Popcorn 101: Nutrition, Types, Benefits, Downsides (2022)

Last Updated on July 26, 2022 by Michael Joseph

People usually imagine the sweet and greasy popcorn from movie theaters when they think of popcorn.

However, popcorn can be reasonably nutritious, and in its unprocessed state, it is a whole grain.

This article looks at the nutritional properties of popcorn, the different types, and its potential benefits and downsides.

Popcorn 101: Nutrition, Types, Benefits, Downsides (1)

Table of contents

  • What Is Popcorn?
  • What is the Best Type of Popcorn?
  • Nutrition Facts
  • Does Popcorn Have Any Benefits?
  • Does Popcorn Have Any Downsides?
  • How To Improve the Taste of Air-Popped Popcorn
  • How To Make Air-Popped Popcorn At Home
  • Final Thoughts

What Is Popcorn?

Popcorn refers to the popped whole-grain kernels that grow on a variety of maize (also known as corn).

The plant that produces popcorn has the scientific name of Zea mays var. everta. For those unaware, this plant is different from other plants in the maize family that produce dent corn, sweet corn, and waxy corn (1).

When raw popcorn kernels are heated, they suddenly burst (or “pop”) and become many multiples larger in size.

The image below shows popcorn kernels before and after popping:

Popcorn 101: Nutrition, Types, Benefits, Downsides (2)

For those interested in why popcorn pops, there is a small amount of water content in the inner layers. The moisture generated from the water presses against the starchy walls until it explodes outward as the popcorn heats up. In other words, the popcorn turns inside out (2).

According to research, popcorn first became part of human diets almost 7000 years ago in South America (3).

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In more recent times, popcorn exploded in popularity in the United States during the Great Depression due to its low expense (4).

Interestingly, popcorn used to be used as a popular breakfast cereal (served with milk) in the United States (5).

At present, it is mainly a snack that people enjoy while watching movies or sports events. Generally speaking, popcorn is popped by air or in oil, and there are some key differences between the two.

Key Point: Popcorn is a popular snack food that has been consumed for centuries. It is made by popping whole kernels of popcorn by heated air or in oil.

What is the Best Type of Popcorn?

The main two types of popcorn are air-popped and oil-popped.

There will be clear nutritional differences between them:

  • Oil-popping will increase the calorie and fat content of the popcorn.
  • By weight, it will also slightly decrease the carbohydrate, fiber, protein, and vitamin and mineral content.

Aside from homemade popcorn, buying ready popped store-bought varieties is also possible.

However, many packaged popcorn products contain large amounts of added sugar, salt, and oils, thus decreasing their nutritional value.

As a result, the most nutrient-rich form of popcorn is regular, air-popped popcorn.

Air-popped popcorn tends to be a reasonably good source of protein and provides a significant fiber source (6).

Nutrition Facts

Using data from the USDA’s FoodData Central database, below you can see the nutritional values for air-popped popcorn per 100 grams. All daily values have been calculated using the USDA data and the FDA’s published daily values (6, 7).

NameAmount% Daily Value (% DV)
Calories385 kcal
Carbohydrate77.5 g28%
Fiber14.4 g51%
Sugars0.87 g
Fat4.52 g6%
Saturated Fat0.63 g3%
Monounsaturated Fat0.95 g
Polyunsaturated Fat2.31 g
Omega-30.05 g
Omega-62.25 g
Protein12.9 g26%

Vitamins

  • Niacin (B3): 14% of the daily value
  • Pantothenic acid (B5): 10% DV
  • Vitamin B6: 9% DV
  • Thiamin (B1): 9% DV
  • Riboflavin (B2): 6% DV
  • Folate: 8% DV
  • Choline: 4% DV
  • Vitamin A RAE*: 1% DV
  • Vitamin K: 1% DV

*RAE = retinol activity equivalents.

As we can see from these vitamin values, popcorn provides a moderate source of B vitamins.

Minerals

  • Magnesium: 34% DV
  • Phosphorus: 29% DV
  • Copper: 29% DV
  • Zinc: 28% DV
  • Iron: 18% DV
  • Potassium: 7% DV
  • Sodium: 7% DV
  • Calcium: 1% DV
  • Sodium: <1% DV

Popcorn provides significant levels of magnesium, phosphorus, copper, zinc, and iron.

Key Point: Popcorn is a rich source of fiber, moderately high in protein, and relatively low in fat. It provides a good amount of essential nutrients, particularly B vitamins and minerals.

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Does Popcorn Have Any Benefits?

Popcorn may provide some benefits due to its nutritional and non-nutritive components.

Here is a summary of these potential benefits.

High In Fiber and Protein

Popcorn is high in fiber and protein, containing 14.4 grams and 12.9 grams, respectively, per 100 grams (6).

Both protein and fiber are thought to help enhance satiety, which refers to the feeling of fullness with no further desire to eat after a meal (7, 8).

Each also has its unique benefits, with protein being vital for growth and repair, building/maintaining lean body mass, and bone health (9).

Regarding fiber, higher intakes are also quite consistently associated with reduced cardiovascular and all-cause mortality (10).

Further, higher fiber intakes appear to correspond with a more health-supportive gut microbiome (11).

For more high-fiber and protein grains, see these barley and wheat germ guides.

Popcorn is a “Healthier” Snack Option and May Help With Satiety

If an individual is already eating enough food each day, adding popcorn to the diet isn’t going to help.

However, it can be a healthier snack option than other typical snack foods such as potato chips.

Little steps rather than giant leaps are often the best way to improve our way of eating; substituting popcorn for potato chips is one such little step.

It has been studied too. For example, a 2012 human trial on satiety examined how popcorn compared to potato chips for short-term satiety impact and subsequent energy intake (12).

Interestingly, in thirty-five healthy adults, consuming six cups of popcorn (100 calories) led to greater satiety and lower energy intake at the next meal than one cup (150 calories) of potato chips.

Since popcorn is so light, it is easy to eat a significant volume of it for very few calories, which the above study suggests may help with appetite.

Key Point: Replacing snack foods like potato chips with popcorn can be a step in the right direction.

Popcorn Is a Rich Source of Polyphenols

Sometimes referred to as “antioxidants,” polyphenols are chemical compounds found in plant foods, and they are associated with health benefits (13, 14, 15).

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Based on nine popcorn samples, the contents were 5.95 mg of polyphenols per gram on average. This is equivalent to 595 mg (or 0.59 grams) per 100 grams (16).

Surprisingly, the polyphenol content of popcorn compares favorably to the amounts in berries, which range from around 100 mg to 500 mg per 100 grams (17).

It is worth pointing out that despite the associations with health benefits, it is difficult to make definitive claims about the health effects of polyphenols.

One reason for this is that polyphenols have low bioavailability, and they are quickly metabolized. This makes it challenging to test for benefits in human trials (18).

However, it is currently thought that they are at least partly responsible for the benefits seen by higher intakes of fruit and vegetables. Nevertheless, more research is necessary to understand this topic better (19).

Key Point: Popcorn is a significant source of polyphenols, which may provide health benefits.

Does Popcorn Have Any Downsides?

Outside of uncommon corn allergies, there are no real downsides about popcorn other than the processing it sometimes undergoes.

As previously mentioned, many pre-packaged popcorn and movie theater popcorn products contain large amounts of added fat, salt, and sometimes sugary toppings.

The table below, using USDA data, shows just how much this processing can change the nutritional value of popcorn per 100 grams (6, 20, 21):

NameAir-popped PopcornMovie Theater PopcornSweetened Oil-Popped Popcorn
Calories385 kcal656 kcal464 kcal
Carbohydrate77.5 g31.6 g67.9 g
Sugars0.87 g0.29 g28.6 g
Fiber14.4 g5.4 g7.1 g
Fat4.52 g58.8 g17.9 g
Saturated0.63 g35.5 g3.57 g
Monounsaturated 0.95 g11.7 gNot listed
Polyunsaturated2.31 g8.45 gNot listed
Protein12.9 g4.96 g7.14 g
Sodium162 mg756 mg643 mg

As we can see from the data in the table, air-popped popcorn is the healthiest choice of popcorn.

Movie theater popcorn contains significant amounts of calories, saturated fat, and approximately one-third of the recommended daily sodium intake (22).

Packaged and sweetened popcorn also contains large amounts of sugar, similarly high sodium content, and more calories.

Also, these more processed varieties of popcorn contain far lower amounts of fiber and protein than plain air-popped popcorn.

Key Point: If choosing a popcorn based on nutritional properties, it is clear that air-popped popcorn is the best option. It is lower in calories, fat, sugar, and sodium, yet it contains more fiber and protein.

How To Improve the Taste of Air-Popped Popcorn

There is one argument for more processed varieties of popcorn: they have more flavor due to all the additional ingredients.

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However, it is relatively easy to flavor air-popped popcorn, and various seasonings work well.

Some of these include:

  • Cayenne pepper
  • Cheese powder
  • Cinammon
  • Cocoa powder
  • Curry powder
  • Garlic powder
  • Hot chocolate powder
  • Italian seasoning
  • Nutmeg
  • Nutritional yeast
  • Smoked paprika

Depending on personal preference, a small amount of sugar or salt may also help the popcorn taste better.

Time needed:1 minute.

Just follow these easy steps to make seasoned air-popped popcorn:

  1. Put the popcorn in a bag

    Add the air-popped popcorn while it is still hot.

  2. Add seasoning

    Sprinkle some of the preferred seasonings over the top of the popcorn.

  3. Shake

    Seal the bag, and then shake for 15 seconds to ensure the seasoning spreads over the popcorn evenly.

  4. Serve

    Enjoy!

Key Point: Depending on personal taste, there are numerous seasonings that work well with popcorn. Or be creative and try your own blend.

How To Make Air-Popped Popcorn At Home

Popping popcorn kernels at home may sound like a complicated process, but it is surprisingly easy to do.

The easiest way to do it is by using a microwave: first place the whole grain popcorn kernels in a paper bag, then fold and seal the top of the bag.

Then, put the bag in the microwave and turn on the power. You will soon start to hear the popcorn popping, but wait until the process seems to be slowing down, and then remove the bag from the microwave.

After removing, don’t open the bag until the popping finishes. The popcorn should now be ready!

Final Thoughts

Nutritionally, popcorn provides a good mixture of fiber, protein, B vitamins, several minerals, and polyphenols.

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On the downside, packaged popcorn and popcorn sold at retail typically have a less than desirable nutrition profile, and they often contain excessive amounts of fat and salt.

All in all, popcorn can be a nutritious food when prepared in the right way. It can also be interesting to try different home-blended seasonings for various flavor experiences.

FAQs

What are the disadvantages of eating corn? ›

Often, corn gets contaminated by fungi that put off toxins called mycotoxins. If you eat a lot of corn with these toxins, you're at a higher risk for certain cancers, liver problems, lung issues, and slowing of your immune system.

What are the benefits of popcorn? ›

In addition to fiber, popcorn also is a good source of polyphenols, which are antioxidants that have been linked to better blood circulation and digestive health, as well as a potentially lower risk of certain cancers. Another health benefit of popcorn is its high satiety.

Are Corns good for weight loss? ›

Helps in weight loss: Thanks to its high fiber properties, corn is amazing grain for weight loss. Fiber helps in digestion which facilitates weight loss. Corn is rich in antioxidants which improves metabolism.

What is nutritional value of corn? ›

Summary. Corn is a naturally low-fat food that provides about 88 calories per ear. Most of the calories come from carbohydrates, but corn also provides about 3.3 grams of protein. Corn also provides some fiber and is a good source of thiamin.

Does corn cause inflammation? ›

There are a variety of corn derivatives like high-fructose corn syrup, corn flour, and corn oil. Eating corn in these refined forms spikes blood sugar and as we have seen above, spiked blood sugar leads to an increased insulin response, which creates a major inflammatory response.

Is corn hard on your stomach? ›

Corn contains cellulose. It's a fiber that's hard to break down because we don't have a necessary enzyme to do so. The longer you chew it, the easier it is to digest. But if you eat it quickly, it can pass through you undigested.

What are the disadvantages of popcorn? ›

Premade popcorn often contains a high level of salt, or sodium. Eating too much sodium can cause high blood pressure and lead to other health complications. Some brands also include a lot of sugar. Added butter, sugar, and salt can make popcorn an unhealthful snack.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of eating popcorn? ›

Because of its low calorie content, low energy density, high fiber content and increased satiety, eating popcorn may help you eat fewer calories and lose weight. However, moderation is key. Even though it is much more filling than many other snack foods, it can still be fattening if you eat too much of it.

What are the side effects of eating too much popcorn? ›

However, overloading on fiber-rich popcorn could put you over the daily recommendation. While this isn't the worst thing, it may land you on the toilet with an upset stomach, gas, or bloating until your fiber levels even out. The impact on your heart health is more concerning, of course.

Does corn increase blood sugar? ›

Glycemic index of corn

Foods with a high-glycemic index (70 and above) can increase your blood sugar level. The glycemic index of corn is 52.

Is corn good for losing belly fat? ›

Corn can cause weight gain if eaten in excess like any other food. However, when eaten in moderation, the high fiber content in corn can contribute to weight loss. Is corn good for losing belly fat? Corn can contribute to weight reduction as a whole, and it does not have any particular effect on belly fat.

Is corn good for high blood pressure? ›

Lowers blood pressure: Phytonutrients found in corn inhibit ACE, lowering the risk of high blood pressure. Regulates blood sugar: Phytochemicals present in corn can regulate the absorption and release of insulin in the body, which can prevent sudden spikes and drops in your blood sugar.

What happens if you eat corn everyday? ›

Taking too much corn can lead to weight gain. People on a diet should avoid consumption of corn. Corn syrup is considered worse than sugar and is identified as a leading cause of obesity in many nations. It can also negatively impact the levels of sugar in your blood and put you at risk for type 2 diabetes.

Is organic corn inflammatory? ›

Corn has long been a staple food for Native Americans, but it can also be inflammatory, given its high sugar content.

What are the 10 most inflammatory foods? ›

Here, we look at the top ten foods which set the stage for inflammatory diseases:
  • Sugars. ...
  • Common Cooking Oils. ...
  • Trans Fats. ...
  • Dairy Products. ...
  • Feedlot-Raised Meat. ...
  • Red Meat & Processed Meat. ...
  • Alcohol. ...
  • Refined Grains.

What is the number one food that causes inflammation? ›

Foods that cause inflammation

refined carbohydrates, such as white bread and pastries. French fries and other fried foods. soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages. red meat (burgers, steaks) and processed meat (hot dogs, sausage)

Who should avoid eating corn? ›

Corn adversely affects people suffering from diabetes as it increases the blood sugar level in the body. Corn has a high carbohydrate content, which leads to the increase in blood sugar levels (3). So people suffering from diabetes should not consume corn in large quantities.

Can popcorn cause intestinal problems? ›

Because popcorn is a rich source of fiber, which promotes digestive activity, it might worsen stomach pain and diarrhea associated with colitis, Crohn's disease and irritable bowel syndrome.

What are the three worst foods for digestion? ›

Worst Foods for Digestion
  • Fried Foods. 1/10. They're high in fat and can bring on diarrhea. ...
  • Citrus Fruits. 2/10. Because they're high in fiber and they are acidic, they can give some folks an upset stomach. ...
  • Artificial Sugar. 3/10. ...
  • Too Much Fiber. 4/10. ...
  • Beans. 5/10. ...
  • Cabbage and Its Cousins. 6/10. ...
  • Fructose. 7/10. ...
  • Spicy Foods. 8/10.
Aug 30, 2021

Does popcorn cause bloating? ›

Popcorn is high in insoluble fiber, which can cause bloating, distension, and flatulence in some people with IBS. If these symptoms are a problem, it may be better to choose foods high in soluble fiber, such as psyllium, oats, apples, and citrus fruits, instead.

Does popcorn cause inflammation in the body? ›

Snack favorites high in sodium, such as chips and popcorn, are also known inflammation causers. These salt-filled snacks will surely lead to bloating and swelling. Looking for a filling snack? Try nuts like almonds and walnuts.

Does popcorn affect your cholesterol? ›

Fat and Cholesterol Content

Popcorn itself doesn't contain any cholesterol, but you add cholesterol to your snack if you prepare it with butter, which does contain cholesterol. Air-popped popcorn is almost fat-free, with a 1-cup serving containing only 0.4 grams of fat.

Is popcorn a junk food? ›

Popcorn is a healthy snack substitute for junk because it a loaded with fiber but how it is cooked is important. Air popping, cooking in a little canola or olive oil, or microwaving are all good methods.

Is eating popcorn every day harmful? ›

If you're eating microwave popcorn or movie theater popcorn every day, you might be taking in a lot of extra salt and calories, as well as potentially harmful chemicals and artificial ingredients. However, homemade popcorn that's made with olive or avocado oil can be a healthy addition to your daily diet.

How much popcorn should you eat a day? ›

Each day you can have 5 to 8 ounces, or equivalents, from this food group. At least half of your servings, or about 3 to 4 ounces, should come from whole-grain sources, like popcorn. Based on this recommendation, set forth in the USDA's ChooseMyPlate.gov, a 1-ounce equivalent from the grain group is 3 cups of popcorn.

What happens if you eat corn everyday? ›

Taking too much corn can lead to weight gain. People on a diet should avoid consumption of corn. Corn syrup is considered worse than sugar and is identified as a leading cause of obesity in many nations. It can also negatively impact the levels of sugar in your blood and put you at risk for type 2 diabetes.

Is it OK to eat corn everyday? ›

It's important to eat corn with moderation and as part of a balanced diet. Based on a 2,000-calorie diet, the average daily recommendation suggests eating about 2 ½ cups of vegetables, and corn certainly counts.

What happens if we eat sweet corn daily? ›

One of the main nutritional benefits of sweetcorn is its high fibre content. And as we know, dietary fibre is important for our health: it aids digestion, it can decrease the risk of heart disease, strokes, type 2 diabetes and bowel cancer. On top of that, fibre helps you stay fuller for longer.

What happens if you eat too much corn on the cob? ›

High intake can cause digestive upset, such as bloating, gas, and diarrhea, in some people. Corn contains phytic acid, which may reduce mineral absorption. Mycotoxin contamination may also be a concern in developing countries.

Is corn good for losing belly fat? ›

Corn can cause weight gain if eaten in excess like any other food. However, when eaten in moderation, the high fiber content in corn can contribute to weight loss. Is corn good for losing belly fat? Corn can contribute to weight reduction as a whole, and it does not have any particular effect on belly fat.

Does the body turn corn into sugar? ›

Corn and Carbohydrates

For example, 1 cup of yellow corn contains about 11 grams of starch, 7 grams of sugar and 3.5 grams of fiber. During digestion, starch and sugar get turned into individual molecules of glucose, the simplest form of sugar. Fiber, however, does not turn into the sugar glucose.

Does your body repair corn? ›

The inside of the kernel, however, does break down in your stomach and intestines. That allows you to absorb nutrients such as fiber, vitamin C and magnesium from the corn you ate. If you find the reappearance of corn after a meal a bit unappetizing, there is a solution: chew more.

Which is healthier rice or corn? ›

Corn contains vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin C, and vitamin K, whereas rice entirely lacks these vitamins. Corn is also richer in most B vitamins, such as vitamins B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), and B5 (pantothenic acid) in particular, except for vitamin B9 (folate). Rice contains more vitamin B9 compared to corn.

Is corn good for skin? ›

It can help you to maintain a healthy skin: Corn is jam-packed with vitamin C and lycopene are potential antioxidants that prevent your skin from the damage of by free radicals and can also help you to maintain the elasticity of your skin.

Is rice healthy to eat? ›

Look no further than a healthy plate of rice! Because rice has low amounts of sodium, fat, and cholesterol, it is a great aid in reducing obesity. It's rich in nutrients and has no significant negative impacts on a person's health. Of course, its high-levels in fiber also help to reduce obesity.

Is corn good for high blood pressure? ›

Lowers blood pressure: Phytonutrients found in corn inhibit ACE, lowering the risk of high blood pressure. Regulates blood sugar: Phytochemicals present in corn can regulate the absorption and release of insulin in the body, which can prevent sudden spikes and drops in your blood sugar.

Is raw cucumber good for you? ›

Nutrients. Cucumbers are packed with them. In just a single cup of cucumber slices, you'll get 14% to 19% of the vitamin K you need for the day. You'll also get vitamins B and C along with minerals like copper, phosphorus, potassium, and magnesium.

Is corn good for cholesterol? ›

It's Heart-Healthy

The fiber in corn can help protect your heart by lowering your cholesterol levels. In fact, just 5 to 10 grams of daily soluble fiber — the type found in corn — can reduce the absorption of cholesterol into your bloodstream, per the Mayo Clinic.

Can dogs eat corn? ›

Is It Safe for My Dog to Eat Corn? It is perfectly safe for you to feed your dog corn off the cob in small amounts. Just make sure that you do so in moderation. Corn is one of the most popular cereal grains in the world and may contain a good amount of several vitamins and minerals, depending on the type of corn.

Does corn cause bloating? ›

Corn contains a carbohydrate that some people have a hard time digesting. It's not uncommon to experience bloating after eating tortilla chips or corn on the cob. Rich in fiber, this grain can wreak havoc on your gut and cause diarrhea and digestive distress.

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