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Popcorn: A Whole-Grain Snack

Timeless Nutrition Tips...

Popcorn is a "good-for-you" snack that is a fun and convenient way for you to meet your daily intake of whole grains.


What Makes Popcorn a Whole Grain?

Whole grains include all three parts of a grain: the bran, the endosperm and the germ. The Bran is the multi-layered outer skin that protects the kernel from damage by weather, water, pests and disease. It contains antioxidants, B vitamins and fiber.

The endosperm in the middle of popcorn provides energy to the plant and is the largest part of the kernel. It contains starchy carbohydrates, proteins and small amounts of vitamins and minerals. The nutrient-packed germ is the embryo of the plant that will reproduce if fertilized by pollen. It contains B vitamins, some protein, minerals and healthy fats. In contrast, refined grains have been stripped of the bran and germ.

Pop Up Three Cups for a Whole Grain Serving

The Dietary Guidelines recommend that we follow an 1800 to 2000-calorie meal plan containing six servings of grains daily, with at least three of these servings being whole-grain. It's not all that difficult to get those three servings! One serving of whole grains is equal to just one ounce.

What Counts as an Ounce Equivalent of Grains?

  • 3 cups popped
  • 1 slice whole wheat bread
  • 1/2 cup cooked oatmeal
  • 1/2 small (2 ounce) whole wheat bagel
  • 1/2 whole wheat English muffin
  • 1/2 cup brown rice or whole wheat pasta
  • 5 whole wheat crackers
  • 6-inch whole wheat flour tortillas

Boosts Overall Nutrition

Popcorn provides a full complement of nutrition benefits, including dietary fiber, protein and B vitamins. By adding other healthful ingredients to popcorn you can make your own delicious, quick and easy snack mix.

Check out the benefits of the following "mix-ins":

  • 2 tablespoons whole almonds add protein, iron and fiber
  • 1/3 cup chopped dried fruit adds iron and fiber
  • 2 tablespoons shredded Parmesan cheese adds protein and calcium
  • 2 tablespoons soy nuts adds fiber and calcium
  • 2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds adds protein and fiber
  • 1/2 cup dry unsweetened cereal adds iron and B vitamins
  • 10 pretzel sticks adds B vitamins

A Nutrient Packed Snack

Nutrition experts give popcorn high marks for its poppin' good benefits.

  • Popcorn is an excellent source of fiber, which increases the feeling of being full and helps to steady blood sugar levels.
  • The fiber in popcorn, in conjunction with a low-fat eating plan, may help lower fat and cholesterol.
  • Popcorn helps aid in weight control as part of a healthy, low-fat, balanced eating plan. Popcorn can be incorporated as a satisfying low-fat snack, reducing your cravings for other high-fat, high-calorie snacks.

Easy Ways to Include More Whole Grains in Your Diet

  • Pop up a mini-bag of Jolly Time Healthy Pop 94 percent fat-free Microwave Pop Corn as a snack or accompaniment to lunch.
  • Replace up to half of the white flour with whole wheat flour in recipes for cookies and breads.
  • Try a hot or cold whole grain side dish made with brown or wild rice, kasha or bulgar.
  • Choose whole grain breads, tortillas, bagels, pita pockets and rolls.
  • Try rolled oats or crushed whole grain cereal as breading for meats, poultry and fish.
  • Use whole grain bread or cracker crumbs in meat loaf.
  • Snack on ready-to-eat, whole grain cereals such as toasted oat cereal.

Avoid Un-popped Kernels

If you get many un-popped kernels when you make popcorn, it is usually because the corn has lost its natural moisture. Dried-out kernels will not pop. Help restore dry popcorn using this quick and easy tip: Cover the popcorn kernels with cold water for five minutes, drain and blot well with paper towels, then cook as usual.

Two quarts of plain popcorn equals the calories in 15 potato chips.

A Whole Grain Sweet Snack. Turn popcorn into sweet snack by sprinkling with 1 teaspoon sugar and 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon.

Outside the Box Seasonings

Here are some fun ways to zip-up the flavor without adding calories or fat. You will need a hot-air popper to make the popcorn (or you can use a popper that calls for 1-teaspoon of canola oil -- but that adds a fat exchange).

Using 3-cups unseasoned popped corn, one carbohydrate (1 bread/starch) exchange, you can make these treats:

Asian Popcorn

Preheat oven to 250-degrees. Spread popcorn on a nonstick cookie sheet and lightly coat with refrigerated butter-flavored cooking spray. Mix together 1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce, 2-teaspoons fresh lemon juice, 1-teaspoon five-spice powder, 1/4-teaspoon ground coriander, and 1/4-teaspoon garlic powder. Drizzle over popcorn. Toss to coat evenly. Bake ten minutes, tossing once. Serve warm.

Italian Popcorn

Preheat oven to 300-degrees. Spread popcorn on a nonstick cookie sheet and lightly coat with refrigerated butter-flavored cooking spray. Mix together 1-teaspoon crushed dried Italian herbs, 1/8-teaspoon cayenne pepper, and 1 teaspoon grated Parmesan cheese. Sprinkle over popcorn and lightly coat again with cooking spray. Toss. Bake for ten minutes, tossing once. Serve warm.

Mexican Popcorn

Put the popcorn in a large bowl and lightly coat with refrigerated butter-flavored cooking spray. Combine 1-tablespoon dried Mexican spiced salad dressing mix with 1/4-teaspoon crushed dried oregano, 1/4-teaspoon crushed dried thyme, and 1/4-teaspoon garlic powder. Sprinkle over popcorn. Toss to evenly coat. Lightly coat with additional cooking spray. Toss again and serve.

Orange Popcorn

Put the popcorn in a large bowl and lightly coat with refrigerated butter-flavored cooking spray. Sprinkle with 2-1/2-tablespoons orange-flavored powdered drink mix (already sweetened with sugar substitute) and 1/2-teaspoon dried orange peel. Toss and coat again with cooking spray. Toss and serve.

Spicy and Sweet Popcorn

Preheat oven to 300-degrees. Spread popcorn on a nonstick cookie sheet and lightly coat with refrigerated butter-flavored cooking spray. Combine 2-1/2 tablespoons spoonable sugar substitute, 1/4-teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/8-teaspoon ground nutmeg and 1/4-teaspoon dried orange peel. Sprinkle over the popcorn and toss. Lightly coat again with cooking spray and toss. Bake for ten minutes, tossing once. Serve warm.

Popcorn History

In 1519, Cortes got his first sight of popcorn when he invaded Mexico and came into contact with the Aztecs. Popcorn was an important food for the Aztec Indians, who also used popcorn as decoration. They used it for ceremonial headdresses, necklaces and ornaments on statues of their gods, including Tlaloc, the god of maize, rain and fertility.

Early French explorers through the Great Lakes region (circa 1612) reported that the Iroquois would pop popcorn in a pottery vessel with heated sand. They then used it to make popcorn soup, among other things.

English colonists were introduced to popcorn at the first Thanksgiving Feast at Plymouth, Massachusetts. Quadequina, brother of the Wampanoag chief Massasoit, brought a deerskin bag of popped corn to the celebration as a gift. The Aztecs were the first to pop popcorn and use it as a decoration.

Did you know?

According to The Popcorn Institute, popcorn has more protein and iron than potato chips, ice cream cones, pretzels and soda crackers

The 1st Cereal: Colonial housewives served popcorn with sugar and cream for breakfast. The first puffed breakfast cereal was eaten by Europeans, and so was born the breakfast cereal!

There is a legend that speaks of a particular summer day that became so hot the corn in the fields stared popping right off the stalks.

In American Indian folklore, some tribes believed that quiet, contented spirits lived inside of each popcorn kernel.


Popcorn kernels in the pot, jump and dance when they get hot. And when they’ve carried on enough, they do a flip and turn to fluff!
~Cathy Drinkwater Better~