It’s a religious ritual to overload your tummy with the big tub of popcorn-caramel, cheese, butter, salt or many more varieties while watching your favorite movie in the big screen. The sum total of the expenses on a tub of popcorn is quite more than what we assume-it’s time spent, money spent, calories earned and weight earned. Friday nights at home too are never complete without a bowl of our yummy popcorn and our favorite TV series or movie. We are proud to hold them in our hands as popcorns are whole grains, full of antioxidants and rich in nutrients-at least, that’s what we love to assume. Contrarily, a big tub of the tasty popcorn that is purchased at the movie is worth almost 50% of our daily calorie needs amounting to more than 1000 calories, plus or minus a few depending on the variety that we choose. So, are popcorn any good or are they coated with honey with all the wickedness inside?
What’s There in Popcorn’s Kitty?
A healthy snack is one that’s high in nutrient, low in calories, total fats, sugar and sodium. Some snacks like nuts also belong to the ‘healthy’ category for their super-high nutrients despite their high calorific value. Whereas a not-so-healthy-snack is one that’s low in nutritional value but high in calories, total fats, sodium and sugar.
Easy ones to point out include fruits and veggies that aren’t in everyone’s list as a snack! Doughnuts, fries and crisps are definitely high in our list but they are also high in calories. An exception to all this is popcorn whose method of preparation can make or break the health of this snack. Popcorn sure has some perks-it’s a whole grain which makes it a whole lot better as these are rich in antioxidants and fiber that are helpful in protecting the body against diseases such as cancer. They are an excellent source of polyphenols, a plant oxidant that improves cell health. Some even quote popcorns to be better sources of polyphenols than fruits and vegetables as popcorns contain only 4% water compared to produce which is made of 90% water. A new study even shows that popcorns make an even better snack when prepared in the right way as they contain up to 300 mg of polyphenols compared to fruits that contain only 160 mg of them (https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/04/popcorn-may-actually-be-good-for-you-if-you-dont-slather-it-in-butter/255596/). And, do you know which part of the popcorn has the maximum concentration of polyphenols? It’s the hull that’s all determined to get stuck in between your teeth and cause unease. Although a serving of these air-popped kernels contains twice the amount of polyphenols compared to a serving of any fruit they can never be replacements for fruits and veggies as these produce contain a number of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that are absent in popcorn.
Offsetting Nutritive Value with Your Preparation Method
While a serving of air-popped corn kernels contain only 100 calories the ones served at the theatre contain as much as 1000 calories and more than 2000 mg of sodium. Whoa! Those are highly contradictory figures that don’t match each other any time sooner! Some of them are prepared only using oil which is far better when compared to the cheesy popcorns or the sweeter ones coated in sugar and caramel sauce.
Microwaved popcorns have been used judiciously by many for making tasty treats for their loved ones but they do contribute their own set of problems. Research previously linked the coatings used in microwaved popcorn to health issues such as lung diseases-but this was seen only in those working in popcorn manufacturing factories and effects on those who consume it remain hazy. There have also been reports showing that the chemicals used to coat the popcorn bag are carcinogenic in nature. Though we don’t have crystal-clear evidences there does exist the need to use other better cooking options to stay safe.
Cooking corn kernels on the stove is great but only when these kernels don’t undergo further processing in the form of oil coatings that burn while heating and cause oxidative damage to cells. Any food prepared with burned oil is not a good option to consider and popcorns are no exception. The best is to cook them on your stovetop directly without coating them in oil or use electric air poppers that are inexpensive, cook completely and are healthy.
So, give or take a few positives and negatives we can surely say that popcorns are a good snack when they are prepared in the right way and are also the worse snacks when prepared wrongly.
Is popcorn really a healthy alternative to crisps and other snacks? https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/sep/29/is-popcorn-really-a-healthy-alternative-to-crisps-and-other-snacks
Healthiest way to make popcorn: https://time.com/5218647/healthiest-way-to-make-popcorn/
AVOID FRAUD. EAT SMART.
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Dietitian & Nutritionist Dr. Nafeesa Imteyaz.