Did you know that Americans eat 15 billion quarts of popcorn annually? Popcorn is a delicious snack that almost everyone enjoys. But can you eat popcorn on a plant-based diet?
Popcorn is generally considered a healthy snack, but there are some kinds of popcorn you might want to avoid. Rich in many essential nutrients, it’s one of the many snacks you can enjoy on a plant-based diet without worries.
Interestingly, although movie theatres have made them popular, most people eat popcorn at home. Yes, you can easily make this snack at home, and that too, in many flavors. As far as the health benefits are concerned, it all depends on how you prepare them.
What is Popcorn Exactly?
Popcorn is a type of maize corn that pops when heated. When it’s heated, it gets puffy, and the water at the center of the kernel expands, causing it to pop. Usually, you do that with the help of air, oil, and even butter.
The flavors you usually taste are added later on top of the corn. We’ve come a long way in terms of flavors, as there are dozens of them. Caramel popcorn remains quite popular, especially in movie theatres.
So can you eat popcorn on a plant-based diet? You sure can because it’s a whole grain food. However, you should watch out for toppings and flavors, as some of those are not plant-based.
Who Invented Popcorn?
Believe it or not, popcorn might just be the oldest snack on the planet. They have been around thousands of years. It was not invented per se, rather discovered in a cave in New Mexico.
Herbert Dick and Earle Smith discovered popped kernels of corn in New Mexico in 1948. These kernels were 5,600 years old. Similarly, another such popped kernel was discovered in Utah, which was 1000 years old.
You’d think that it was a snack, but some archeological evidence suggests these were actually decorations. So it’s fair to say that they have a deep history in America.
Popcorn is a whole grain, even though we mostly think of it as a snack. Therefore, it’s packed with nutrients. Whole grains are generally high in nutrients, and popcorn is no exception.
Here’s a breakdown of the nutrients in popcorn based on the USDA FoodCentral database. Each one has been popped a different way and is unflavored.
|Popcorn, microwave, plain||Plain Popcorn, air-popped||Popcorn, popped in oil, plain|
The calories in the above chart are for 100 grams of each. As you can see, the number of calories, as well as the nutrient breakdown, varies depending on how you pop the corn.
Keep in mind that these are plain popcorn. In other words, the calories would be higher for those with flavors and toppings.
It’s clear that of the three varieties above, air-popped popcorn is the healthiest. Consider them the closest thing to the actual corn, in terms of nutrients and health benefits.
Is popcorn a carb? Yes, carbs make a major part of the nutritional value of popcorn.
In fact, this is often a point of confusion for people as they think it’s not a carb because it has low calories. Popcorn is a carb-rich snack, even if it does not have as many calories as other carb-rich foods like bread or rice.
The amount of fiber in popcorn is pretty high, making them an excellent source for the vital nutrient. Air-popped popcorn has the highest amount of dietary fiber, coming in at 14.5 grams.
A hundred grams of these would cover most of your daily fiber intake. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, you need at least 14 grams of fiber per 1000 calories. Evidently, this just goes to show how incredibly rich popcorn is in fiber.
Besides the four main nutrients, popcorn is also rich in minerals and vitamins. Therefore, it can very well help you attain the recommended daily intake for some of these minerals. Here is a list of them with the percentage of RDI:
- Magnesium (36%)
- Phosphorous (36%)
- Zinc (21%)
- Vitamin B1 (7%)
- Potassium (9%)
- Vitamin B3 (12%)
- Copper (13%)
- Manganese (56%)
- Vitamin B6 (8%)
Is Popcorn Good For You?
Popcorn generally is healthy if you don’t overdo it. Even good things require moderation to deliver the best results. That said, popcorn is perhaps one of the very few snacks you don’t have to think twice about health before eating.
Nutritious, Low-calorie Snack
If you’re going to eat snacks, you might as well eat something healthy and filling. Snacks are usually high in calories and don’t fill up your stomach. As a result, you end up eating too much of them without even realizing it.
Popcorn is fluffy and lightweight. Even if you’re eating a big serving of these, the calories would be much lower than, say, french fries.
Mid-range Glycemic Index
The glycemic index (GI) tells you whether the carbs can spike blood sugar. Foods with a low GI are essentially good carbs that don’t cause diabetes. They can keep your blood sugar levels in check.
Popcorn has a GI of 55, according to USDA, which is a decent score. It means even individuals with type II diabetes may be able to enjoy popcorn in moderate quantities.
May Help in Weight Loss
The low calorie and higher fullness combo make popcorn a good choice for snacking on a weight-loss diet.
A study proved that a cup of popcorn is more filling than potato chips for people within the normal weight range. The researchers found that only 15 calories of popcorn were equal to a whopping 150 calories of potato chips, in terms of fullness.
You might think they are high in carbs, so probably not a good fit for weight-loss. They are indeed rich in carbs, but they are also rich in fibers. Nevertheless, you want to eat it in moderation to maintain your calorie deficit.
Rich in Antioxidants
Popcorn is rich in polyphenol antioxidants, which provide damage control for cells. Free radicals in our body can damage cells, but these polyphenols act as a shield.
Cell protection is not the only benefit of polyphenols. These can also help with digestion, blood circulation, and disease prevention. According to a study by the University of Crete scholars, polyphenols can reduce the risk of cancer.
Microwave Popcorn Health Risks
Can you eat popcorn on a plant-based diet? While popcorn is healthy, there’s one type you may want to avoid: microwave popcorn. This type of popcorn comes in packs that you just put in the microwave, and the kernel pops inside the bag. You have a whole bag of popcorn ready in under five minutes.
Microwave popcorn has been linked to cancer and lung disease. It’s not actually the popcorn that’s the problem, but it’s the packaging. Manufacturers use chemicals named perfluorinated compounds or PFC. They are used as a lining so that the oil does not damage the packaging.
These compounds produce perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which is the real culprit. This chemical can potentially cause cancer. The Food and Drug Administration has banned certain PFCs, which has brought about a positive change.
Some may argue it should have been done long ago, as according to a study, 98% of Americans have this compound in their blood. This same study found a direct relation between PFOA and certain cancers.
Even though PFCs are banned, you should refrain from eating microwave popcorn. There could potentially be other chemicals in the packaging to replace these PFCs. It’s best to be safe than sorry, and besides, fresh popcorn is much healthier and delicious.
Guideline For Eating Popcorn on a Plant-based Diet
Popcorn is a plant-based snack, so you don’t have to worry too much about non-plant-based components. However, there are all sorts of toppings these days, even including meat, for instance, bacon.
Just because popcorn is nutritious does not mean you can pour anything on it and call it healthy. Keep the salt and the butter under control when adding to your popcorn. Butter, in particular, will add more calories and saturated fats.
The best thing to do is to pop your own kernels at home. It’s one way to ensure there are no contaminants or extra calories whatsoever. Plus, it’s incredibly easy to make them at home using a stovetop or microwave.
Portion Control: How Much Popcorn Should You Eat?
No matter how healthy something is, it’s always a good idea to eat it in moderation. Popcorn is rich in carbs, so too much of it is probably not a good idea. As long as you’re not exceeding your overall calorie intake, including carb intake, you should be fine.
As always, you want to keep your fitness goals in mind. Where popcorn can potentially help you lose weight, too much of it can throw off your other efforts.
According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a small bag of popcorn at movie theatres has 8 to 11 cups. In terms of calories, it starts off at 400 calories with a small bag and can be as high as 1200 calories in a large bag.
This should give you some idea about how much popcorn to eat in a day. Two to three servings (small bag) should be fine and provide your whole grain requirement. If you want to consume fewer calories per serving, go for air-popped popcorn as it has the least number of calories and saturated fats.
Is Popcorn Keto?
Popcorn is a high-carb grain, so it’s not quite a keto-friendly snack. That said, it’s low calorie and nutritious. If you want to eat popcorn on a keto diet, you have to make sure you don’t exceed your net carbs intake.
On a keto diet, you can typically eat 50 to 60 grams of carbs. According to USDA data, a three-cup serving has around 14 grams of carbs (excluding dietary fiber). So you can consume three servings, as long as you don’t eat carbs in any other form.
In fact, it can be a good alternative to other carbs like rice or bread to satisfy any carb cravings. It has relatively fewer calories than these carb-rich foods. You need some amount of carbs anyways as your body prefers carbs for energy.
Is Popcorn Gluten-free?
Corn is a gluten-free whole grain, which makes popcorn gluten-free as well. Plain popcorn is perfectly safe for those with gluten intolerance.
Most varieties of popcorn are gluten-free. However, to be extra sure, you can buy those that are marked gluten-free. Contamination is always a possibility during manufacturing. You can also buy raw kernels to make your own popcorn at home.
Is Homemade Popcorn Healthy?
Homemade popcorn is perhaps the most nutritious and healthy option if you like popcorn. There are no additives or preservatives, unlike microwave popcorn. It’s pretty easy to make popcorn at home using a pan or bowl.
The reason why homemade popcorn is healthier is that it has the least amount of calories, fat, and sodium. Other popcorn like the ones at movie theatres or ones you get at the market can be high in fats and sodium.
While plain popcorn has the lowest calories, you can always add a little bit of topping to add different flavors.
So can you eat popcorn on a plant-based diet? Definitely! After all, popcorn is America’s favorite snack. However, there are better ways to consume it.
Try eating fresh popcorn made at home or at least in front of you. When eating popcorn in a theatre, keep portion control in mind. Just because there’s more available doesn’t mean you should eat it.
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