Replace Chips and Cookies with Fiber Rich Popcorns

Plain popcorn provides whole grains, fiber and antioxidants.

Whole grains, fiber and antioxidants are wrapped up in this simple snack. Be careful though. Smothering this naturally healthy snack in salt, fat, sugar and flavorings turns natural goodness into junk food. Popcorn is naturally a whole grain and therefore provides the healthy benefits derived from the nutrients in every component of the whole grain. Popcorn provides about 4 grams of dietary fiber for every 4 cups of popped corn. An adequate fiber intake not helps you to stay regular but may also lower your risk of cardiovascular disease, reduce blood cholesterol and lower your risk of type 2 diabetes by regulating blood sugar. The antioxidant concentration of popcorn is much higher than anticipated. In fact, the study found the concentration of polyphenols in popcorn surpassed that of most fruit. This nutrient was found within the hull and so popcorn without the hull may not contain this healthy antioxidant. Polyphenols possess numerous health benefits, including the prevention of degenerative diseases such osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, cancer, neurodegenerative diseases and diabetes.

While plain, natural popcorn is full of health benefits, the cry for convenience have led to the addition of unhealthy “extras.” Microwave popcorn is usually packed with unhealthy oils, other additives and a lot more calories. Kettle corn and caramel corn provide hefty doses of sugars. Cheddar and other flavored types of popcorn not only include artificial flavorings, but unhealthy fats and other additives as well. Air pop or use oil to pop whole kernels. Lightly season it with sea salt or a very small bit of butter, if you can't eat it any other way.

Buttery, salty popcorn is not a healthy snack; it’s loaded with fats, sodium and unnecessary calories. That doesn’t mean all popcorn is bad, though. Without unhealthy additions, popcorn is an ideal snack that has few calories and a lot of fiber. Fiber slows digestion, which prolongs fullness and holds you over until your next meal.

To make popcorn healthful, you need to start with plain popcorn kernels. They’re sold in bulk at most grocery stores. Don’t be intimidated by popping your own kernels -- it’s easy to do. Place them in a brown paper bag, roll the top closed and microwave the popcorn as you would commercial popcorn. Alternatively, you can place the kernels in a microwave-safe bowl and set a microwave-safe plate on top to contain the kernels as they pop. If you plan to make healthful popcorn on a regular basis, though, consider a specialty air popper. While these machines are often loud, they pop the kernels more evenly than a microwave oven does and the popcorn often has a better flavor. Plus, there’s less risk of burning the popcorn in a specialty air popper. To avoid additional calories, don’t use any popping method that requires you to add oil or other fats.

While you shouldn’t add salt or fats to your popcorn, you don’t have to eat it plain. You have several options for healthful seasonings. For spicy popcorn, try a blend of crushed red pepper and cayenne. Paprika and chili powder make a less spicy popcorn, lemon pepper makes popcorn zesty and a blend of basil, oregano and parsley will give popcorn an herbal overtone. If you’d rather have sweeter popcorn, try ground cinnamon or grated nutmeg. Powdered ginger, ground black pepper, five-spice powder and allspice are other examples of healthful seasonings. It’s usually best to add the seasonings after popping the popcorn, but if you’re microwaving the kernels, you may add them before you pop.

Serving Size: While air-popped popcorn without salt or oil is low in calories and fat, you still need to limit your serving size. A 3-cup serving is reasonable for a snack, but if you’re voracious, a double serving is okay too. You need to use 1 1/2 tablespoons of kernels to make 3 cups of popped popcorn. One 3-cup serving of air-popped popcorn has 93 calories, 1 gram of fat, 3.5 grams of fiber and 2 milligrams of sodium. To compare, 3 cups of commercial microwave popcorn with oil has 192 calories, 14 grams of fat, 2.7 grams of fiber and 348 milligrams of sodium. If you add just 1/4 teaspoon of salt to your air-popped popcorn, its sodium content will skyrocket to 581 milligrams.

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