Popcorn Nutrition Facts

3 Health Benefits You May Not Know About

Popcorn, annotated
Verywell /?Alexander Shytsman?
Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

If you love popcorn, you'll be pleased to know that it offers many surprising nutritional benefits. Not only is popcorn low in calories, but it is extremely rich in antioxidants and delivers a healthy dose of fiber to aid in digestion and heart health.

If eaten plain, popcorn can fill you up with only trace amounts of saturated fat. On the other hand, if you add toppings like butter, caramel, or the hydrogenated soybean oils used in movie theater snacks, you may find yourself tripling the calorie count and consuming 7 grams or more of saturated fat per serving.

Nutrition Facts

Popcorn can be a great snack for those who are looking to eat healthier or to lose weight. Even if you're not trying to lose weight, popcorn is whole grain food that offers many of the same benefits of corn, rice, wheat, barley, and oats. 

Nutritional Information

The following nutrition information is provided by the USDA for three cups of popcorn (24g) air-popped without added butter, salt, or oil.

  • Calories: 93
  • Fat: 1.1g
  • Sodium: 1.9mg
  • Carbohydrates: 18.6g
  • Fiber: 3.6g
  • Sugars: 0.2g
  • Protein: 3g

Carbs in Popcorn

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for carbohydrates from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Dietary Guidelines for Americans is 130 grams per day for both adults and children aged 12 months and up. A single three-cup serving of popcorn provides nearly 19 grams of carbohydrates and 15 grams of net carbs.

This makes popcorn an acceptable snack for most low-carb diets if consumed in moderation. However, popcorn is not advised during phase one of the South Beach Diet and is restricted during the induction phase of the Atkins Diet.

The dietary fiber in popcorn comes from the indigestible carbohydrates that pass through the digestive tract. A three-cup serving provides an average of about 10% of your daily fiber needs.

As a frame of reference, adult women need 25–28 grams of fiber per day and men need 31–34 grams per day. Older adults need slightly less; women over 50 should get around 22 grams per day and men should aim for 28 grams. Young girls need anywhere from 14–25 grams and boys need 20–31 grams. Children aged six to 23 months should consume just under 1 gram of fiber a day.

Fats in Popcorn

If air-popped, popcorn delivers only trace amounts of fat. Most are "healthy" monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, as opposed to the "unhealthy" saturated fats that clog arteries. 

Many people wrongly assume that plain microwave popcorn is pretty much the same as air-popped popcorn. The problem is that most microwave popcorn brands use hydrogenated or partially-hydrogenated oils that contain harmful trans fats. These are the fats that contribute to heart attacks, stroke, and other serious diseases.

Nutrition Information for Toppings

In the end, any type of fat used to pop or top popcorn will add to its overall fat content. By way of illustration:

  • Popcorn popped in oil provides 164 calories and 9 grams of fat per three-cup serving.
  • Butter topping adds another 100 calories, 11 grams of fat, 7 grams of saturated fat, and 90 milligrams of sodium.
  • Grated parmesan adds another 20 calories, 2 grams of protein, 1 gram of fat, and 46 milligrams of sodium per tablespoon.

The average small order (88g) of movie house popcorn without the added butter still delivers around 531 calories, 43 grams of fat, 25 grams of saturated fat, 671 milligrams of sodium, and 35 grams of carbohydrate. This could be due to the fact that most movie theaters season their popcorn with an artificial buttery seasoning salt called Flavacol.

Protein in Popcorn

A three-cup serving of popcorn delivers 3 grams of protein, a relatively modest amount that rivals one cup of cooked broccoli. By way of reference, an average sedentary man needs around 56 grams of protein per day, while a sedentary woman would need roughly 46 grams per day.

Micronutrients in Popcorn

Most people don't think of popcorn as a nutrient-dense food, but it offers an impressive amount of essential vitamins and minerals. Based on the reference dietary intake (RDI) issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a single three-cup serving of air-popped popcorn delivers:

  • Iron: 4.2% of the RDI
  • Copper: 7% of the RDI
  • Magnesium: 8% of the RDI
  • Phosphorus: 7% of the RDI
  • Potassium: 2% of the RDI
  • Vitamin B1 (thiamin): 2% of the RDI
  • Vitamin B3 (niacin): 3% of the RDI
  • Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine): 2% of the RDI
  • Zinc: 7% of the RDI

Health Benefits

Most of us think of popcorn more as a snack food than health food. But popcorn actually delivers significant health benefits, aiding in weight loss, improving digestion, and reducing the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and maybe even cancer.

Weight Loss

Air-popped popcorn is the ideal diet snack simply because it fills you up faster and takes longer to eat than, say, one 100-calorie Fig Newton bar. A study published in Nutrition Journal in 2012 reported that, among 35 normal weight adults, popcorn was far more satiating than potato chips.

In comparing popcorn and chips, the study participants reported that 15 calories of popcorn were just as filling as 150 calories of potato chips.

Digestion

Most of the fiber in popcorn is insoluble, the type that helps keep you regular. Rather than drawing water from the intestines, it builds bulk in stool and speeds the transit time through the intestines. It works much in the same way as psyllium husk, providing gentle relief of constipation while reducing the risk of hemorrhoids and gut infections.

The fiber in three cups of popcorn is on par with one cup of cooked brown rice or oatmeal. While this shouldn't suggest that popcorn is a reasonable substitute for nutrient-packed whole grains, it does illustrate popcorn's value in maintaining a healthy balanced diet and good digestion.

Disease Prevention

Popcorn is one of the better sources of a type of polyphenols, antioxidants linked to numerous health benefits. By eliminating free radicals, polyphenols can reduce vascular inflammation, improving blood circulation and lowering blood pressure. This, in turn, reduces the risk of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and cardiovascular disease.

Natural polyphenols, which include flavonoids, phenolic acids, lignans, and stilbenes, are also linked to a reduction in the risk of certain cancers. A 2016 review of studies suggested that flavonoids and isoflavones—both of which are polyphenols—may offer some breast and prostate cancer protection.

In the past, doctors would warn patients with diverticulitis off seeds, nuts, and popcorn, fearing that the kernels could get lodged in the pockets and trigger an inflammatory attack. Diverticulitis is an infection or inflammation of the digestive tract that causes the abnormal formation of pouches in the intestines.

Today, there is little evidence that any of these foods cause diverticulitis.??

In fact, by increasing your intake of insoluble fibers through popcorn and other whole grains, you will be more likely to maintain normal bowel movements and reduce stress on the intestines. It is also believed that the polyphenols found in fiber-rich foods like popcorn may help reduce the inflammation that can trigger a diverticular attack.

Allergies

Corn allergies, in general, are uncommon. While they may affect people with an allergy to rice, wheat, rye, or soy, scientists have been unable to establish the exact mechanism of cross-reactivity. People allergic to popcorn may also be cross-reactive to certain tree pollens and grasses.

Symptoms, if any, tend to appear within two hours of eating a corn product and may include rash, hives, nausea, diarrhea, the swelling of the lips, and a tingling sensation in the mouth. On rare occasions, the reaction may be severe, leading to a potentially life-threatening condition known as anaphylaxis.

There are no known drug interactions to popcorn.

Call 911 or seek emergency care if you develop shortness of breath, wheezing, rapid heart rate, lightheadedness, or the swelling of the face, tongue, or throat after eating popcorn.

Adverse Effects

Generally speaking, most people can eat air-popped popcorn without any problems or side effects. Due to the increased intake of fiber, some people may experience bloating, gas, and loose stools. However, any harm would be more likely to come from trans fats added to popcorn or the chemicals used to flavor the kernels rather than the popcorn itself.

Some experts have expressed concerns about a substance known as perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) which lines the bags of most microwave popcorn bags. PFOA is the same substance used for coating many non-stick pans. However, the FDA has determined that the amount used in microwave bags is safe.

Given that PFOA levels tend to accumulate in the body over time, further research may still be needed to evaluate the long-term risks of PFOA in frequent microwave popcorn eaters.

Varieties

When choosing the right microwave popcorn, let the numbers speak for themselves. Unless otherwise indicated, the serving size of the following popcorn brands is two tablespoons of unpopped corn and 3.5 to 4 cups of popped popcorn. Here's an overview of the various types of microwave popcorn.

  • Orville Redenbacher's Classic Butter Popcorn: 170 calories, 12 grams of fat, 6 grams of saturated fat, 320 milligrams of sodium, 17 grams of carbohydrate, 2 grams of fiber, and 2 grams of protein
  • Orville Redenbacher's Cheddar Cheese Popcorn: 180 calories, 13 grams of fat, 6 grams of saturated fat, 400 milligrams of sodium, 18 grams of carbohydrate, 3 grams of fiber, and 2 grams of protein
  • Skinnygirl Butter and Sea Salt Popcorn (6 1/2-cup pack): 160 calories, 6 grams of fat, 2.5 grams of saturated fat, 400 milligrams of sodium, 28 grams of carbohydrate, 4 grams of fiber, and 3 grams of protein.
  • Pop Secret Extra Cheesy Popcorn: 150 calories, 10 grams of fat, 1 gram of saturated fat, 220 milligrams of sodium, 14 grams of carbohydrate, 2 grams of fiber, and 2 grams of protein
  • Act II Extreme Butter Popcorn: 160 calories, 9 grams of fat, 4 grams of saturated fat, 290 milligrams of sodium, 28 grams of carbohydrate, 4 grams of fiber, and 3 grams of protein.
  • Act II Light Butter Popcorn (6.5 cups popped): 140 calories, 3.5 grams of fat, 1 gram of saturated fat, 420 milligrams of sodium, 27 grams of carbohydrate, 4 grams of fiber and 4 grams of protein.

If watching your calorie intake, buy smaller 100-calorie microwavable popcorn packs offered by some manufacturers. This can help you maintain better portion control. 

How to Prepare

If you want to make your popcorn as healthy as possible, air pop it at home. You can then sprinkle it with seasonings like nutritional yeast or a small dash of salt.

You can also microwave your own popcorn at home without a bag. Simply put a few tablespoons of kernels in a microwave-safe bowl, cover it, and place in the microwave for 2–4 minutes until the popping has slowed to one pop per second.

You can also make your own popcorn on the stove in a pot with a tight fitting lid. To keep it on the lighter side, use a tablespoon of coconut oil.

Recipes

Healthy Popcorn Recipes to Try

Air-popped and microwave popcorn with just a dash of salt or seasoning is just one of many ways to enjoy this nutritious snack. Here are some creative recipes to try:


Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Coco MG, Vinson JA. Analysis of popcorn (Zea mays L. var. everta) for antioxidant capacity and total phenolic content.?Antioxidants (Basel). 2019;8(1). doi:10.3390/antiox8010022

  2. U.S. Department of Agriculture. FoodData Central. Snacks, popcorn, air-popped. April 1, 2019.

  3. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture.?2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Ninth Edition. December 2020.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Carb Choices. Updated March 21, 2019.

  5. Ganguly R, Pierce GN. Trans fat involvement in cardiovascular disease.?Mol Nutr Food Res. 2012;56(7):1090-1096. doi:10.1002/mnfr.201100700

  6. U.S. Department of Agriculture. FoodData Central. Popcorn, popped in oil, unbuttered. October 30, 2020.

  7. U.S. Department of Agriculture. FoodData Central. Butter. April 1, 2019.

  8. U.S. Department of Agriculture. FoodData Central. Grated Parmesan. April 1, 2019.

  9. U.S. Department of Agriculture. FoodData Central. Popcorn, movie theater, unbuttered. October 30, 2020.

  10. National Institutes of Health. Nutrient Recommendations: Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI).

  11. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Daily Value on the New Nutrition and Supplement Facts Labels. Updated May 5, 2020.

  12. Nguyen V, Cooper L, Lowndes J, et al. Popcorn is more satiating than potato chips in normal-weight adults.?Nutr J. 2012;11(1):71. doi:10.1186/1475-2891-11-71

  13. Anderson JW, Baird P, Davis RH, et al. Health benefits of dietary fiber.?Nutr Rev. 2009;67(4):188-205. doi:10.1111/j.1753-4887.2009.00189.x

  14. Coco MG, Vinson JA. Analysis of popcorn (Zea mays L. var. everta) for antioxidant capacity and total phenolic content. Antioxidants (Basel). 2019;8(1). doi:10.3390/antiox8010022

  15. Cheng Y-C, Sheen J-M, Hu WL, Hung Y-C. Polyphenols and oxidative stress in atherosclerosis-related ischemic heart disease and stroke.?Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2017;2017:8526438. doi:10.1155/2017/8526438

  16. Zhou Y, Zheng J, Li Y, et al. Natural polyphenols for prevention and treatment of cancer. Nutrients. 2016;8(8) doi:10.3390/nu8080515

  17. Cleveland Clinic. Diverticular disease: greatest myths and facts. 2020.

  18. Gao X, Liu J, Li L, Liu W, Sun M. A brief review of nutraceutical ingredients in gastrointestinal disorders: evidence and suggestions.?Int J Mol Sci. 2020;21(5). doi:10.3390/ijms21051822

  19. Food Intolerance Institute. Corn Allergy. Updated July 21, 2018.

  20. Sung S-Y, Lee W-Y, Yong SJ, et al. A case of occupational rhinitis induced by maize pollen exposure in a farmer: detection of ige-binding components.?Allergy Asthma Immunol Res. 2012;4(1):49-51.

  21. Skypala IJ. Food-induced anaphylaxis: role of hidden allergens and cofactors.?Front Immunol. 2019;10:673. doi:10.3389/fimmu.2019.00673

  22. Rohr MW, Narasimhulu CA, Rudeski-Rohr TA, Parthasarathy S. Negative effects of a high-fat diet on intestinal permeability: a review.?Advances in Nutrition. 2019:nmz061. doi:10.1093/advances/nmz061

  23. American Cancer Society. Teflon and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). Updated January 5, 2016.

  24. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Authorized Uses of PFAS in Food Contact Applications. Updated October 20, 2020.

  25. U.S. Department of Agriculture. FoodData Central. Orville Redenbacher's Butter Popcorn, 3.29 Ounce Classic Bag, 3.3 OZ. February 27, 2020.

  26. U.S. Department of Agriculture. FoodData Central. Skinnygirl, Popcorn, Butter & Sea Salt. May 28, 2020.

  27. U.S. Department of Agriculture. FoodData Central. Pop-Secret, Popcorn, Extra Cheesy. April 1, 2019.

  28. U.S. Department of Agriculture. FoodData Central. ACT II Extreme Butter, 8.25 OZ. February 27, 2020.

  29. U.S. Department of Agriculture. FoodData Central. ACT II Light Butter, 2.75 OZ. February 27, 2020.

Additional Reading