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What is popcorn made of?
Popcorn and cobs of corn come from maize, which is a type of grain that’s used to make ethanol, corn starch, and corn syrup. Certain varieties of maize turn into popcorn via exposure to heat. You can eat plain, air-popped popcorn by itself, but it’s most commonly seasoned with lots of butter, oil, and salt.
Popcorn “pops” because each kernel contains a bit of moisture, which turns into steam when exposed to high heat. This makes the starchy insides of the kernel pop out, which expands into the soft, foam-like texture we all know and love.
Australians love popcorn: according to MarketResearch.com, popcorn sales in the country amounted to $78 million AUD, with a positive annual growth rate of 1% per year. This includes microwaveable popcorn to ready-to-eat varieties – that’s a lot of kernels to pop!
Is popcorn good for you?
Nutrition, calories, and health benefits
Air-popped, unflavoured popcorn is one of the healthiest snacks you can have. Low in fat and fibre-rich, it’s a carb loaded bowl of nutrients. A 30g portion (or 1/4th of 1 cup) contains fewer calories and fats than crisps and is naturally gluten-free. However, if you’re buying pre-packaged popcorn, it’s always best to consult the nutrition label for the exact ingredients.
How much popcorn should you eat per serving? While you definitely shouldn’t eat an entire kettle’s worth, an occasional serving of plain popcorn isn’t a bad idea. Nutritionists say that 25-30 grams of plain popcorn is fine as part of a well-balanced diet.
When is popcorn bad for you?
But once you mix popcorn with flavourings and other toppings like butter and oil, it’s a different story. Microwave popcorn, with its added oils and fats, can be unhealthy if eaten on a regular basis. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t enjoy flavoured popcorn anymore – just eat it every now and then and always go for homemade over pre-packaged products.
Movie-style popcorn is the worst offender. While plain, air-popped popcorn is low in fat and can actually help with weight loss, the additional ingredients in flavoured popcorn make it a fattening nightmare for your body to digest. Pre-packaged or cooked popcorn has two or three times the salt plain popcorn has, as well as additional sodium and sugar.
Best ways to enjoy your bowl of popcorn
So what’s the best way to enjoy a healthy bowl of popcorn? Here are some tips that can help:
- Watch what you buy. If you get pre-packaged popcorn at your local Coles, it doesn’t hurt to pay attention to the ingredients list, especially if you’re watching what you eat. A little research can go a long way!
- If you must have it, make it at home. Want to be sure that your popcorn is free from additives? Make it yourself. There are plenty of recipes online that can you can follow to make your own healthy popcorn, and it takes little to no time and effort to pop a batch for yourself in the oven!
- Go easy on the toppings. Say that you’ve popped your own batch and want to put some flavour in it. That’s completely fine! An occasional helping of flavoured popcorn is a tasty treat that you can reward yourself with. Just don’t overdo the toppings, especially if they’re high in salt or sugar.
- Pick healthy toppings. There are some spices like cinnamon, coconut, vanilla, or even kale that work great with plain popcorn. Mix them into the kernel batch or toss them in after popping – they’ll add a new layer of flavour without the additional bad stuff.
Plain popcorn is a healthy substitute for food like chips or fries, but only if you prepare it the right way. Go easy on the seasonings, avoid the oil, and pop your kernels at home rather than getting them prepackaged, and you’ll have a salty treat that you can enjoy without guilt!