Popcorn might be the world's most versatile snack. It can be dressed up with cheese, caramel, butter, salt or more exotic flavors. It can be sweet, savory or both, and it's easy to grab by the handful for quick transport to the mouth. But popcorn is the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of snacks -- one minute it's the healthiest choice around (Low in calories! Whole grains!), the next it's getting banned for containing trans fats. What the heck is going on?
Here's the deal: Kernels that are simply air-popped (in a brown paper bag in the microwave, for instance) contain no saturated fat and barely any sodium. But the pre-packaged microwave, store-bought, and movie theater varieties are often heavily processed and packed with additives and lots of salt. Plus, because of the way these varieties are packaged, it's easy to polish off several servings of the stuff in one sitting. (For example, a typical bag of microwave popcorn is 10 cups, and a small movie theater popcorn is about 11 cups.)
To help you make sense of what's really healthy and what's not, we've put together this handy-dandy graphic. Your best bet? Air-pop the kernels (it's really easy) and add your favorite toppings and seasonings.
Graphic by Kim Steinhilber
Note: Microwave popcorn data derived from the average nutrition data for popular store brands. Data for caramel and cheese-flavored varieties derived from popular store brands. Movie-theatre popcorn data taken from The Center for Science in the Public Interest. Data for air-popped and oil-popped varieties taken from SELF Nutrition Data.
What's your favorite way to enjoy popcorn? Tell us in the comments below!
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