A Whole Grain Snack For Five Cents Per Serving

March 13, 2013   41 Comments

Can you say popcorn? This stuff is simply dried corn and if you manage not to drown it in butter, super healthy.

Is Popcorn Healthy?

Pam, a reader just sent me this question:

I love popcorn, how good is it for you?

SO GOOD! It has fiber, protein, and very few calories for the volume of food that you get to eat. I eat popcorn at least once a week.

THREE cups of air-popped popcorn is:
92 calories, 1.0 g fat, 18.7 g carbohydrates, 2.9 g protein, 3.6 g fiber, 1 mg sodium, 2 Points+

Of course this nutritional assessment is BEFORE you add anything to it, but you can see that this is a healthy low calorie snack.

We used to pop popcorn on the stove in a couple tablespoons of oil before we learned some new tricks (and you don't need an air popcorn popper).

If you have a microwave oven, you can make popcorn with just a paper bag see: DIY Microwave Popcorn: Healthy, Yummy, and CHEAP. You can also buy the bowl featured below (reuse!) and pop it in there without any oil.

Both the bag and the bowl turn out great tasting popcorn (you won't miss the oil or the flavored packaged stuff). You just have to be very careful not to burn the popcorn. In the bowl, it takes about two minutes and thirty seconds to pop 1/4 cup popcorn.

I happen to love butter and salt on my popcorn, but I had to face a hard cold reality. If I use two tablespoons of butter, I am adding 204 calories and 23 grams of fat, so I try to not do that.

There are a bunch of different ways to flavor popcorn that don't include butter. How about:

  • Chili powder and lime juice
  • Old Bay Seasoning (seafood seasoning)
  • Curry powder
  • Nutritional yeast

Here are some Snack Girl favorites:

How do you make and flavor your popcorn?

Nordic Ware Microwave Popcorn Popper, 12 Cup, White

Nordic Ware Microwave Popcorn Popper, 12 Cup, White

$15.99   $14.99 Buy on

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I've been on a quest for the simplest healthy way to make salt stick to my popcorn. I'll still do butter every now and then as a treat, because it's so good that way, but I eat popcorn pretty regularly so I didn't want to use butter all the time.

I have some organic olive oil cooking spray which I tried, but it just didn't cut it. One day I was cleaning up the kitchen and I left my spray bottle with water and white vinegar in it sitting out, and I had an epiphany. I like salt and vinegar chips, why not salt and vinegar popcorn? A few squirts of vinegar and water and the salt sticks very nicely and the popcorn tastes great!

Try a little Chinese Five-Spice. It's different but I kind of like a small sprinkle over the top!

What a great idea with the salt and vinegar. Will have to try that. I usually use Pam butter spray and nutritional yeast. I also buy organic pop corn kernels.

We picked up an air popper and it was the best purchase ever. Just add the kernels and plug it in. You add nothing else. I sometimes sprinkle cinnamon on mine - very yummy.

I flavor my plain popcorn bowl my adding one 130 calorie pack of Snackwell's fudge drizzeled Carmel popcorn while my popcorn is still hot..the fudge melts a bit and WOW you have a giant serving of low cal, delisiciousness...

Love the chili and lime juice combo! Sometimes I add a few squirts of Franks Hot Sauce on my popcorn! Yum!

I like to sprinkle on a bit of Parmesan cheese.

I've used garlic powder (not salt) and lemon powder to flavor popcorn. It tastes surprisingly good, and you don't have to worry about the calories. There may even be some health benefits to including one (garlic) or both, I don't know for sure.

Mrs. Dash is also great to use.

Two words: whirly pop! It's a stovetop popcorn cooker, simple to use. You can make it with a tbls of oil and its good enough to eat with nothing on it. Look it up on amazon it gets great reviews. I will not eat microwave popcorn of any sort anymore. I also make my own and sneak it in the movies, not only to be cheap but because I can't stand how salty theirs is anymore

The Nordic Ware Micro Popper is the best! Thank you Snack Girl for your recommendations, good stuff and practical!

Yum - thanks!

I take a large oven-safe glass bowl*, fill it with 1/4 cup of kernels, cover it with an oven-safe plate, and microwave the whole assembly for 3-ish minutes.

As soon as it's done, I use a silicone oven mitt to remove the plate, set the bowl on an oven mitt, and add whatever flavor of no-salt I want to the still-steaming popcorn.

I think that "salting" the popcorn when it's still a little bit damp from cooking is a good way to get the seasoning to stick.

Seems like if I sprayed even a little bit of water on it, the kernels would "melt" down into nothingness. No?

* I used to make it in paper bags, but my insatiable appetite for popcorn meant using multiple bags each day. :)

hi i bought a pop corn cover at bed bath its a micro cover you put your pop corn in a glass bowl cover it makes wonderful popcorn and you dont have to worry about the bag burning in the micro the cover was 6.99 when i purchased it

I, too, love popcorn... but I DO put butter on it! Grass-fed butter is a nutritional powerhouse full of healthy fats... and fats DO not cause fat!! I love a little butter, honey, and salt on it, or butter, chili powder, and fresh lime juice.

Still using the electric popcorn maker my mom used when I was a kid - with a touch of oil. I can remember my siblings and I watching the corn pop through the glass lid. Took the cooker and all the fixings to my mom's at her senior-living place last Saturday night and she just laughed with delight. Made my day!

I am OBSESSED with popcorn and literally eat it every night. It can easily become a trigger food for me, though, as there are SO many options for toppings that I can't stop once I start making different flavors :)

Some of my favorites are:
Sweetener + Cinnamon + a pinch of salt
Curry powder
Sweetener + popcorn salt (kettle corn!)

Sweetener + Paprika = BBQ or Sweet Thai Chili flavor

Smoked paprika + rosemary
ginger + lavendar
Lemon + cumin + salt
Taco seasoning

Sweetener + cocoa powder OR low-cal hot chocolate mix (+ cinnamon for Mexican hot chocolate)

Sweetener + Pumpkin Pie or Apple Pie Spice (+ dried apples for extra yum)

I tried to use the Nordic Ware Micro Popper, but I burnt the popcorn every time. I now make my popcorn on the stove with coconut oil.

I make popcorn all the time and use healthy coconut oil to popit and i drizzle it with real butter.

My favorite popcorn combo is a little bit of evoo with some Pampered Chef Rosemary Seasoning Blend (I love this stuff, put it on everything and can find nothing like it!) and then top with some shredded Parmagiano Reggiano.

I love the chili powder and lime idea though! It's one I definitely need to try!

I like putting soy sauce on popcorn!!! Lite soy sauce of course. And sometimes a little parmesan cheese.

I second Andy D's method. Glass bowl with a plate for a lid. I do smear a little cocnut oil on the bowl first though, as I've had it stick without it.

FYI, my wife and I follow a no-added-oil vegan diet, so we not infrequently get the "but where do you get your protein?" question, so I'm often calculating the protein value of our plant-based diet.

Here are the percentage of calories coming from each macronutrient in "naked" popcorn:

Fat 9.43%
Protein 12.16%
Carbs 78.41%

For what it's worth, here are the calories from protein for some other "naked" foods:

baked potato 8.21%
quinoa 13.86%
lentils 30.03%
spinach 34.80%
Yay spinach! :)

i love this as a snack and I use coconut oil to pop it. The only thing that concerns me is if the corn is GMO. I havent found any organic kernels in the store.

Isn't corn on the GMO list?

P - I believe I got the organic pop corn at Trader's Joe's.

try it with a table spoon of coconut oil.

I looooooooooooooooooooooove popcorn! OMG! I eat it as a snack almost daily! I use minimal oil in a pain (more kernals) and eat up! No butter and I think pan popped taste better then microwaved plus minus the chemicals.

I love popcorn, but most corn in the US is now genetically modified (GM). Research is linking GM foods with poor health. I try to buy BLUE popping corn and blue corn chips, etc. It is far less likely to be genetically modified.

@Zennifer, Liz, and p: I used to think the same (corn = mostly GMO, so popcorn = bad for me), but a year or two ago, I stumbled across something like this (I can't put my finger on the original article I saw; I may have posted it here on…

"Jeffery Smith, executive director of the Institute for Responsible Technology and GMO expert, assured us that even though almost 90% of the corn grown and eaten in this country is GMO corn, popcorn comes from a different seed and has not been genetically modified."

and I now eat popcorn with reckless abandon. :)

I use chili oil (found in the Asian food section of your grocery store), and cinnamon sugar for a sweet-spicy popcorn.

What about butter flavored Pam?

When I look at the carbohydrate count in three cups of popcorn, it's easy for me NOT to eat it. It's the carbohydrates that make you fat. Not the butter or oil that make popcorn delicious. Eat a handful of nuts instead. You need good fat to satisfy your hunger. Eating dry popcorn is about as healthy as eating a few teaspoons of sugar. Because that's what the popcorn breaks down into when it hits your digestive system.

The Whirly Pop popcorn maker on the stove is my favorite way to make it. I add a small amount of olive oil to the bottom and top with a bit of sea salt. Perfecto!

Whirly pop has a 25 year warranty on their poppers by the way. Check out their website. I think you just have to register it with the company. You can pop any kind of popcorn in it as well. Before Whirly Pop we used to put a small amount of oil in a pan pour in enough popcorn to cover the bottom of a 3 or 4 quart saucepan, turn the stove burner on med. high, cover and shake until the kernals popped. It is not air popping but the small amount of oil is insignificant and we use olive or coconut oil.

Popcorn made on the stove; sprinkle with garlic salt and Parmagiano/Romano!

I am pregnant and looooovvveeee popcorn!!! I'm not going much for the healthy factor cus with my morning/all day long sickness it's about all i can stomach. So if ur not trying to be super healthy try this.. dip ur popcorn in whipped cream cheese it is ahhhhhhh mmmmmm mazing!!!!!! #fatgirlproblems :P

Popcorn is my go-to snack during the day. If I ever need a bit more food to satiate me, I reach for the popcorn.

I love the Nordic Ware popper. It doesn't burn if I pay attention while it's popping, but I have found with white kernels, not as many of them pop before it starts to burn--so I get less yield with white kernels vs. yellow. I pop it with coconut oil and the flavor is just incredible. I add a little popcorn salt. It's much finer than table salt and sticks just fine for me without adding any moisture.

I also love popcorn and I found a healthy great popcorn flavouring on the web it is called Magic Popcorn Fairy Dust. A combination of nutritional yeast, salt, garlic powder, onion powder etc... It takes popcorn to a new level. I melt a tsp of coconut oil in the microwave and pour on my air popped popcorn and the add a tbsp of the Magic Fairy Dust over it. The coconut helps it stick to the popcorn. Try it.

I use a brown shopping bag with 2.3 of top of bag cut off. put popcorn in bag, fold down and microwave on high 50 seconds. wait 10 then set to 3 minutes and pop till its slowed down, don't want to burn. is light fluffy and healthy. i salt some stick no not lots, but we don't need much salt.

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