The Popcorn Myth You Should Stop Believing

When it comes to healthy food, vegetables are an obvious winner. They're packed with vitamins and minerals and are relatively easy to incorporate into one's diet. You could make cauliflower macaroni and cheese, for instance, or you could eat carrots with hummus as a snack.

But just because something is made with a vegetable doesn't automatically make it healthy. You're obviously not going to eat an entire bag of Lay's potato chips and expect significant nutritional benefits. The same could be said about whole grains and popcorn. Although popcorn is considered a whole grain (per the U.S. Department of Agriculture), that doesn't mean you should satisfy your need for whole grains by eating tub after tub of movie theater popcorn.

Maybe popcorn gets too much of a bad rap, though. Is microwave popcorn really as unhealthy as they say, or is there something beneficial about having a bowl or two?

Popcorn can be healthy when done right

Popcorn can be both healthy and unhealthy, provided on what exactly you're eating. A bowl of popcorn drenched in butter and salt isn't going to do your diet any favors — but is there a better-for-you version?

According to Eat This, Not That!, microwave popcorn may be better for you than you'd think, as it lacks the preservatives and harmful additives that were once common microwave popcorn ingredients. And the American Heart Association notes that air-popped, lightly seasoned popcorn has some nutritional value. Plus, bagged popcorn is a shelf-stable and inexpensive snack, making it an affordable way to add fiber and grains to your diet. "Most people don't realize its a whole grain, which provides the fiber," dietitian Marisa Moore, MBA, RDA, LD, told Prevention of popcorn's nutritional benefits, adding that the snack also contains micronutrients such as magnesium and iron.

On the other hand, while the buttery, salty popcorn you'd get at the movie theater may be a delicious snack, it's notoriously high in calories and sodium.

How to make healthy popcorn

When you make microwave popcorn, the most work you have to do is peel the plastic off and place the bag inside the microwave. It's easy, it's quick, and it's a great way to get some hot popcorn whenever you need it. But if the usual microwave method leads to bags of butter-soaked (yet no less delicious) popcorn, what can you do to make a healthier but still tasty snack bowl?

It turns out, you can actually use your air fryer to make a tasty popcorn recipe. To make this better-for-you snack, preheat your air fryer to 400 F before tossing the unpopped kernels in your choice of oil. Place the kernels into the basket of the air fryer and allow them to "pop" for 4 minutes. At the 4-minute mark, simply remove the basket, shake it, and then let it cook again for another 4 minutes until the kernels have popped. While this popcorn method involves a longer wait time than simply using the microwave, you have full control over what goes on the popcorn, from the type of oil used (should you use any oil at all) to what you season it with.

If you don't have an air fryer, Taste of Home suggests using a heavy-bottomed pot on the stove to pop the corn kernels. Just make sure you have a strong lid to keep the popcorn from flying out as it starts heating up.

What's the healthiest bagged popcorn?

When the mood for fresh popcorn strikes you, but you find yourself unable or unwilling to take a few minutes to toss a bag of kernels into the microwave, you reach for a bag of pre-popped popcorn. But which bagged popcorn variety is the healthiest?

There are a few contenders for the "healthiest pre-popped popcorn" in the industry, based on who you ask. Women's Health, for example, reports that Whole Food's 365 Organic Brand popcorn is the best popcorn to purchase, ranking it number-one on their list. The store's 365 organic popcorn has 140 calories, 8 grams of fat, and 190 milligrams of sodium.

Greatist, meanwhile, says the "best overall" healthy popcorn is Lesser Evil Himalayan Pink Salt, which uses coconut oil instead of butter and is finished with that titular Himalayan pink salt. Lesser Evil's Himalayan Pink Salt variety contains 120 calories, 190 milligrams of sodium, and 6 grams of fat per serving. 

Whether you choose Lesser Evil, 365 Organic, or another brand, popcorn is fine to enjoy in moderation and even has some health benefits.