How Healthy Is Popcorn?

The snack can offer different nutrients like fiber and antioxidants.

Though it's usually considered movie theater snack staple, popcorn is also seen as a good-for-you snack choice. But is popcorn actually healthy? The short answer is that it can be.

Popcorn does have some potential health benefits like providing you with some vitamins and minerals. There are also other ingredients that may add other nutrients to the food, like the oil used to pop it or any added seasonings. Read on to learn more.

Popcorn Nutrition

In general, 1 cup of unsalted, air-popped popcorn has the following:

  • Calories: 30 calories
  • Fat: <1 gram
  • Cholesterol: 0 milligrams
  • Sodium: <1 milligram
  • Carbohydrates: 6.23 grams
  • Fiber: 1.21 grams
  • Protein: <1 gram

Popcorn Health Benefits

Corn (even in its popped form) is a whole grain. Whole grains are an important source of key vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Corn in particular contains nutrients such as magnesium, potassium, and vitamins A, B, and E.

Whole grains are filling too because they include the entire grain—unlike refined grains, which have been stripped of their fiber and nutrients.

Americans get 17% of their whole grain consumption from popcorn. People who eat popcorn also consume more whole grains and fiber than individuals who don't. Popcorn consumers may also have a 12% total intake of polyphenols, which are compounds that can have antioxidant properties.

Additionally, research suggests that whole grain intake is tied to less inflammation and a lower risk of:

Eating whole grains have even been linked to a lower body mass index (BMI) and less belly fat.

About BMI

BMI is a biased and outdated metric that uses your weight and height to make assumptions about body fat, and by extension, your health. This metric is flawed in many ways and does not factor in your body composition, ethnicity, sex, race, and age. Despite its flaws, the medical community still uses BMI because it’s an inexpensive and quick way to analyze health data.


Is Popcorn Healthy?

Popcorn, in its basic form, can be healthy on its own. One thing to note is portion sizes. The serving size of popcorn is typically three to three and a half cups, but it's easy to polish off a full-sized bag in one sitting. Plus, the extra sodium may cause fluid retention that triggers bloating.

Also, the ingredients used in the popcorn-making or packaging process may create opportunities to get even more nutrients or benefits from the snack.

The Oil

When you're choosing a brand of packaged popcorn, scope out the oil listed in the ingredients. Different oils can be used when making popcorn, including oils containing monounsaturated fats (MUFAs).

MUFAs are considered to be healthy fats. They have been linked to lowered risks of heart-related issues and weight management. MUFA oils include:

  • Olive oil
  • Canola oil
  • Peanut oil
  • Safflower oil
  • Sesame oil

One of the perks of making your own popcorn on the stove is that you can use a high-MUFA oil, or air-pop it—with a hot air popper or in a paper bag in the microwave—and then mist it with healthy oil. You can also choose popcorn options that don't use oil at all.

The Seasonings

Various seasonings and toppings are used to flavor popcorn too. In packaged popcorn, the seasonings might be simple as sea salt and black pepper. Other ingredients might include conventional dairy ingredients, such as butter and cheese. More popcorn options, like kettle corn, are also seasoned with sugar or other sweeteners.

However, if you are DIY-ing your popcorn, you can get creative with other toppings like:

  • Preservative-free dried fruit
  • Nuts or seeds
  • Italian or chipotle seasoning
  • Turmeric and black pepper
  • Cinnamon and cocoa powder

Using these toppings might potentially increase the amount of certain nutrients that you consume. For example, nuts or spices can add to the antioxidant content of popcorn. Also, homemade version also allows you to control how much salt you add.

A Quick Review

Popcorn can be a healthy snack. It's possible receive the benefits (e.g., reduced risk of chronic conditions like diabetes) from eating popcorn since it's considered a whole grain. However, the nutritional quality of popcorn can vary considerably depending on the ingredients used to make it such as oils (e.g., olive oil) and toppings (e.g., dried fruit or cinnamon).

Was this page helpful?
Sources
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Department of Agriculture FoodData Central. Snacks, popcorn, air-popped (unsalted).

  2. Siyuan S, Tong L, Liu R. Corn phytochemicals and their health benefitsFood Science and Human Wellness. 2018;7(3):185-195. doi:10.1016/j.fshw.2018.09.003

  3. American Heart Association. Whole grains, refined grains, and dietary fiber.

  4. Sanders LM, Zhu Y, Wilcox ML, Koecher K, Maki KC. Effects of whole grain intake, compared with refined grain, on appetite and energy intake: a systematic review and meta-analysisAdvances in Nutrition. 2021;12(4):1177-1195. doi:10.1093/advances/nmaa178

  5. Coco Jr. MG, Vinson JA. Analysis of popcorn (Zea mays L. var. everta) for antioxidant capacity and total phenolic contentAntioxidants. 2019;8(1):22. doi:10.3390/antiox8010022

  6. Seal CJ, Courtin CM, Venema K, Vries J. Health benefits of whole grain: effects on dietary carbohydrate quality, the gut microbiome, and consequences of processingComprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety. 2021;20(3):2742-2768. doi:10.1111/1541-4337.12728

  7. Maki KC, Palacios OM, Koecher K, et al. The relationship between whole grain intake and body weight: results of meta-analyses of observational studies and randomized controlled trialsNutrients. 2019;11(6):1245. doi:10.3390/nu11061245

  8. MedlinePlus. Facts about monounsaturated fats.

  9. Mashek DG, Wu C. MUFAsAdvances in Nutrition. 2015;6(3):276-277. doi:10.3945/an.114.005926

Related Articles