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Mission: Nutrition

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Poppin' Whole Grains

Posted by Lisa Peterson -

January 19th marks National Popcorn Day! Popcorn, the only corn product that pops, is a nationwide movie snack staple. Americans consume 18 billion quarts of popcorn a year and is officially the state snack of Illinois. Popcorn is an inexpensive, savory snack prepared with minimal effort and an easy way to consume whole grains. Three cups of popcorn equals one serving of grains!

Whole Grains and Popcorn

Popcorn is a whole grain, but what does that mean? A whole grain is the entire seed of a plant. It is composed of three parts: the bran, germ, and endosperm. All three parts are edible and provide protein, healthy fats, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. The difference between whole grains and refined grains are refined grains typically remove the bran and the germ leaving the endosperm, removing 25 percent of the grain's protein. Refined grains have an increased shelf life, but dietary fiber, iron, and vitamins are often removed as well. Vitamins and minerals are occasionally put back into refined grains; these are considered enriched refined grains. Popcorn is a type of maize that contains the bran, germ and endosperm, thus is a whole grain.

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines recommend at least half of the grains consumed be whole grains. One serving of popcorn provides more than 70 percent daily intake of whole grains. Researchers at the University of Nebraska reviewing the three year National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found individuals who consumed popcorn regularly, ate 250 percent more whole grains overall and 22 percent more fiber than those who did not.

The Disease Fighting Power of Popcorn

The hull of a piece of popcorn or that hard outer shell contains beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin, all important nutrients required to keep eyes healthy. The hull also contains the highest level of polyphenols and fiber. Polyphenols are antioxidants that combat oxidation in the body and play a role in preventing degenerative diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular disease. Recent research done at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania found one serving of air-popped popcorn contains 300 milligrams of polyphenols compared with fruit containing an average of 160 milligrams per serving. Not to say fruit isn't still important in the diet. Fruit provides additional vitamins and nutrients popcorn does not. One serving of popcorn contains 13 percent of the recommended daily polyphenols individuals need.

Nutritional Breakdown of One Cup Air Popped Popcorn:

30 Calories

6 Grams Carbohydrates

1 Gram Protein

1 Gram Fiber

8% of the Daily Value of Iron


Watch out for Added Ingredients

Popcorn is a great nutritious snack, but it is important to remember not to mask the health benefits with high amounts of salt, sugar, and added fat (butter/margarine). Below are a few tips to get that boost of fiber without the extra calories.

  • Replace salts with herbs when making popcorn to keep the sodium low or using olive oil instead of butter. When using an air popper, put seasoning on immediately after corn pops or lightly spray popcorn with olive oil or non-flavored cooking spray then season to help make the seasoning stick.
  • Avoiding cooking popcorn in oil is ideal to evade the extra fat. Microwave popcorn in a brown bag folded over a few times for 2 to 3 minutes or use an air popper.
  • Experiment with different flavors and seasonings such as sprinkling popcorn with parmesan cheese, chili powder, garlic powder, or make sweet popcorn with a little cinnamon and nutmeg.

Remember to celebrate National Popcorn Day on Monday, January 19th 2015! For more quick nutrition, physical activity, or wellness tips follow me on twitter! Looking for upcoming programs? Visit our local extension website at:


Popcorn consumption and dietary and physiological parameters of US children and adults: analysis of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 1999-2002 dietary survey data. Ann C. Grandjean, Victor L. Fulgoni, 3rd, Kristin J. Reimers, Sanjiv Agarwal

J Am Diet Assoc.2008 May;108(5): 853–856.doi:10.1016/j.jada.2008.02.018

Popcorn: The Snack with Even Higher Antioxidants Levels than Fruits and Vegetables. American Chemical Society, 25 Mar. 2012. Web. 16 Jan. 2015.

Uthus, Eric. "Is Popcorn a Healthy Snack? It Can Be!"Grand Forks Human Nutrition Research Center : Is Popcorn a Healthy Snack? It Can Be!United States Department of Agriculture, 13 Aug. 2012. Web. 16 Jan. 2015.

"Whole Grains 101." Whole Grains Council, Accessed 16 Jan. 2015.

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