Popcorn: A Healthy, Whole Grain Snack
Most Americans eat snacks. Whether or not the snacks are healthy depends on the foods or beverages chosen and how they are prepared. Popcorn is a popular snack and can also be a healthy one as long as it’s prepared without adding lots of butter or salty toppings.
You probably know that whole grains are part of healthy diets. Healthy diets that include whole grains may lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of developing obesity, and lower the risk of cardiovascular disease mortality.
Did you know that popcorn is a 100 percent whole grain? And that one serving of popcorn provides about one-third of the whole grains most American adolescents and adults need?
Whole grain foods, which also include brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa, whole wheat bread, and others, in addition to popcorn, tend to contain more fiber than refined grain foods like white bread, many pastas, and white rice. Fiber has long been considered a food component of public health concern in the U.S., because most Americans do not get enough of it in their diets. Popcorn is a good source of fiber, too. One serving of air-popped popcorn contains about 15 percent of the amount of fiber most people need every day. Eating enough fiber can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.
Popcorn is also an affordable source of whole grains, an important consideration for many people. A recent analysis found that popcorn was one of the five most cost-effective sources of whole grains, along with oatmeal, brown rice, yeast breads, and cooked grains/whole-grain pasta.
Popcorn is also a good snack choice for people who like to eat larger amounts of food. A serving of air-popped popcorn is 3 cups and has about 100 calories before toppings. To get the most benefit from a whole grain popcorn snack, find a topping you like that includes only a little butter or salt. Air-popping popcorn or preparing popcorn with a small amount of oil is a great place to start.
For savory popcorn, try adding a small drizzle of olive oil and herbs or spices like crushed rosemary, sodium-free taco seasoning, or smoked paprika with a dash of salt. Nutritional yeast seasoning can add a cheesy flavor to popcorn as well as lots of vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and other B vitamins like thiamin, niacin, and folate. For a sweeter treat, sprinkle a few dark chocolate chips on freshly popped popcorn with a dash of cinnamon. No matter what topping you choose, add it to the popcorn immediately after popping. The moisture from the steam released during the popping process will help the seasonings stick.
For a whole grain snack on the go, there are many options for healthy prepackaged popcorn at the supermarket or convenience store, too. Glance at the ingredients list and nutrition facts to make sure the amounts of sodium and saturated fat are low.
Popcorn can be a healthy, whole grain choice for omnivores, vegetarians, and vegans alike. For more healthy snacking tips and ideas, check out MyPlate.gov. — By Julie Hess, Research Nutritionist, National Agricultural Library