Are you wondering if popcorn is good for you or not? You have probably heard a variety of answers to that relatively common question. Well, the answer is not as cut and dry as a simple yes or no. Popcorn in its natural state is one of the healthiest foods that you can consume. However, movie theater, microwavable, and overly processed forms are not good for you and should be avoided.
History of Popcorn
The process of popping corn as a food staple has been around for thousands of years. The indigenous people of Mexico and Peru used it as one of their common dietary foods 5,000 years ago. In the American Southwest, Native Americans also frequently popped corn over an open fire.
During the 1800s, popcorn experienced a huge surge in popularity. It was called ‘pearl’ during those days and was a cheap treat that people readily enjoyed. Families would gather around their fireplaces and use specially designed baskets to pop the ‘pearl’ kernels over the coals.
In the 1890s, Cracker Jack was officially introduced as a popular commercially available sweet caramel snack with roasted nuts and popped kernels. Soon various versions of popped corn were being sold at circuses, the theater, and numerous other functions.
When the Great Depression arrived popcorn was an inexpensive staple and food snack that people could still afford to indulge in. It was at this time that the snack food became common in movie theaters. Hawkers would often sell bags on the street corner to people before they entered the theater to watch the movie.
To capitalize on the crunchy food’s widespread popularity, theater owner Glen W. Dickson remodeled his theaters and installed machines in the lobbies. He spent a significant amount of money remodeling his Midwestern theaters and investing in the popping machines, Popcorn in movie theaters quickly became the hit he foresaw and he earned back his initial investment and quickly started making a profit. After his rampant success, movie theater owners around the world started purchasing the popping machines and they still remain in virtually every theater.
Healthy and Unhealthy Popcorn Varieties
Not all popcorn is created equal. Some varieties are just not good for you. They contain toxic substances, excessive calories, and high levels of sugar.
Traditional Movie Theater Varieties: In a study done by the Center for Science in the Public Interest it was revealed that a medium sized bag of movie theater popcorn contained an astronomical 1,200 calories with a whopping 60 grams of fat.
Microwavable: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that the majority of microwaveable bags that hold the kernels are coated with a chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). PFOA’s are a known carcinogen, according to the US Food and Drug Administration, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. When heated, the chemical is vaporized and enters the food. PFOA’s have been found to be toxic to the prostate, liver, and kidneys. It appears to also affect the reproductive ability and may stunt the growth in children. In 2015, numerous US companies voluntarily removed the chemicals from their microwavable bags.
A key ingredient ‘diacetyl’ that is added to the butter flavoring often used in microwavable popcorn or in old-style stovetop poppers has also been found to be harmful if inhaled during manufacture. Diacetyl hasn’t been revealed to be harmful when consumed, but it does pose a danger to factory workers who inadvertently inhale the substance. Because of the danger that the chemical poses to factory workers, many makers of popcorn have opted to no longer use the product to create the butter-like flavor.
Air-Popped: The healthiest form of popcorn that you can consume is air-popped all-natural kernels. To air popcorn kernels, you will need to purchase a relatively inexpensive air popper machine. You can then opt to use all natural, organic, corn kernels in the air popper. After the kernels pop, you can decide if you want to melt natural butter for a topping or do some other tasty flavor addition.
Health Benefits of Popcorn
In its natural form, popcorn may be one of the healthiest snack foods that you can consume.
- Antioxidants: Studies done by Joe Vinson, Ph.D. and undergraduate chemistry major, Michael G. Coco. revealed that natural popped corn contains more antioxidants than fruit. One serving size contains 300 milligrams of antioxidants known as polyphenols. Antioxidants wage war on free radicals and are believed to help prevent cancer. They also help improve digestion and circulation.
- Fiber: Popping corn is not only a tasty snack but also a wonderful way to add valuable and much-needed fiber to your diet. One serving provides 16 percent of your daily fiber allowance. Fiber is crucial to maintaining a healthy digestive function. Popcorn is the only 100-percent unprocessed whole grain available for snack consumption.
- Weight Loss: A snack of the popped kernels is not only healthy but also provides a feeling of fullness. Your hunger cravings will be instantly reduced. High-fiber foods have also been shown to help you maintain a healthy weight. People who consume a high-fiber diet typically have lower body weight. One cup of air popped corn contains only 31 calories.
- GMO-Free: Approximately 90 percent of all corn grown in the US is a genetically modified organism (GMO). GMOs have been linked to tumor growth, allergies, and premature death. However, corn seeds used to create popcorn are GMO-free. The subspecies popcorn seeds have never been genetically modified. The popcorn seeds used is a subspecies of the GMO corn types. It has not been modified in any way and still remains natural in the US. However, it may contain pesticide residue so always try to buy all-natural brands.
- Bone Health: The popping kernels are loaded with manganese which is beneficial to your bone health. Manganese works to maintain your physical structure and may protect against osteoporosis, arthritis, and osteoarthritis.
- Relieves Constipation: The kernels are an insoluble fiber that keeps you regular and may relieve constipation. Fibrous foods are an excellent way to relieve constipation. Regular consumption adds beneficial bulk to your stool to help maintain a regular bowel elimination schedule.
- Diabetic Friendly: Fiber does not have the same effect on the body that carbs do. The body does not break down fiber like it does carbs so there is no significant sugar spike in the bloodstream. This makes it an excellent snack food to control diabetes. It can also be enjoyed by individuals who already suffer from diabetes and require a diabetes friendly snack choice.
- Iron: Everyone thinks that spinach is the iron powerhouse, but popped kernels contain more iron than spinach. One cup provides 0.9 mg of iron of iron and raw spinach only features 0.8 mg of iron. These levels might seem small but remember that an adult male only requires 0.8 mg of iron per day. Women need additional iron and usually require 18 mg per day. This imbalance in iron needs between a woman and a man are due to a woman’s increased need for iron during menstruation.
- Cancer Prevention: The high levels of 0.9 mg of iron found in the tasty popped treat are known to prevent cancer and regulate the metastatic nature of cancer cells.
- Protein Powerhouse: An ounce of popped kernels contains more protein than an egg or a serving of spinach. The protein can give you a much-needed energy boost during the day.
Tasty and Easy Recipes
Adding toppings transforms a bland snack into a mouth-watering treat. However, toppings such as caramel account for a high number of unwanted calories and sugar. A 3.5-ounce size of the caramel drizzled kernels contains a mind-boggling 65 grams of sugar.
There are recipes and ways to create natural varieties that don’t contain excessive sugar or unwanted calories.
Here are a few tasty toppings to add. Simply sprinkle the toppings onto the popped kernels and toss to mix.
- Coconut Oil
- Black Pepper
- Nut Butter
- All Natural Butter
You can also add other wholesome snacks with the popped kernels to create a taste diversity. Dried coconut, dried cranberries, peanuts, bacon bits, wasabi peas, and edamames are a few options that make great additives.
As with all foods, there are always certain individuals that suffer allergies. If you experience any breathing difficulties, a swollen mouth, or hives after consuming the kernels then you should seek medical care.
People with inflammatory bowel disease should not consume the dry kernels because they can upset the colon. If you suffer from any form of inflammatory bowel disease then you need to first consult with your physician before consuming the dry popped corn.
All natural popcorn that is popped using an air popper is considered a healthy, yummy, cheap snack. It’s also a fun activity to pop the corn together as a family. Never underestimate the thrill that a child gets watching the puffy white kernels spew out of the air popper into a bowl. There is little doubt that popcorn will remain a premium snack food worldwide. In America, 17 billion quarts are consumed per year and the numbers continue to grow.