On National Popcorn Day, discover the health benefits of this tasty snack

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FEATURE — Jan. 19 is National Popcorn Day! Did you know that the corn we eat and the corn we pop are two different varieties? They are!

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Only one variety of corn can become popcorn, Zea mays everta. This corn variety has small ears, and the kernels burst when exposed to dry heat.

When popcorn is air-popped without oil, it becomes a delicious, healthy snack. You can air-pop popcorn in a microwave by placing it in a brown paper bag, on the stovetop or in a popcorn maker. This is the best way to make popcorn, because you can control what seasoning or flavor enhancer you add afterward.

Homemade popcorn is very different than the popcorn you buy at the movie theater, though. Store-bought or movie theater popcorn often decreases popcorn’s health benefits by adding butter, sugar or salt. Caramel corn or sugar-coated popcorn isn’t the best snack choice either.

Nutrition facts about popcorn

Three cups of air-popped popcorn is only 93 calories!  It also contains 3 grams of protein and is a whole grain. Popcorn is high in fiber, vitamins and minerals and low in fat and sugar. It does not have any cholesterol either.

MyPlate recommends making half of your grains whole, and popcorn is a great way to do that. Whole grains have the entire grain kernel, which includes the bran, germ and endosperm. Refined grains have been milled, meaning they remove the bran and germ. This is done to give grains a finer texture and improve their shelf life. But it also removes dietary fiber, iron and many B vitamins.

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Popcorn packs more fiber per serving than a serving of whole-wheat bread! High-fiber whole grains are linked to a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes and some cancers. Fiber is also important for proper bowel function.

Iron found in whole grains is important because it helps carry oxygen in the blood. Many teenage girls and women in their childbearing years have iron-deficiency anemia.

B vitamins such as thiamin, riboflavin and niacin help your metabolism. Your metabolism is what helps the body release energy from the foods you eat. B vitamins are important for your nervous system too.

Nutrients in popcorn also have been linked to better blood circulation and digestive health.

Adding flavor

Air-popped popcorn may sound flavorless or not as tasty as movie theater popcorn, but it can make a large difference calorie-wise. For example, 1 cup of air-popped popcorn is 30 calories, popped in oil is 35 calories, and lightly buttered is 80 calories.

To add some flavor to your air-popped popcorn, try using garlic powder, cayenne pepper, cinnamon or cocoa powder. If you want to be more fancy, mix some of your favorite dried herbs such as basil or oregano with chili powder and a little salt. Lime juice with some cumin is also a hit!

If you’re more of the recipe-following type, try one of our Create Better Health recipes.

Try one out and celebrate National Popcorn Day!

This article originally appeared on Jan. 18, 2023, on the USU Extension Create Better Health blog.

Copyright © CreateBetterHealth.org, all rights reserved.

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