The Health Benefits of Snacking on Popcorn — An Ancient Wonderfood!

Call me a popcorn addict if you want, I love the stuff! I’m not alone. Popcorn is considered the No. 1 snack food in the world. That must have something to do with the little-known fact that Americans consume over 1 billions pounds of popcorn each year!

Did you know that the American Indians brought popcorn to the first Thanksgiving dinner in Plymouth, Massachusetts and the Colonists loved it so much that they would actually serve popcorn as a breakfast item, in a bowl with cream and sprinkling of sugar to top it off? It’s also said that popcorn kernels were found in caves located in New Mexico that actually date back over 5,600 years — which is the reason that my beloved popcorn is believed to be one of the oldest snack foods on earth!

Running the Numbers

One cup of air-popped popcorn has about 30 calories and some brands of low-fat microwave popcorn have about the same calorie content, which is why popcorn is my top pick for best snack food. When I made the decision to change my lifestyle back in 2001, I realized that I just could not go without a crunchy snack while watching late night television.

I know, I know… almost every diet out there says that you shouldn’t eat past 7 p.m. or so. Whatever. That wasn’t going to be something I could do, especially every single night. And since I wasn’t on a diet but was focused on my goal to live a healthier lifestyle, I allowed myself popcorn whenever I wanted it, including before bed.

Not only was I consuming a small amount of calories that allowed me to feel full and satisfied, but I was also enjoying a food that contained a substantial amount of fiber. In 3 cups of air-popped popcorn, there are 3.5 grams of fiber, the same amount that is in 1 cup of cooked brown rice. And I’ve learned that the hull of the popcorn kernel contains a significant amount of polyphenols, antioxidants that prevent damage to cells and have been known to have disease-fighting properties. Awesome. (A few other food items that contain polyphenols are blueberries, raspberries, cherries, onions, peanuts, green tea, and a favorite of many, dark chocolate. Those are all great-tasting foods, but popcorn still rates the highest in my book.)

A Caveat

Honestly, if it wasn’t for low-fat microwave popcorn, I may not have been as successful with my 162-pound weight loss and as capable of keeping it off for 10 years now. It’s my wonderfood… but I want to warn you that popcorn won’t be your wonderfood if you don’t eat it in dry form. If you drench it in butter or oil, the calorie content of popcorn adds up fast!

And be very wary of that popcorn you enjoy while watching the latest flick. A consumer group analyzed the calories in movie-theater popcorn and reported that a small unbuttered popcorn at the movies normally has more than 650 calories and (are you ready for this?)… a large unbuttered serving has a whopping 1,200 calories! Yes, you read that right — unbuttered. Add about 240 calories if you add butter to that your popcorn bucket!

But popcorn tastes amazing without all the oil and butter; yes, there is a reason that humans have been enjoying it that way for thousands of years … it really is an ancient wonderfood!

Photo by Zamber

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