I Ate Popcorn Every Day for a Week—Here’s What Happened
It's the iconic movie snack—but is it wise to eat popcorn every day? Two registered dietitians (and my own body) revealed the truth.
Popcorn is my favorite food. I like popcorn better than birthday cake, chocolate chip cookies, and nachos…combined. I’ve even passed on my love of popcorn to my kids. My eldest son had a popcorn bar at his wedding reception with seven different base flavors of popcorn, including my famous “Jell-O popcorn” (the recipe is below) and 20 toppings to mix in. Picture it: Guests in tuxedos holding little paper bags, tossing pink popcorn up in the air and catching it in their mouths. It was the best. (Oh—and the wedding part was fun, too.)
Fresh, stale, sweet, spicy—I’ve never met a popcorn I didn’t like. (Except the popcorn-flavored Jelly Belly jellybeans. Those are an abomination against popcorn. Fight me.)
So when my editors asked if I wanted to eat popcorn every day for a week, I was like: “Done.” And they were like, “Cool, you’re onboard?” and I answered, “I mean ‘Done’ as in I’ve already eaten popcorn every day for the past week. And probably the past month. And possibly the past year…”
Best. Assignment. Ever.
My favorite popcorn flavors
Before we delve into the super-exciting details of what I eat in a day, first we need to discuss the best ways to eat popcorn. (There are no wrong ways.)
1. Nootch corn
This is my go-to favorite popcorn recipe and the one I eat almost daily. I start by air-popping some fresh kernels in my microwave popcorn bowl (just as easy as the microwavable bags, but better for the environment!). I then spray it with some coconut oil, sprinkle on some Himalayan pink salt, then shake on nutritional yeast (or “nootch”) and finish it off with a squirt of lime and a dusting of chili powder.
Nootch corn is savory, spicy, and, well, really helps with the digestion, if you know what I mean. (P.S. Nutritional yeast is a powerhouse ingredient high in protein, B vitamins, and minerals, and it adds nice flavor to food.)
2. Garam masala popcorn
Sometimes I upgrade my microwave popcorn with a drizzle of avocado oil and a dusting of garam masala and curry powder. It’s like spicy Indian cuisine, but make it snackable. It will turn your fingers yellow. (My editors are fans of Poppy Handcrafted Popcorn’s chai masala variety…a perfect fall blend of sweet and savory!)
3. Jell-O popcorn
This one is a sweet treat, so it’s one I save for special occasions. Jell-O popcorn is the most versatile, delicious, and ridiculous of all the popcorn recipes.
Start with eight cups of air-popped popcorn, spread on a cookie sheet. In a saucepan, combine a six-ounce Jell-O packet, two cups of sugar, one stick (a half-cup) of butter, and one tablespoon of corn syrup. Bring to a boil. Boil for one minute while you stir, then pour over popcorn. Stir to coat. (Use a spoon! Do not touch it with your fingers or you will get a nasty blistery burn—ask me how I know.)
I like to make Jell-O popcorn in several colors for holiday parties. People always look at it curiously, but I’ve never left a party with any left in the bowl.
4. Classic popcorn
Popcorn tossed with real butter and a little salt is pure snack heaven. You can’t go wrong with the classic.
5. Lesser Evil Himalayan Pink Salt Popcorn
It’s not like popcorn is that hard to make, but sometimes I don’t even want to bother. My favorite bagged popcorn is this OG from Lesser Evil. It’s the perfect balance of fat and salt. To get the full experience, however, you must eat in bed and drop some in the sheets which your husband will discover in his shorts the next morning. Ahem.
6. Movie theater popcorn
A bunch of friends and I adored seeing Barbie, and what did we eat except giant buckets of movie theater popcorn? This is my last choice for popcorn because movie theater popcorn butter is loaded with artificial colors and flavors, preservatives, and rancid fats. But it still tastes amazing and on rare occasion I will totally indulge.
How to eat popcorn every day
I have plenty more recipes for popcorn snacks. I have a whole popcorn cupboard (because of course I do) that I keep stocked with a variety of seasonings and flavored powders for experimenting.
The real question becomes, How does one eat popcorn every day?
First of all, stop thinking of it as a snack. Popcorn is an anytime food—just ask Kelly Krikhely, RD, CDN, a registered dietitian in New York City. “It may seem counterintuitive, but I advise my clients to have a small, sensible, balanced snack before eating meals, especially if you’re going out to a restaurant or a party.” Krikhely’s recommendation? A small bowl of air-popped popcorn with a teaspoon or two of a healthy oil, like avocado oil, or with a small slice of cheese for protein. “This is a healthy combo of protein, fat, and fiber that will help you feel full and avoid setting yourself up to make poor food choices because you’re starving,” she says.
I agree that pregaming with popcorn is great. But sometimes I make it part of the meal. When popcorn is air-popped, it’s a healthy whole grain.
Popcorn-as-dessert is also pretty easy. I prefer mine savory, but there are a ton of absolutely decadent sweet popcorn recipes. The Internet is your oyster—start with the best popcorn recipes from our sibling site, Taste of Home.
Where you eat the popcorn also matters: “I usually tell people not to eat in front of the TV, but I make an exception for popcorn,” says Jessica Levinson, RDN, CDN, a registered dietitian and author in Westchester, NY. “Sometimes after a long day I just want to veg out with a show and a bowl of popcorn!” Her pro tip: “I always start with fruit in front of the TV to fill me up a little before moving on to popcorn.”
See? Nutritionists love popcorn as a (healthy) guilty pleasure, too!
Eating popcorn every day helped me stay regular
I mostly love popcorn for the taste and satisfying crunch—but if I’m being totally honest, I also love it for providing 10% of my daily fiber needs in one three-cup serving. All that fiber equals a smooth time in the bathroom. As someone who suffers from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) like 15% of American adults, some reliability in bathroom-going is everything.
“Popcorn is a great source of insoluble fiber, a prebiotic, which is very beneficial for gut health,” Krikhely says.
A daily dose of popcorn was good for my joints
Levinson says popcorn is high in phenolic acids, a powerful antioxidant. Antioxidants are known to have benefits on a cellular level, protecting your heart and brain while lowering inflammation levels.
After recovering from an injury I sustained teaching a fitness class last year, I swear my joints are benefiting from my popcorn consumption. Sometimes I can predict the weather by the way my joints feel, but I realized I noticed this less during my week-long popcorn experiment.
Eating popcorn every day helped control my blood sugar
To be clear, I do not have diabetes or high blood sugar, nor am I particularly carb-sensitive. I’d like to stay that way, so I am mindful of my sugar intake. Popcorn is a food that satisfies the craving for carbs, while being relatively low on the glycemic index scale. This makes popcorn less likely than many other carbohydrates to cause blood sugar swings.
Regular doses of popcorn help control my cravings
I have a very strong urge to chew stuff. Like, I purposely make my smoothies chunky so I have something to chew. I don’t know why, but this means that I crave crunchy snacks a lot. Yes, I eat carrot sticks, but popcorn fills that craving for a crunchy, salty munchy while still being a little healthier than junk food, like chips.
The problem with eating popcorn every day
Now that we’ve covered all the fun stuff, I’d be irresponsible not to point out that popcorn does have some downsides—and eating it every day magnifies those issues.
For starters, popcorn is a bit nutritionally void. It does have some vitamins, minerals, and the aforementioned antioxidants, but as far as plant foods go, it is relatively low in nutrition. I’d get a much better bang for my food buck eating, say, kale chips—which I do enjoy, but take more effort to make.
Levinson points out that if I’m eating popcorn to the exclusion of healthier foods, then I may be missing out on important nutrients. Thankfully I eat a pretty well balanced diet, but this is good to keep in mind.
Perhaps the biggest problem isn’t with the popcorn itself, but what you do to it. Many oils used to cook popcorn are very unhealthy and overly processed. Microwave popcorn is the biggest offender, containing preservatives, unhealthy fats, excessive amounts of salt, artificial flavors and colors, and…the lining of the bag contains PFAS, also known as the forever chemicals that are heavily associated with cancer. Studies have shown that microwave popcorn bags containing PFAS leach from the bag into the popcorn and then end up in your body…forever. Not very appetizing. And arguably not good for you.
Many of these problems can be avoided, Krikhely points out, by making your own popcorn at home and only using high-quality fats, like Irish butter, ghee, avocado oil or coconut oil and sticking to natural flavorings. Measure the fats out instead of just pouring them in, and choose flavorings that don’t have a lot of sugar in them. (So, basically, don’t make my Jell-O popcorn. Except you totally should. But just on special occasions. Like Tuesdays.)
Make sure it’s part of a balanced diet (so no eating only popcorn), and practice portion control. “I recommend portioning out what you’re having—put the popcorn in a bowl, don’t eat it straight from the bag,” Levinson says. It’s easy to lose track of how much you’ve eaten while you’re zoning out with a movie.
Popcorn is often seen as a treat, but that has more to do with how you make it than the popcorn itself. The bottom line is that if you love popcorn you can make it part of a nutritious diet, even every day. Just no popcorn-flavored jelly beans—otherwise we can’t be friends.
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