Now that we are all confined to our homes, there is this constant need to have snacks at home and popcorn would definitely be on that list. So according to nutritionist, Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, how healthy is popcorn? This ultimately depends on three things:
Consider, Type Of Corn
Corn (even in its popped form) is a whole grain. Research suggests that whole grain intake is tied to a longer life, less inflammation, and a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, and obesity. Three daily servings of whole grains has even been linked to a lower BMI and less belly fat. one thing to think about is whether your popcorn came from a genetically-modified crop. If you prefer to avoid GMOs, look for kernels or popcorn that’s USDA Certified Organic (which means it does not contain GMOs), or products with the “Non-GMO Project Verified” label.
Consider The Oil
When you’re choosing a brand of packaged popcorn, scope out the oil listed with the ingredients. The best oils are heart-healthy, anti-inflammatory monounsaturated fats (MUFAs), specifically avocado oil and extra virgin olive oil. Oils that are higher in omega-6 fatty acids—such as corn oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, and cottonseed oil—tend to be pro-inflammatory. One of the perks of making your own popcorn on the stove is that you can use a high-MUFA oil; or air-pop it—with a hot air popper, or in a paper bag in the microwave—and then mist it with a healthy oil.
Consider The Seasonings
Finally, consider the seasonings in your snack. In packaged popcorn, the seasonings might be simple as sea salt. Or the ingredients might include conventional dairy ingredients, such as butter and cheese that isn’t grass-fed or organic. Some popcorn’s are seasoned with sugar or other sweeteners (think kettle corn). Before you dig in, check to see exactly what’s in the bag. If you are DIY-ing your popcorn, you can get creative with healthful toppings, like preservative-free dried fruit, nuts or seeds, or cinnamon and cocoa powder. A homemade version also allows you to control how much salt you add.
The Bottom Line
Popcorn can be a healthy snack, but the nutritional quality varies considerably. I always go with organic or non-GMO popcorn’s made with extra virgin olive or avocado oil, and seasoned with sea salt or pink Himalayan salt. If you prefer more indulgent varieties of popcorn, make them occasional treats rather than daily staples. And be aware of portion sizes. A serving size of popcorn is typically three to three and a half cups, but it’s easy to polish off a full-sized bag in one sitting and that could be the carbohydrate equivalent of eating five slices of bread. Plus, the extra sodium may cause fluid retention that triggers bloating.
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