Poppin’ Popcorn

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Did you know...
• What makes popcorn pop? The small amount of water that’s naturally inside each kernel of corn expands when heated. This makes the kernel explode, giving the pop to corn.
• Just how much popcorn do we munch? According to the Popcorn Board, the average American eats about 68 quarts of popcorn each year.
• Was the microwave invented for popcorn? Not really. But in the 1940s, the first tests with microwave heating involved cooking popcorn. Who knew just how popular microwave popcorn would become?

Poppin’ up good nutrition
Ounce for ounce, air-popped popcorn is more nutritious than snack chips, with fewer calories and a lot less fat. However, you should read the label since packaged, flavored popcorn runs high in calories, fat and salt. Popcorn at theaters is usually not a good choice because it is popped with tropical oils that are high in artery-clogging saturated fat. We recommend making and bringing your own.

Poppin’ it healthy
It’s easy to see why popcorn is a nutritious snack. But, like potatoes and pizza, it’s what you put on the popcorn that makes all the difference. Too much butter or salt will cancel out the health benefits.

Your best bet is to use a hot-air popcorn popper and add just a touch of seasoning to taste (see “Poppin’ up good taste” for ideas). Some low-fat microwave brands are also good choices. Label reading is important here. It can be confusing because some brands list nutrient values for unpopped corn or for 1-cup and 6-cup serving sizes. Look for “low fat” or “94% fat free” claims, which still make a healthy snack. Orville Redenbacher Smart Pop, Pop Secret 94% Fat Free, Cousin Willie’s Low Fat, and Healthy Choice are good choices. Three cups is considered one serving of popcorn, so watch it—you can munch a whole bag if you’re not careful.

For more recipes (including some cute Halloween ideas) and popcorn information, try the Popcorn Board at www.popcorn.org.

Poppin’ up good taste
You can make popcorn into a sweet or spicy snack without adding too much fat, extra calories, or sodium. Just spray popcorn lightly with butter flavored cooking spray (or try the garlic flavor for a change) and toss with your favorite seasonings.

Sweet tooths
Add a dash of cinnamon sugar and some dried fruit to your air-popped popcorn.

Adventurists
Try a dash of these:
• Garlic powder
• Oregano
• Parmesan cheese
• Chili powder
• Other favorite herbs and spices

Traditionalists
Spray margarine or butter flavored cooking spray with just a dash of salt. A little goes a long way.

On the run
Skip the afternoon candy or Power Bar and try a popcorn trail mix. Add dried fruit, nuts (try soy nuts, almonds, or sunflower seeds), and raisins to popcorn.
By Hollis Bass, MEd, RD.

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