In my nutrition coaching appointments, I often discuss the importance of choosing whole grains (as opposed to refined grains) for better health...and my clients are often surprised to learn that popcorn is indeed a whole grain.
Why is popcorn healthy? When air-popped, popcorn delivers just 30 calories and a bit over 1 gram of fiber per cup. Pump that out to 3 cups, and you have a snack that offers 90 calories, 3.5 grams of fiber, and 3 grams of protein, too. You can get more staying power from popcorn when you make a trail mix and pair it with another protein and healthy fat (like nuts or seeds).
But when it comes to popcorn, not all options on your grocery store shelves are as healthy as they may seem to be. Case in point: Jolly Time's "Healthy Pop" Caramel Apple Popcorn, which was recently added to the Health Hall of Shame.
So when it comes to choosing a healthy popcorn - that totally delivers on flavor as much as it delivers on nutrition - here are a couple of ideas from some of my favorite popcorn and snack brands for what popcorns to eat and what to pair popcorn with for a bigger nutritional bang.
Pop YourS On The Stove
For a snack for two, take just 1/4 cup of these Butterfly Popcorn Kernels from Quinn Popcorn, add them to a pot on the stovetop with 2-3 tablespoons oil, cover, and turn up the heat to full power. With the lid on, shake the pot carefully every ~30ish seconds to ensure even popping. When popping slows, remove from heat and transfer to bowl. Enjoy these plain or add in your favorite toppings. I love the looks of the recipe on Quinn's site for "Nacho" Popcorn -- it's the kernels with nutritional yeast, garlic powder, cayenne, cumin, and a variety of other spices. How yum!
Still love making your popcorn in the microwave? Quinn offers Microwave Popcorn, which is the first and ONLY microwave popcorn to use only REAL ingredients in a microwave bag completely stripped of all PFOA's, PFC's and plastic coating. (Learn more about the health effects of PFAS here)!
Add Your Favorite Savory Ingredients
While popcorn with spices makes a tasty snack, adding in healthy fats and proteins (from nuts and seeds) can help make you feel fuller for longer. To G.H. Creator's Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil Popped Corn, make a trail mix with pumpkin seeds, almonds, a sprinkle of nutritional yeast, and cracked pepper. Bonus: do this at the beginning of the week then keep in a sealed container in your desk drawer. When the 2pm hunger strike happens, you'll be armed and ready with a healthy choice!
Get Single Servings of Popcorn Sweetness
When I crave something sweet, this Sweet & Salty Kettle Corn from Angie's Boomchickapop hits the spot with just the right amount of sweetness. Because this popcorn features cane sugar as an ingredient (it's what gives the popcorn it's delicious sweetness), I select the 1-ounce bags from Target -- they're perfectly portioned so I can better identify how much sugar I'm mindfully indulging in.
Plus, from soccer games to cheer competitions and swim meets, I find that this popcorn also makes a good pre-game snack for middle and high schoolers...just toss in their backpack/gym bag and it's ready to eat whenever they are!
Get Better Cheddar...Go For The Real Deal.
When it comes to cheddar popcorn, it might be surprising to learn that even if the front of the popcorn package says "cheddar" or "cheese," the ingredients may not contain any cheese all, but instead get their cheesy flavor from natural or artificial flavors alone. Annie's Organic White Cheddar Popcorn, however, gets its cheesy flavor from organic cheddar cheese. No artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives here! For a tasty snack, I'd combine this with a handful of pistachios or peanuts to up the amount of protein and healthy fats.
Do you love popcorn? What are your favorite popcorn brands, popcorn recipes, and popcorn combinations? Did you find this blog post helpful? Let me know it the comments below or on Facebook @YESNutritionLLC.