Q: Popcorn is presented as both a healthy and unhealthy snack, depending on who you ask. Is it good for me?
A: You’re so right. Is popcorn healthy? The short answer is yes.
Popcorn is a whole-grain, fiber-rich food, so you digest the carbs slowly and steadily. It’s also very low in calories (especially for a snack food). More benefits: It contains free radical-fighting antioxidants and tryptophan, an amino acid important for sleep. (If you’re noshing while watching Netflix before bed, that’s a good thing.)
RELATED: 10 Foods That Help You Sleep
Now, time for the caveats. (Sorry!)
The Problem With: Movie Theater Popcorn
While the kernels themselves may be nutritious, your local theater likely pops its corn using a ton of unhealthy, low-quality oil and pours on the salt (and that’s before you add the “butter” sauce that’s generally made with artificial ingredients).
In fact, a report done by Center for Science in the Public Interest found that at some theaters, a medium bucket contained up to 1200 calories, 60g of saturated fat, and 1500mg of sodium. (Time to start smuggling in that bag of almonds and dark chocolate, right?)
The Problem With: Microwave Popcorn
Now, to the popular microwave variety. Many brands use crappy hydrogenated oils like palm oil and artificial flavors and preservatives. There are also concerns with chemicals used in the bags’ glue and ink (some of which have mostly been phased out, like diacetyl). When heated to high temperatures, you may be taking some of those in, especially in the vapor that escapes when you first open the bag.
One chemical in particular, PFOA, has been linked to cancer and birth defects in animals. To be clear: There are no studies science that have established a direct link between microwave popcorn bags that contain trace amounts of PFOA and an increased risk of cancer in humans. (Get a smart breakdown of the science, here.) Our take is: If you can avoid questionable chemicals in your food, why wouldn’t you?
How to Eat Healthy Popcorn
Here’s how to make that happen: Buy plain kernels that are preferably organic (since most corn is now the GMO variety that’s grown with lots of pesticides).
Want even more flavor? Sprinkle on a little parmesan cheese, cinnamon, sea salt, pepper, or cayenne for an amped-up experience that is sure to make any movie more enjoyable.