Popcorn is a whole grain, which means that it contains all of the healthy nutrients found in the entire grain. Recent research from the University of Scranton, Pa., shows that popcorn contains polyphenols, a type of antioxidant that appears protective against heart disease and some types of cancer. Swap popcorn for whole grain tortilla chips, and you'll get 15 times more polyphenols. Plus a study published this month in the Journal of Nutrition suggests that eating 6 cups (100 calories) of whole grain popcorn helps people feel more full and satisfied than eating only one cup (150 calories) of high-fat potato chips.
Of course, what you put on your popcorn can turn a healthy snack into a nutrition disaster. Case in point: butter-drenched movie theater popcorn. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a medium-size tub of movie-theater popcorn contains 60 grams of saturated fat. Saturated fat is known to contribute to heart disease, and the American Heart Association recommends healthy adults consume no more than 16 grams of saturated fat each day; people with heart disease should eat even less. Even if you split a medium-size tub of popcorn with a friend, you each get almost double your daily saturated fat intake. That's more saturated fat than two Big Mac sandwiches!
Joy Bauer, MS, RD, nutrition expert forTthe Today Show, recommends this simple, low-cost method of microwaving popcorn: pour 3 to 4 tablespoons plain popcorn kernels into a brown paper lunch bag, fold over the top of the bag twice to seal it closed, and microwave for about 2 minutes, or until the popping slows to a few seconds between pops. (Cook time will vary depending upon the microwave, so it may take you a few tries to figure out the perfect pop time for your unit.)
Add flavor to your popcorn with a spritz of butter or olive spray and a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar, garlic powder, chili powder or grated Parmesan cheese. Or make trail mix by combining popcorn, raisins or craisins, and peanuts or almonds.
Lynn Grieger, RD, CDE, cPT is a health, food and fitness coach in Manchester and online at www.LynnGrieger.com. Popcorn is a favorite cool-weather snack.