Not by much, but it’s true! According to the USDA, one ounce (28 grams) of popcorn contains 0.9 mg of iron, and one cup of raw spinach (30 grams) has 0.8 mg. These numbers seem small, but adult men only need 8 mg of iron in their diet each day. Adult women, on the other hand, need 18 mg per day (because of the blood they lose during menstruation). Almost 10 percent of women are iron deficient, according to the CDC. So ladies, get your fill of iron however you can. Next, find out the 50 healthiest foods you can find at the supermarket.

Try: Colonel Popper Microwave Popcorn Popper Bowl

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Disclosure: This post is brought to you by Reader’s Digest editors, who aim to highlight products and services you might find interesting. If you buy them, we may get a small share of revenue from our partners, such as Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. We frequently receive products free of charge from manufacturers to test. This does not drive our decision as to whether or not a product is featured or recommended. We welcome your feedback. Have something you think we should know about? Email us at [email protected]

Originally Published on Reader's Digest

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