Is popcorn healthy?

You’ve gotta be kidding! Popcorn? The movie snack staple with a crap load of artificial butter? No way that’s healthy… Calm down. Not all popcorn are created equal. It is true the average container of movie popcorn contains anywhere from 500 to 1000 calories for a medium size. But popcorn, popped at home on your stove, with just a little salt for flavor, and some seasoning, is actually quite healthy and filling. Let’s find out more

What is popcorn?

Yeah, I’m being serious. It is a variety of corn kernel, which expands and essentially pops open with heat and steam  inside it.  Pressure from the steam  builds until the hull ruptures, allowing the kernel to forcefully expand from 20 to 50 times its original size [1]. The most popular variety of popping corn, is the commonly cultivated strain is Zea mays everta, which is a type of flint corn. It’s been widely reported that people have been consuming popcorn as far back as 5000 year ago. Not kernels, but actual popped corn.

Benefits of popcorn

Anti-oxidants In studies done by Joe Vinson, Ph.D. and Michael G. Coco, of the  University of Scranton in Pennsylvania, it was found that polyphenols are more concentrated in popcorn, which averages only about 4 percent water, compared to fruits and vegetables, where polyphenols are diluted in the 90 percent water that they contain [2, 3]. It was also reported that the hull actually has the highest concentration of polyphenols and fiber. Their studies reported that the amount of polyphenols in popcorn was up to 300 mg a serving, compared to 114 mg for a serving of sweet corn and 160 mg for all fruits, per serving.

The popping process does not have significant effects on the phenolic content in popcorn. Also, popcorn eaten plain and air popped is the only food that is 100% whole grain by weight according to the researchers.

Nutrient Content The nutrient profile for air-popped popcorn is pretty good. Check this out. For 8 g (1 cup), 28 g (~3.5 cups) and 100 g  (~12.5 cups) of kernels, we have the following:

Of course, this will vary ever so slightly, by brand and type of oil you use (stove top), when popping your kernels. Not bad at all. Decent amount of fiber and protein with a low calorie content. Not much in the way of vitamins or anything else, but the polyphenol  content (not shown here) is pretty high.

How to enjoy and keep healthy

Don’t add butter!!! I typically add a sprinkling of salt, with some black pepper, garlic powder, and a little paprika. I also usually do stove top with a little olive oil. It really doesn’t add that much to the calorie count. I recently tried it, with a little bit of lime juice sprinkled over it, as recommended by javikravi (instagram). It was also suggested by minkaa_24 (instagram) that Za’atar (blend of spices) with popcorn is the ‘bomb’. I haven’t done that as yet, but plan to, as soon as I can find some.

Final Thoughts

Popcorn is an extremely healthy snack, if done correctly. Get the kernels and pop them yourself, either air-popped or on a stove top with a little oil. It has a high concentration of polyphenols, along with a good dose of dietary fiber and proteins. The best part is, that it’s quite filling. So, ditch the movie, and microwave fake butter popcorn, and just do it yourself.


11 thoughts on “Is popcorn healthy?

  1. Great information on the benefits and possible drawbacks of popcorn. I do like to have popcorn at the theaters. I have found that Krikorian, or at least the one I go to, has really good popcorn even with no fake butter.

    Here is the problem I think, and that is microwave popcorn bags. I have heard that is very unhealthy. Is that true?

    My wife really like kettle corn and I know that can’t be healthy with the coating.

    How about flavored popcorns, like cheese popcorn? I love that stuff for a snack but I am guessing it is not healthy with the coating either.

    The benefits look good if eaten correctly without all the junk added.

    Thanks for the useful information for making us more healthy.

  2. I love popcorn! I agree with this post… popcorn’s healthiness/unhealthiness is very dependent on how its prepared. 

    While I love going to the movies and getting a large popcorn drenched in artificial butter, it’s a great way to clog your arteries. 

    For me, I personally prepare popcorn with an air-popper. Once it’s ready I coat it with a mix of butter (very little), olive oil, and water (I know, but try it). While getting this ratio wrong can be pretty ugly, I’ve found a mix of 25% butter, 50% olive oil, and 25% water tends to do the trick without being too fattening. 

    Also, I think the at-home air-popped method tastes better than the movie theater style anyway.

    Thanks for you post!



  3. I agree that popcorn can be a healthy snack when done right! Personally, I Look for Non-GMO popcorn kernels – never use a microwave or packaged popcorn you microwave and I take care not to over cook as burning causes carcinogens. In addition, take heed that while it’s low in calories – it’s high in net carbs. I like to use coconut oil and sea salt + a little organic butter. Mm! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  4. My wife and I eat popcorn fairly regularly as a snack. I am curious though we normally just do the bags of popcorn because it’s quick and easy (and no dishes)… is that considerably less healthy?


    I do happen to have an actual popcorn popper, would doing what you recommend on the stove work in the popcorn popper as well? And if so is there a good recipe to follow for measurements?

    I’d be very interested in making healthy popcorn rather than the butter kind we are used to because all that matters is the flavor and with the right spices I think I could achieve that!

    1. The bags of popcorn comes with all the artificial butter. Use the popper and season after…

  5. Awesome post. I always thought that pop corn is a junk food, bad for health and good for nothing. After reading your post and analysing your details about pop corn ingredients. I learned a lot about it. 

    Now I’ll surely consider taking it during movies and as a evening snacks at home. I have never prepare pop corns before, is it too difficult to learn, and is there any special equipment required for preparing good pop corn in home? 

    Thanks a lot for sharing this interesting and educational post. 

  6. This is a great post! Personally I don’t like when I order “light butter” at the movies and it is soaking out the bottom. I heard that you can pop kernals on your own. Remember Jiffy Pop in the aluminum foil? Oh yeah. I really like how you listed the benefits of popcorn as I had no idea about the specific nutrition facts, very helpful. I usually never add butter so I totally agree. Thank you for sharing!

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