Move over, movie theater popcorn! Lunch boxes, make way for a healthy and delicious snack. We all know that theater popcorn is loaded with calories, but did you know that it’s like eating a pound of baby-back ribs topped with a scoop of Häagen-Dazs ice cream? Recent studies, however, report that popcorn contains even more healthy antioxidants than fruits and vegetables. Popcorn is like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, because it can be amazingly nutritious or full of harmful, fattening ingredients, depending on how it’s prepared and what you use to flavor it. Don’t worry – there are ways to take advantage of the healthier side of popcorn while creating a snack that tastes even better than theater popcorn!
Popcorn is a whole grain food full of fiber, manganese and phytonutrients. When cereal is labeled whole grain, it simply means that over 51 percent of the product is actually whole grain. But popcorn is entirely whole grain, and three cups of it provide more than 70 percent of the recommended daily intake of whole grains. Additionally, it provides 3 grams of fiber and 12 percent of the Recommended Daily Value of manganese, while containing only 93 calories. Popcorn provides a significant amount of antioxidants, which provide protection from damage to our cells and help prevent disease. University of Scranton professor Joe Vinson found through his research that popcorn contains even more antioxidants than fruits and vegetables. But don’t forget that fruits and vegetables contain vitamins and minerals that are critical for good health and missing in popcorn. Replace other less beneficial snack foods with healthy popcorn, while also eating plenty of of fruits and vegetables.
Avoid the artificial flavors, colors and chemicals in the lining of microwave popcorn bags by making your own microwave popcorn. You can microwave your own popcorn kernels in a lunch-size paper bag for literally pennies. Place 1/4 cup of kernels in a paper lunch bag. Fold the top edge a few times and microwave until there are three to five seconds in between pops. You will be amazed at how easy it is!
It’s also easy to make popcorn on the stovetop by adding kernels and a tablespoon of oil to a large pot over medium-high heat. Just cover the pot, and shake it every 30 seconds until the popping slows after two to three minutes. When using oil to pop popcorn, use an oil that doesn’t smoke easily, such as cold pressed unrefined virgin coconut oil. Oils with a lower smoke-point, such as extra virgin olive oil, break down when heated over high heat and release harmful free radicals.
There‘s no need for butter to flavor your microwaved, air-popped or stovetop popcorn! Flavor the popcorn by filling an oil mister with olive oil or flavored infused olive oils and spray it on while the popcorn is still hot. The mister applies less oil, and the oil spreads over the popcorn more thoroughly so that the added seasonings stick. For my Cleveland readers, there’s a store in Hudson, Ohio called Olive My Heart and another in Chagrin Falls, Ohio called The Olive Scene that sell an olive oil infused with plants that naturally have a buttery taste.
Be creative and make savory popcorn with spices like garlic powder, smoked paprika, cayenne pepper, turmeric, chili powder, and/or freshly cracked pepper to make the popcorn more flavorful, but without adding any additional fat or calories. For extra flavor, mix the popcorn with tamari (gluten-free soy sauce) or Bragg’s amino acid and nutritional yeast.
Lime-infused olive oil with a touch of salt and a little cayenne has a unique and delicious taste. If you prefer a sweeter option, drizzle cocoa powder and either pure maple syrup or raw honey over popped popcorn. Lunches for school or work can be more exciting and much healthier with popcorn recipes like Savory Pizza Popcorn, Popcorn Trail Mix, Zesty Lime Popcorn, and Peanut Butter Popcorn. The possibilities are endless.
However you pop or season it, try to eat popcorn instead of less-healthy snacks. Popcorn prepared with nutrition in mind is far healthier than snacks such as Goldfish, crackers, Cheez-Its, chips, and pretzels. Be a healthy popcorn-eater, and you’ll get far more essential whole grains, fiber, and antioxidants.