Is popcorn healthy?

Is popcorn healthy?

For many, movies and popcorn are the perfect pair. But do you realize just how unhealthy your light and airy snack may be?

“I would think most people tend to believe all popcorn is unhealthy,” says Dr. Amar Chadaga, associate program director of internal medicine at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Ill.

Dr. Chadaga says this doesn’t have to be the case. “Air popped popcorn sans butter and salt is a low-calorie snack.”

Rich in antioxidants and whole-grain, three cups of the air-popped (not microwaved!) kernels are just 93 calories and a single gram of fat. But a report from the Center for Science in the Public Interest found a medium bucket of movie theater popcorn can contain 20 cups of popcorn—equating to 1,200 calories and 60 grams of fat.

So should you steer clear of the snack counter?

“When you go to the movies, it’s a time to get away and detach and immerse yourself in an escape for a couple of hours,” says Dr. Chadaga. “If you want to have popcorn with a bit of butter and salt, I say go for it.”

Keep in mind, says Dr. Chadaga, the act of going to the movies is roughly five hours of sedentary activity, between driving to the theater, sitting through previews, watching the movie and driving home. “If you add on popcorn or nachos, that’s more calories you need to burn just to maintain fitness.”

If you are a popcorn fan, don’t worry: rather than suggesting snacks in place of popcorn, Dr. Chadaga recommends getting into the habit of working out before enjoying a movie or Netflix and chowing down on popcorn. And remember that you can always order a small popcorn and skip the extra pumps of butter.

“I would hate for everyone in the theater to be eating rice cakes,” he says.

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  1. From above: ‘three cups of the air-popped (not microwaved!) kernels’. Why not microwaved? Do you mean a pre package microwave bag of popcorn? I pop 1/4 cup of kernels in a brown paper bag, no salt or oil/butter. Is that less healthy than air popped?

    • Holly Brenza

      Hi Karen,

      Yes, I am specifically referring to pre-packaged microwave popcorn, as microwave popcorn bags are one of the many products that contain PFAS, a man-made chemical also found in things like nonstick cookware and pizza boxes and has been considered a potential health hazard (not to mention the salt, butter, etc. that is used to flavor the microwave popcorn!)

      Your popped kernels without salt, oil and butter are nutritionally equal to using an air popper to heat the kernels.

      Thanks for reading!

  2. Arlene F Gottardo February 20, 2018 at 6:55 pm · Reply

    I enjoyed reading this article- I like the fact that the doctor suggested moderation instead of flat-
    Out saying that we can’t have the buttered popcorn. I have diverticulitis and so I cannot overindulge in popcorn, or nuts for that matter- and I miss that….

About the Author

Holly Brenza
Holly Brenza

Holly Brenza, health enews contributor, is a public affairs manager at Advocate Health Care in Downers Grove. She is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago. In her free time, Holly enjoys reading, watching the White Sox and Blackhawks and playing with her dog, Bear and cats, Demi and Elle.