Snacking isn’t always about meeting a hunger need. Sometimes you just want something to munch on. That’s when having popcorn in the pantry (either the kernels or already popped and ready-to-eat) can come in handy. Popcorn is savory, crunchy and always seems to be on dietitian-approved snack lists.
In fact, eating popcorn regularly can actually benefit your health in several key ways—especially if you’re used to snacking on nutrient-void foods, like chips. But in order to reap popcorn’s nutritional benefits, it’s important to keep a few tips in mind when shopping for it.
How To Make Sure the Popcorn You’re Buying Is Actually Healthy
Not all popcorn you’ll find in the grocery store is healthy. In order to make sure what you’re buying will actually benefit your body and not work against it, registered dietitian Miranda Galati, MHSc, RD, says to check the nutrition label for three things: fat, calories and sodium. “A lot of store-bought varieties are higher in calories than what you can make at home because they use more fat,” she says, adding that this fat is saturated fat, which should be consumed minimally because a diet high in saturated fat increases the risk of heart disease.
Similar to saturated fat, a diet high in sodium is also linked to heart disease, which is why it should be consumed in moderation. The American Heart Association recommends capping sodium intake at 2,300 milligrams a day.
If you want to snack on popcorn regularly, Galati recommends going for a pre-popped bag with minimal ingredients. “Choose a brand that uses a heart-healthy oil like avocado oil or sunflower oil and look for an ingredient list that simply includes popcorn kernels, oil and salt,” she says. She adds that you can also make your own healthy popcorn at home using kernels, avocado or sunflower oil, and herbs of your choosing.
When shopping for popcorn, Jillian Smith, RD, who is the lead dietitian at Gut Personal, recommends going for air-popped or stove-top popcorn, neither of which requires oil for cooking. If you don’t like plain popcorn, she says to look for popcorn that’s flavored with healthy ingredients, like cinnamon, chili powder, nutritional yeast or grass-fed butter.
Now that you know exactly what to buy (and it’s easy to get on Amazon), here’s what you can expect to happen if you snack on popcorn every day.
What Happens if You Eat Popcorn Every Day: 4 Changes You’ll Experience
1. Better bathroom habits
Both dietitians say that one of popcorn’s main nutritional benefits is that it contains fiber, roughly a gram per cup. “Popcorn is a whole grain that contains a good amount of dietary fiber. Fiber is essential for digestive health, promoting regular bowel movements and helping to prevent constipation,” Smith says. So if you experience constipation regularly, snacking on popcorn can help get things moving.
2. Your cardiovascular health will improve
While fiber is often talked about as a nutrient that benefits gut health, Galati points out that it directly benefits cardiovascular health too. “A high-fiber diet can improve digestion, protect your heart health, and reduce your risk of cancers and many chronic diseases,” she says. The reason why fiber supports heart health is because it helps lower LDL cholesterol, also known as “bad cholesterol” because it increases blood pressure and inflammation.
3. You may lose weight
If weight loss is one of your health goals, snacking on popcorn can help you get there. “Popcorn is also a high-volume food. That means you can eat a lot of it for relatively few calories, which makes it a great snack for weight loss and many other health goals,” Galati says. “If you’re the type of person who likes to eat a lot of food, popcorn is a great choice.” Consider this comparison for proof: One cup of potato chips has 1,210 calories while one cup of popcorn has 31 calories—a major difference!
4. You’ll have more energy
Smith says that another benefit of snacking on popcorn is that it provides the body with energy. “Popcorn is a carbohydrate-rich snack that can provide a quick and easily digestible source of energy. It can be particularly beneficial for athletes or those engaging in physical activity,” Smith says. That said, Galati points out that popcorn doesn’t have protein or healthy fats, two important nutrients for longer-lasting energy. To round out your snack and provide your body with more energy, she recommends pairing your popcorn with a handful of nuts, string cheese, or cup of yogurt.
How Much Popcorn Is Too Much?
Even though popcorn is healthy, it is possible to eat too much of it. Both dietitians say that eating an excessive amount of popcorn can lead to bloating, gas and constipation because of its high-fiber content—especially for people who aren’t used to eating a lot of fiber.
Smith adds that the hulls of popcorn kernels can be tough to digest for some people, particularly those with sensitive digestive systems. If this is the case for you, she recommends chewing your popcorn thoroughly and drinking plenty of water with it.
If your popcorn has lots of salt on it, Smith says this can lead to water retention, causing high blood pressure. She also points out that eating too much popcorn can also negatively impact your oral health because unpopped kernels can damage teeth.
To avoid these problems—particularly unpleasant bloating and constipation—Galati recommends capping popcorn intake at three cups. “If you find you need 10 or more cups of popcorn to feel satisfied, I recommend reducing your serving of popcorn and adding a filling, protein-rich food on the side like nuts or a cheese string,” she says.
While there’s nothing wrong with snacking on chips every once in a while, if you want to have a savory, crunchy snack to enjoy every day, popcorn is a pretty great choice. Just keep the dietitians’ tips in mind when shopping for it and you’ll benefit your body in many ways, says Emily Laurence.