Good News About Popcorn!

imagesPopcorn is a favorite snack for many people, and a new study says that it can also be a healthy option.  Researchers at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania found that popcorn is not only high in fiber; it is also provides more antioxidants than any other typical snack food.

As a whole grain food, popcorn contains most of the nutrients and antioxidants found in the original plant.  In fact, the antioxidants it contains are protected from the sun during drying, and minimal nutrient losses occur during popping.  An added benefit is that popcorn is a high volume/low calorie food, so it can provide a weight-friendly option when compared with higher calorie snacks that offer fewer nutritional benefits.

There is just one problem with popcorn for many people.  The way to prepare it most healthfully is to air pop it (prepare

it  without added fat) and add minimal salt or other flavorings.  Admittedly, when it comes to taste, this just is not as good as popcorn drenched in butter and salt.

Oh, the dilemma we face!  Popcorn that tastes great but is not very healthy, or popcorn that tastes, well, . . . like cardboard, but with nutritional benefits.  My personal belief is that there is a middle-of-the-road option that is tasty and healthy.  Try air-popped popcorn with a drizzle of olive or canola oil and a light sprinkle of salt.  You can also use several spritzes of a margarine spray like Parkay or I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter.  A sprinkle of Parmesan cheese is another way to add flavor in a more moderate way.

A simple method for making your own plain microwave popcorn is to put about 3 tablespoons of kernels in a brown paper lunch bag, fold over the top and microwave until the popping slows.  In my microwave, this takes about 3 minutes on high.  I know that the healthier versions will not taste exactly the same as the buttery, salty alternative, but it might be easier to make the switch when you think of all the calories and saturated fat you are saving by keeping it simpler.

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3 responses to “Good News About Popcorn!

  1. Its great to hear that popcorn is healthy, but I think the problem is that no one can eat popcorn alone. Eating plain popcorn is like eating cardboard. If eating popcorn was the key to losing weight, there would be no such thing as an obesity epidemic.

    • So true. I don’t believe that there is any one food that can end the obesity epidemic, and plain popcorn can be really bland. It can be helpful for some people though, if they can find a way of preparing it that satisfies the need for a crunchy, high volume snack food without gobs of fat and calories. A little butter spray and/or some parmesan cheese is not exactly the same as popcorn loaded with butter and salt (admitedly!), but sometimes it can be a decent compromise.

      • kimthedietitian

        I got this e-mail from Joe in West Allis. Some great ideas to try . . .

        Kim,

        I want to share with you a flavorful and healthy alternative to those mentioned in your popcorn article. What I do to flavor my popcorn is to mix spices and/or herbs into a Tablespoon of olive oil in a ramekin (or small non-plastic microwaveable bowl). The popping of the kernels evenly distributes the oil and spices throughout the popcorn.

        Measure 1 T olive oil into a ramekin.
        Mix any desired herbs/spices into the oil. These should be powdered or finely ground for better distribution. Volume varies by strength desired. For example, 1/4 teaspoon of chili powder can work well., however 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper may be way too strong.
        Stir herbs/spices and oil well.
        Add 1/4 cup of kernels to the ramekin. (Make sure you mix up the kernels with the oil and seasonings to spread the flavors.)

        Place the bowl at the bottom of a paper bag and roll the top closed.
        Microwave on high until popping slows.

        The flavorings I use are still being experimented with, but I select herbs and spices that suit my taste at that moment. I have used a little cayenne pepper once to make a wonderfully warm popcorn with some zing to it. On another occasion I used some Italian Dressing base (the spices used to make the dressing) from Penzey’s. Today I used 1/8 teaspoon of Penzey’s Medium Hot Chili Powder. It could have used maybe 1/4 t instead, but discovery is one of the joys of cooking. I also added 1/4 teaspoon of salt, but it might have been fine without it.

        My next experiment will be to add some caramel extract to the oil (available at Outpost Natural Foods) to see if I can make a no-added-calories version of caramel corn. Other extracts that can be fun to work with include orange (mixed with vanilla can make almost anything taste like a Dreamsicle) and especially fun for autumn will be to add maple extract to popcorn. Both orange and maple have also been available at Outpost.

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