Healthy Popcorn Snacks

popcornThis should-be healthy, wholegrain is popping up on grocery store shelves everywhere.  Is it really healthy, how does it differ from movie store popcorn, what’s the best brand and are there any do-it-yourself recipes?

Is it really healthy? Yes, popcorn that has been air popped is low calorie, low sodium, low sugar and a fiber rich snack. When you eat popcorn you are eating the whole grain that includes all three healthy parts: the germ, the bran and the endosperm. Since the average adult consumes less than 50% of the recommended daily intake for fiber, popcorn makes a good contribution towards the 25 recommended grams of fiber for women and 38 grams for men. Consuming adequate fiber may help reduce your risk for heart disease, lowers blood cholesterol, helps to regulate blood sugar and keeps you feeling fuller longer. Popcorn also contains polyphenols, a healthy antioxidant that may protect your cells against damage and reduce the development or progression of degenerative diseases.

1, 3 cup portion of air-popped popcorn =

100 calories, 1 gram fat, 2 milligrams sodium and 3.5 grams dietary fiber, 0 grams sugar

How does air popped differ from movie theater popcorn?

Type Super Size Bucket Large Regular (No Butter) Air Popped
Number of 1 cup Servings 24 19 10 3
Calories 1680 1330 700 100
Fat 64 51 27 1

What’s the difference between black, white and yellow popcorn kernals?

Well, one is black, one is white and one is yellow. However 99 percent of the popcorn grown is of the yellow variety. Yellow popcorn pops bigger, fuller and holds together better. Black popcorn pops white and can be a fun, festive change of pace.

A Market Comparison (3 cups/serving)

While homemade, air popped popcorn can make for a healthy snack, some of the processed versions are full of hidden sugar and salt so follow these two tips:

  1. Read the label and compare, keeping a watchful eye on calories/serving, sugar and sodium contents.   A healthy snack should be less than 150 calories, 150 milligrams of sodium and 5 grams of sugar.
  2. Measure out your serving so you don’t mindlessly munch out of the bag.
Brand Oke-Doke Skinny Pop Popcorn Dorthy & Tony’s Cape Cod Kettle Corn Spartan Light Butter Vermont Maple & Sea Salt Pop Secret Jumbo Popping Corn* Black Jewell Popcorn*
Calories 175 120 320 115 118 160 75 98
Fat 12 7 18 4 4 9 0 1
Saturated Fat 1 1 2 0 2 0.5 0 0
Sodium 338 60 260 94 214 115 0 0
Sugar 0 0 24 4 0 3 0 0

*air popped

  • Oke-Doke, Dorthy & Tony’s and Vermont Maple & Sea Salt all have higher fat contents which drives up their calories, yet they are all vegetable oil based.
  • Oke-Doke, Dorthy &Tony’s and Spartan Light Butter have sodium contents that are higher than recommended for a snack.
  • Dorthy & Tony’s has 80 more calories and is just 6 grams of sugar short of a package of m&ms.
  • Black Jewell Popcorn is a non-GMO alternative.
  • Most popcorn will be gluten free unless a gluten-containing flavor seasoning has been added.

 Do It Yourself, Microwaved Air Popped


¼ cup kernals

1 tsp. canola oil

1 brown paper bag 


  1. Place ¼ cup kernals and 1 tsp. canola oil in a brown paper bag.
  2. Fold the top of the bag twice and place in microwave.
  3. Set microwave to 2-3 minutes and pull when popping has stopped.
  4. Add any of the following toppings immediately for added flavor.


  • Parmesan cheese
  • A mixture of garlic powder, pepper and a dash of salt

Cinnamon and a little brown sugar

  • Smoked paprika and a dash of salt
  • Cajun, lemon and cayenne powder
  • Powdered ranch

For a little added protein, mix in roasted chickpeas or nuts.

A Word of Caution.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under the age of 4 avoid popcorn due to an increased risk for choking.

Categories: Nutrition & Wellness, The Grocery Aisle

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