If you’re in any doubt over popcorn’s pop-ularity, consider the data: The Popcorn Board says Americans eat as much as 15 billion quarts of popcorn every year, which comes out to about 45 quarts per person. The Institute says that 70 percent of that hefty quantity of popcorn is eaten at home, while the remaining 30 percent is consumed in theaters. While most of us enjoy eating popcorn year-round, The Popcorn Board says that sales generally peak and stay high during the winter, before dropping off during the spring and summer months.
Ok, seriously now, do you really need a reason to eat popcorn? If you did, we’ve got a bucketful of facts for you: Popcorn can be healthy; it can be flavorful; and it can be a weight-loss aid since it is full of fiber (via Popped Fresh).
But does popcorn deliver on its health promises if we eat it every day? It depends on how it’s prepared.
If you eat air-popped popcorn every day …
You may or may not realize this, but what happens to your body when you eat popcorn everyday comes down to how you prepare it. “When prepared well, popcorn actually is a pretty good snack,” University of Rhode Island assistant professor at the department of nutrition and food sciences Maya Vadiveloo tells the American Heart Association. “It’s stable. It’s inexpensive. It’s fairly tasty. For people who might be struggling to eat adequate fruits or vegetables or other whole grains, it’s a low-risk snack to start.”
And by well-prepared, the American Heart Association suggests that the popcorn be air-popped. The USDA says three cups of air-popped popcorn has 93 calories, 1.1 grams of fat, 1.9 mg of sodium, 18.6 carbohydrates, 0.2 grams of sugars, and 3 grams of protein. The 3.6 grams of fiber is the gift comes from indigestible carbs that help you stay feeling full for longer (via VerywellFit). That’s why popcorn’s high fiber content and low calorie count makes it a great snack to help your body keep the pounds off.
The news isn’t so good when it comes to other types of popcorn, especially the yummy kind at the movie theater — or certain microwave varieties — that are often dripping with butter and more not-so-healthy additives.
If you eat movie or microwave popcorn every day …
But movie theatre popcorn — which could well be the way we all enjoy popcorn the most — is another matter altogether. AMC Theatres says a 46 fluid-ounce container of caramel corn can contain 1,340 calories; a same-size container of cheddar corn contains 2,070 calories, while a spicy cheddar crunch contains 1,110 calories. Tipping the scales is the 85 fluid-ounce size of cheddar corn, which has 3,830 calories. On the other end of the scale, a 190 fluid-ounce tub of plain popcorn with no butter contains 1,090 calories. That’s plenty of extra calories you likely don’t need, especially if you have it every single day.
Movie theater popcorn’s distant cousin microwave popcorn doesn’t fare much better, thanks to the additives manufacturers have included to make it smell and taste more appealing. These additional ingredients include hydrogenated trans fats, saturated fats, and sodium (via Public Goods). The artificial butter flavor could also contain diacetyl — which has been proven in animal studies to damage airways and cause lung diseases — making microwave popcorn the least popular member of this snack family (via Healthline). So having either movie theater or microwave popcorn everyday could actually expose you to potential weight gain, as well as a potentially dangerous chemical.
How to prepare the healthiest popcorn
Air popping your corn involves heating an empty 2 quart pot with a tight lid over medium high heat for two minutes. The pan is ready when you add drops of water to the pot and they sizzle immediately. Add the popping corn and close the lid. Shake the pot every two seconds and kernels should start popping between a minute or two. Keep shaking every two seconds even after the popcorn starts to pop. The popcorn is ready to eat when more than three seconds pass between kernel pops (via Amy’s Healthy Baking).
If you think the no-oil, high-shake method might be a good way to keep your fire alarm busy — and your neighbors on your toes — you can also cook your kernels in 3 tablespoons of oil (coconut, avocado, or EVOO may be good options), per Simply Recipes. To prep your pot, heat the oil over medium high heat, and then put three or four kernels in the oil. When they pop, add 1/3 cup of kernels, cover the pot, remove from the heat and count 30 seconds. Then return the pot to the heat — you may want to agitate the pot by moving it through and fro every few seconds. Once the popping slows, you can remove the popcorn and pour it into a wide bowl.
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