There’s a lot to love about popcorn. It’s a fun, quick treat; a fluffy and crunchy textural delight. It is enjoyable freshly popped and hot OR at room temperature. Popcorn is the perfect canvas for all sorts of flavors, sweet and savory – and often, both together! It is a nostalgic snack, evoking memories of movie nights, cinematic adventure, and happy gatherings. But did you know popcorn is also a nutritious, gluten free whole grain?
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) classifies a whole grain as all parts that make up a kernel – the bran, endosperm, and germ. Popcorn passes! In fact, a 3 cup serving of popped popcorn is considered one whole serving from the grain group. This is good news, as consuming whole grains has been linked to reduced risk of heart disease; one of many beneficial reasons the USDA encourages us to make at least half of the grains we eat whole. Furthermore, because popcorn is – well, corn – it is a gluten free food. This is particularly important for our friends and family who have gluten intolerances and celiac disease – an immune reaction to eating gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and products that contain these ingredients.
Keeping nutrition in mind, popcorn isn’t necessarily a ready, set, snack! situation. It certainly can be – there is nothing wrong with having an occasional snack simply to snack and enjoy – however, flavoring is an important component to pay attention to if you’re looking to keep it healthy. Any number of additives may offset your pursuit. “Nutrients” do not always = nutrition, as is the case with items like sodium, added sugars, and saturated fats.
When watching the Recommended Daily Value (RDV) of nutrients, it is worth noting the percentages (%DV) of sodium, added sugars, and saturated fats. These are the big three, as reducing overall intake of these items has been linked to the prevention of chronic diseases, like heart disease and hypertension. Take, for example, this label from a popular buttery brand. A serving size (about 5 cups popped) contains 30% RDV of saturated fats and 20% RDV of sodium. Accounting for individual health goals, these are significant amounts toward daily intake. However, fear not….
There are so many ways to enjoy a healthy popcorn snack, and a variety of recipes to try. Take this Simple Stovetop Popcorn from the Med Instead of Meds Program, an eating pattern that champions making your grains whole. Looking for something a little sweeter? Check out this Popcorn Treats recipe from USDA MyPlate. If you’re interested in tackling something a little more gourmet, try this Peanut Caramel Popcorn from Oldways. Maybe spicy is more your style? This Chili Popcorn is worth your while!
Written By: Amanda Butalla, Family and Consumer Sciences Agent, NC Cooperative Extension, Ashe County Center