Popcorn can be an incredibly healthy snack, but unfortunately it’s often disparaged. When popcorn is in the news, it’s usually the buttery, salty stuff you find at the movie theaters. A medium-sized container (that’s 20 cups, by the way) at the theater contains a whopping 1,200 calories, 60 grams (g) saturated fat, and 980 milligrams sodium. But there is a bright side. An increasing number of pre-popped popcorn varieties are now available at your grocery store, and consuming an appropriate serving size of many such products can allow popcorn to be a healthy snack.
Helpful hints. Consider these tips when munching on pre-popped bagged popcorn:
► Serving size varies. A serving is usually one ounce. However, the amount you get in cups of popcorn per ounce may vary depending on the flavor. For example, cheese and caramel add weight and thus decrease the amount of popcorn you get in an ounce.
► Sweeties. It’s not an issue in most varieties, but if you’re munching kettle corn, sugar content can climb up to 4 teaspoons per serving. Choose those with lower amounts of sugar.
► Check the sodium. This nutrient varies the most in bagged popcorn, even in the sweet varieties. In fact, some popcorns contain almost 1⁄8th of your daily recommended amount of sodium in one serving. That’s a lot for a snack.
► DIY it. You can easily make your own popcorn and control your toppings. Three cups of air-popped or stove-top (prepared with a tablespoon of vegetable oil) has 90-105 calories, 0-3 g fat, and no saturated fat or sodium. Try seasoning it with your favorite salt-free herbs and spices or a little parmesan cheese. If you can’t skip the butter, a drizzle of 2 teaspoons melted over your popcorn will add 68 calories, 8 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, and negligible sodium.
—Heidi McIndoo, MS, RD