Romi Londre, RDN, CD
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Discover popcorn's healthy side
When you think of popcorn, you may associate this much-loved comfort food with going to the movies or curling up on the couch for a cozy evening. But we're not the first people to enjoy snacking on these fluffy, crunchy kernels. There's evidence that Native Americans in the Southwestern U.S., and Central and South America ate popcorn more than 2,500 years ago.
More than a fun treat
Yes, popcorn is fun, but it's also healthy. Popcorn is a whole grain and a good source of fiber. And 3 cups of plain, air-popped popcorn weighs in at only about 95 calories. For the healthiest results, pop your corn in an air popper or in the microwave. If using the microwave, put 1/4 cup of kernels in a paper bag, fold the top over twice, and microwave on high for about two minutes, or until the popping slows to about two seconds between pops.
Up your popcorn game
Forget boring old butter and salt, and spice up your popcorn with some new flavorings. Although some include a little oil to help the seasonings stick to the popcorn, go easy on the oil and any sugar because they add calories. Use a sprayer or spritzer to minimize the amount of oil while ensuring an even application. If you're feeling adventurous, try a spritz of citrus juice.
Let these ideas spark your own variations:
- Buffalo sauce or sriracha mixed with a little oil
- Chili powder and lime zest
- Cinnamon and a sprinkle of brown sugar
- Cocoa powder, cayenne pepper, a dusting of powdered sugar and canola oil
- Curry powder and canola oil
- Vinegar, garlic powder, onion powder and dill
- Maple syrup and a handful of chopped pecans
- Parmesan cheese, garlic powder and pepper
- Nutritional yeast gives a cheese flavor suitable for vegan diets
Enjoy this savory popcorn by itself or with tomato or vegetable soup:
Garlic parmesan popcorn
3 cups popped popcorn
2 tablespoons grated parmesan
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder (or to taste)
Mix garlic powder and parmesan together. When the popcorn is still warm, sprinkle the cheese and garlic mixture over the popcorn, and allow the mixture to melt for a minute or two. Then toss and serve. Try this version with a dash of Italian seasoning or ground pepper.
Nutrition for 1 serving (3 cups): 140 calories, 4 grams total fat, 2 grams saturated fat, 21 grams carbohydrates, 180 milligrams sodium, 4 grams fiber, 6 grams protein
Serve this sweet treat after a day of playing outside:
Cranberry chocolate popcorn
6 cups popped popcorn
2 tablespoons dark chocolate chips
4 tablespoons dried cranberries
Pinch of salt (optional)
In a small glass bowl, microwave the dark chocolate chips until just beginning to melt. Mix well with a rubber spatula until chocolate is about three-quarters melted; some lumps should remain. Place popped popcorn in a medium bowl and top with melted chocolate. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons dried cranberries and salt (if using), then mix thoroughly. Place the bowl in the refrigerator for 10 minutes to harden the chocolate.
Nutrition for 1 serving (3 cups): 215 calories, 6 grams total fat, 3 grams saturated fat, 38 grams carbohydrates, 6 milligrams sodium, 5 grams fiber, 4 grams protein
Note: Adding salt will increase the sodium. Using unsweetened or low-sugar dried cranberries will reduce the carbohydrates. White chocolate also pairs well with cranberries.
Romi Londre is a dietitian in Nutrition in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.