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A Snack That Pops: Popcorn

'The Recipe Doctor' offers healthier options for a favorite snack.
By
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

Most of my girlfriends equate going to the movies with eating lots of popcorn. To them, not eating popcorn at the movies is like going to the pool wearing your swimsuit and sunscreen -- and not taking a dip in the water. It's just part of the equation: movies + popcorn = enjoyment!

While I don't necessarily feel the same way about movies and popcorn, I agree that popped corn can be irresistible. More than anything, I think it's because of that intoxicating aroma. Popcorn has a long history in the United States, too. And with the invention of microwave popcorn, it's safe to say that it's here to stay in a big way.

Popcorn is getting some positive nutritional press these days with all the (well-deserved) hoopla over the health benefits of whole grains. That's right, popcorn is a whole grain! The nutritional analysis tells the story (take note of the fiber and vitamin and mineral content):

Plain, Air-Popped Popcorn
(4 cups popped)

Fiber: 5 grams
Calories: 122
Protein: 4 grams
Carbohydrate: 25 grams
Fat: 1.4 grams
Saturated fat: 0.2 grams
Monounsaturated fat: 0.4 grams
Polyunsaturated fat: 0.6 grams (0.6 grams omega-6 fatty acids)
B-1, B-2, B-3, B-6, and folic acid: 6% recommended daily allowance (RDA)
Magnesium: 16% RDA
Selenium: 8% RDA
Zinc: 10% RDA

Trouble is, there's a catch when it comes to plain, air-popped popcorn: Does the word "cardboard" mean anything to you? These days, most of us enjoy the taste and convenience of microwave popcorn. But when you check out the nutrition labels on some types of microwave popcorn (like the "movie theatre" flavor), you'll notice a big jump in fat and calories. Take a look:

Orville Redenbacher 'Movie Theatre' Type Microwave Popcorn
(1/3 bag; about 4 cups popped)

Calories: 170
Fat: 12 grams
Saturated fat: 2.5 grams

Trans Fat Alert

Trans fats can be another issue with microwave popcorn. Although some brands carry labels that say "no trans fats," their ingredient lists may say otherwise. Most microwave popcorn varieties (other than the "light" types) list "partially hydrogenated soybean oil" as the second ingredient. And partially hydrogenated anything usually translates into some trans fats.

The manufacturers may be able to say "no trans fats" because there is less than 0.5 gram of trans fat per serving size (which in some cases is 1 cup popped). The good news is that if you choose the lower-fat microwave popcorn types, you will be getting both less total fat and less trans fat.

Making Healthier Popcorn

It seems to me when it comes to making healthier popcorn at home, you have three options:

1. You can air-pop it, then add a little bit of butter or good-tasting margarine on top afterward. You can sprinkle some cheddar cheese powder or grated Parmesan over it as well.

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