When nutritionists say popcorn is a healthy, whole-grain snack, they’re not exactly referring to the stuff in movie theaters (in all its salty, buttery glory). On the other hand, even though plain air-popped popcorn is full of fiber and low in calories, it tastes a bit, um, bland.
So, what’s the secret to enjoying healthy, low-cal popcorn without sacrificing taste? The key is to look beyond butter and salt. Although they’re the cornerstones of traditional popcorn prep, neither are good for heart health.
Think of it this way: Each tablespoon of butter contains 7 grams of saturated fat—the “bad” kind of fat that is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).
And the shower of salt on your kernels doesn’t do you any favors, either. While sodium is an essential nutrient, most Americans eat above the recommended limit of sodium each day. A high-sodium diet has many health effects, including high blood pressure and heart disease, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Instead of butter, try olive oil in a spritz bottle (so you can apply it lightly and evenly on your kernels). Olive oil is a heart-healthy, unsaturated fat, and the AHA advises that replacing saturated fats (like butter) with healthier fats could help lower the risk of heart disease. Olive oil is still a calorie-dense ingredient, though, so to keep the calorie count down, use just enough to help your seasonings stick.
As for the seasonings, here are some fun and creative ways to jazz up your popcorn while keeping sodium, calories, and saturated fat low:
1. “Everything” Popcorn: Shake on garlic powder, onion powder, sesame seeds, and poppy seeds to replicate the flavor of an everything bagel. Check out this everything bagel seasoning recipe by Two Peas & Their Pod.
2. Chili-Lime Popcorn: Combine Sriracha, lime juice, and lime zest for a spicy, zippy popcorn that has no shortage of flavor.
3. Italian Popcorn: A little bit of garlic powder and fresh chopped basil and parsley will remind you of biting into fresh Italian breadsticks. (If you can’t get your hands on fresh herbs, your trusty jar of dried Italian seasoning will do the trick—just make sure it’s a salt-free blend.)
4. Nacho “Cheese” Popcorn: Love Doritos? This blend will remind you of that bright orange chip. A combo of nutritional yeast, garlic and onion powder, cumin, paprika, and chili powder will do the trick. FYI, nutritional yeast has a nutty, cheesy flavor (but it’s totally dairy-free), and it adds vitamin B12, potassium, and protein to your popcorn. Find out how to make dairy-free Doritos-flavored popcorn on Whole New Mom.
For more healthy eats for your afternoon munchies, here are low-calorie snacks made from all-natural ingredients.