It’s easy to identify where popcorn can go terribly wrong – butter, sugar, and other add-ins turn the once innocent corn kernel into a calorie-filled, albeit deceivingly light, snack. But what about when all the gunk is taken out of the equation? A lot of new-age popcorn brands are popping up on grocery store shelves and marketing themselves as healthy snacks. But even when it is plain or gone gourmet by being popped with avocado or coconut oil, is popcorn healthy? Here is what you need to know about your popcorn choices.
The Emergence of Healthy Popcorn
Companies like Lesser Evil, Skinny Pop, Quinn Snacks, and Boom Chicka Pop are transforming the way we look at popcorn. Far more transparent than their predecessors, they use pure ingredients and no chemicals or preservatives. They are gluten-free and non-GMO. The majority of corn grown in the U.S. is genetically modified, so this promise comes as a relief. These brands use ingredients like coconut oil, extra-virgin avocado oil, Himalayan pink sea salt, kale, real butter, dark chocolate, peanut butter, and wasabi.
But even while munching on these popcorn options, I couldn’t help but ask myself if it was still doing me any good.
The more I research, the more it becomes clear that corn generally isn’t an ideal food. It contains prolamin, a type of protein that the body can’t properly break down in the digestive tract, which can lead to leaky gut or the growth of bad bacteria in the gut. Corn also contains lectins, which are antibody-sized proteins that directly stimulate fat production. Meanwhile, today’s corn is very low in nutritional value. Compared to other foods, corn doesn’t pack the nutritional density to deem it a superfood.
The way popcorn is prepared is also a major factor in determining its health benefits. When corn encounters heat, as it does in the process of making popcorn, its nutritional profile weakens even further. The worst kind of popcorn you can consume is popcorn that is microwaved. Manufacturers often coat the popcorn bags with a chemical that breaks down during the cooking process to form perfluorooctanoic (PFOA), which is classified by the EPA as a likely carcinogen. That’s why it’s important to stick to stove top popcorn in place of microwave versions.
Is Popcorn Healthy?
Even with all that said, there doesn’t seem to be an aggressively cautious reason to not indulge in non-microwaved popcorn as an occasional snack. While there are questions surrounding the quality of corn as well as its inherent negative traits, the frequency and amount of popcorn consumed isn’t high enough to warrant concern. Plus, with the pairing of popcorn with superfoods and other unique ingredients by gourmet popcorn manufacturers, the health benefits may outweigh the setbacks for you. Either way, I’m still munching.