Known best as a salty movie theater staple, popcorn is changing its image as a healthy-for-you snack of choice. But is it really that healthy for you?
In classic cop-out fashion, it depends. The oil, seasonings, and even the kernels themselves dictate how good – or bad – popcorn can be for your health.
Consider the corn
Corn is a whole grain, and they can be strong source of key vitamins, minerals, fiber, and disease-fighting antioxidants. Whole grains are filling, too, because they include the entire grain—unlike refined grains, which have been stripped of their fiber and nutrients. Studies suggest whole grains are linked to longer life, less inflammation, and lower risks of heart disease, stroke, cancer, and obesity.
Besides opting for whole grain popcorn, be wary of popcorn coming from genetically-modified crops. Some health professionals are concerned about the risks of GMO foods, which aren’t well studied or full understood to date.
When choosing between packaged popcorn brands, check the oil used in the ingredients. The best oils are heart-healthy, anti-inflammatory monounsaturated fats (MUFAs), specifically avocado oil and extra virgin olive oil.
Conversely, avoid oils higher in omega-6 fatty acids—such as corn oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, and cottonseed oil – which are pro-inflammatory.
There are a ton of seasonings available in packaged popcorn – sea salt, black pepper, butter, cheese, sugar – so before you dig in, check to see what’s in the bag.
What’s better is if you pop your own corn, allowing you to get creative with healthy toppings – think preservative-free dried fruit, nuts or seeds, Italian or chipotle seasoning, turmeric and black pepper, or cinnamon and cocoa powder. Homemade popcorn also lets you control salt content, if you’re a popcorn traditionalist.
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