When we think of healthy snacks, popcorn doesn’t usually make the list. We think of popcorn and we think of butter, salt and sometimes sugar. However, popcorn can be a very healthy snack by choosing healthy popcorn toppings like a salt free popcorn seasoning.
Popcorn is a whole grain snack that is naturally high in fiber, low in calories, no sodium and 1 gram of fat (from the corn). It’s the popcorn toppings and how we pop the popcorn that turns this otherwise healthy snack into a high sodium, high calorie, high fat, not so healthy snack.
One serving is quite a bit, about 2 tablespoons of popcorn kernels yields about 5 cups of popped popcorn at only 110 calories and 7 grams of fiber. That is a lot of munching with not a lot of calories.
Here are some tips to help make popcorn a healthy snack:
Tip #1 Choose organic popcorn which means no pesticide residues. Non-organic or regular popcorn was listed on the FDA’s top ten of the most commonly contaminated foods with pesticides and chemicals.
Tip #2 Learn to pop your own popcorn and avoid the microwave packets. There are still health concerns about microwave popcorn packets and the chemicals added to promote popping and less sticking.
- Use an air popper to eliminate the need for fat. There are many electric air popcorn poppers and there are also popcorn poppers for the microwave.
- Another way to pop popcorn is in a paper bag, in the microwave. Use about 1/4 cup of popcorn kernels in a paper lunch bag. Fold over top of bag a couple of times at the very top of the bag. Leave plenty of room for popping. Allow about 3 minutes for popping depending upon the wattage of your microwave oven. Stop when the popping sounds slow way down but not finished, or the popcorn may start to burn. That’s it. Pour popcorn into a bowl, add toppings and you can re-use the bag.
- You can learn to pop popcorn the old-fashioned way. Heat a skillet or pan on top of the stove dry or (with a little oil works better), add popcorn, place a lid on it, and shake the pan back and forth (with one hand on the pan and one hand on the lid to keep them together). Keep the lid a little to the side to let steam escape but not the popcorn. Pop over medium-high heat until it has finished popping. Immediately pour into a bowl. This is not only makes a healthier popcorn but you can actually burn some calories in the process, especially if you are making several batches for everybody.
Tip #3 Choose healthier popcorn toppings.
- Lower sodium popcorn: Instead of adding salt, or a popcorn salt, try adding a salt substitute, a low sodium seasoning or a salt free popcorn seasoning. This will help turn an otherwise high sodium snack into a much more heart healthy snack.
- Chili popcorn or a spicy popcorn is popular and flavorful: Add cayenne or a salt free chili seasoning and try a chili flavored oil.
- Use unsalted versions of butter, margarines, or butter substitutes and oils in moderation. No hydrogenated oils or trans fats. Try other oils like olive oil (some even taste buttery). Try heart healthy nut oils like a macadamia nut oil has a nice buttery taste.
Tip #4 Healthy snacks to go. Make your popcorn snack and take it with you. Here is a different healthy snack idea. Create a popcorn trail mix by adding nuts, raisins, coconut, dried fruits even vegan chocolate chips and make this healthy snack even healthier, more flavorful and it’s delicious. Also, try adding popcorn to granola.
When eating popcorn choose healthier options for your popcorn. Be creative and try other ways to flavor your popcorn with healthier flavored oils, healthy seasonings, and lower your sodium intake with a salt substitute or a salt free popcorn seasoning. Now you can put popcorn on your list of healthy snacks.