Popcorn: Healthy Or No?
Did you realize that popcorn may be oldest snack food dating back at least 4000 years? However, in those early years it was more likely eaten as a fine meal mixed with water. Today, we consume 16 billion quarts of popcorn as a crunchy snack that comes in many forms -- including plain, sweet, savory or salty. Shirley Perryman, MS, RD at the Department of Food Science and Human for Nutrition Colorado State University, has this advice.
How healthy is it?
On the plus side for popcorn is the fact that it's a whole grain, which means it is loaded with fiber -- 3.6 grams of fiber in three cups.
Three cups of popcorn equal a 1 ounce of whole grain equivalent from the grains group, and also contain 90 calories if air popped, 165 calories if popped in oil -- and considerably more, around 300 calories, if topped with butter.
So how fattening is popcorn when you go beyond butter? Well, once it gets mixed with chocolate and caramel and all those other types of yummy, sugary add-ons, the calories go out of sight.
The trick: Spray air popped popcorn lightly with an oil spray, then sprinkle it with whatever suits your fancy. Some ideas include parmesan cheese, any plain or flavored salt, butter- or cheese-flavored sprinkles (such as Molly McButter), chili powder, garlic powder, dry ranch-style seasoning mix, lemon pepper or your favorite herbs. And for a sweet twist, try cinnamon, brown sugar and/or nutmeg.
Don't breathe the butter
You may have concerns about microwaving popcorn after hearing the recent news report about the man with "popcorn lung." Diacetyl flavoring is added to some butter-flavored microwave popcorn. When the diacetyl is heated and becomes a vapor and if it is inhaled into the lungs over a long period of time, it can cause the small airways in the lungs to become swollen and scarred.
This appears to be an isolated case for a consumer who ate at least two bags of popcorn daily and inhaled the fumes of freshly popped microwave popcorn. Error on the side of caution and do not
breathe in the aroma and steam when opening the bag after microwaving. You may not realize that diacetyl occurs naturally in foods such as cheese, cocoa, coffee and certain fruits. Diacetyl
flavoring has also been approved for food use in foods besides popcorn and may be found in ice cream, beverages, candy and baked goods. However, the leading manufacturers of microwave popcorn are
removing diacetyl flavoring from their products.
The perils of pigging out on popcorn
Keep in mind popcorn pitfalls before you indulge:
Just because the serving size as listed shows zero grams of trans fat, if you're likely to eat three times that amount, your saturated or trans fat intake can quickly go past zero to 1.5 grams. (A manufacturer can show zero grams of trans fat per serving if it is less than 0.5 grams. Both saturated fat and trans fat are on the list of things to avoid or limit for heart health.)
Eat smart and enjoy
Regardless of what kind of popcorn you choose, keep your focus on portion size -- whether eaten at home, at the theater or elsewhere. Deprivation isn't any fun, and part of eating is the
enjoyment. So if the serving size is large, consider sharing or saving some for later.