By Elliot Fisher MS, ATC, CSCS, PES
Whole grains have a myriad of health benefits. They have fiber, are nutrient dense, are generally low calorie, and keep you satiated. Adding any whole grains to your diet is a great idea for health. One whole grain in particular stands out among the rest. That food is popcorn!
Popcorn is typically associated as a junk food mainly because it’s often topped with a lot of butter or sugar and can easily become very calorie dense. However if you have plain air popped popcorn, or lightly flavored popcorn, the calories are very low. A general serving size of popcorn is three tablespoons of unpopped kernels, which makes about 5 cups of popped popcorn. One serving of air popped popcorn is only 120 calories, and 6 grams of fiber! Five cups of food is quite a bit for most people and its extremely low calories for the volume. Fiber also helps keep you feeling full. The daily recommendation for fiber intake is around 20 grams a day for women and around 38 grams a day for men (depending on what source you use) also 10 grams/1000 calories in your diet is a common recommendation. Making popcorn a great food to help you hit your daily fiber goal. Popcorn also takes longer to eat than most foods because you can only eat so much in a bite. Eating food slowly can help your body send fullness signals making you feel more satiated after eating.
Compared to other whole grains, popcorn is also very nutrient dense. It is high in B vitamins, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, and manganese.(1) Popcorn is also very high in antioxidants/polyphenols, even after being prepared.(2) The fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants make popcorn a great choice for overall health.
When choosing a popcorn to eat, it’s important to choose one that is lower in calories. The best option is air popping fresh kernels as this tends to have more fiber and no added calories from flavoring unless you add them after making the popcorn. Air popped popcorn has a lot less flavor but still tastes great and can curve cravings. An alternative option that is also good is buying microwave light popcorn. This is still a low calorie option with slightly more calories coming from the flavoring. I would avoid traditional microwave popcorn or bagged popcorn because there is likely a ton of calories coming from added fats. When in doubt check the nutrition facts to double check the calories!
Coco, M. G., & Vinson, J. A. (2019). Analysis of Popcorn (Zea Mays L. var. Everta) for Antioxidant Capacity and Total Phenolic Content. Antioxidants, 8(1), 22.