9 Healthiest Microwave Popcorn Brands (& The Bags to Skip)
Microwave popcorn is the perfect crunchy, salty, and sometimes sweet snack. Who can resist the sound of the kernels popping and the smell wafting from the kitchen as you're sitting down to watch a movie? By itself, popcorn is a nutritious pick, but depending on what popcorn brands season it with, it's no wonder why many people ask is microwave popcorn bad for you. Although popcorn is a whole grain, low-calorie, high-fiber snack, it's also one of the easiest foods to overeat, and it can quickly become unhealthy.
To make sure one of the best low-calorie snacks stays healthy, we asked registered dietitians for the low-down on the healthiest microwave popcorn brands to pop and which bags you should drop.
How to choose a healthy microwave popcorn
"When it comes to [buying the healthiest] microwave popcorn, my recommendation is to find one with minimal ingredients," says Erika Fox, RDN, registered dietitian nutritionist at 310 Nutrition. "As simple as popcorn can be, many brands often load their products with additives, artificial ingredients, extremely processed oils, a lot of salt, and more."
There are some nutritional standards you should pay attention to that factor into whether a bag of popcorn is healthy:
- Saturated fat: "I would check out the saturated fat content. This is also known as 'bad' fat and can have negative effects on the body," says Fox. You should limit your saturated intake to between five and 10 percent of your total calories. "Unfortunately, microwave popcorn is often a big culprit [of saturated fat intake]." Some popcorn brands contain over 25 percent of your daily value of saturated fat in a small serving.
- Serving size: "The number one thing I suggest someone looks out for is the serving size," says Keri Gans, MS, RDN, CDN, author of The Small Change Diet. "Almost always, the entire bag is not one serving. You need to read the nutrition facts label and see how many servings are in one bag to avoid an excess of calories." Adds Fox, "Treating yourself and enjoying foods you love (even if they're not 'healthy') is a part of life; however, popcorn is a very mindless snack. When you're eating it, you're usually watching television and end up overindulging. In this case, especially if you're consuming it often, make sure to choose a 'healthier' version!"
Gans points out that "most ingredients that one should be wary of are actually ingredients that are mostly no longer used in microwave popcorn. Specifically, [manufacturers stopped using] a butter flavoring, diacetyl, that had been associated with an increase in lung damage."
The best microwave buttered popcorns you can buy.
"This particular brand does not use any palm oil, has a lower amount of sodium per serving compared to other brands, and provides an interesting flavor," says Gans.
"If you can't deal with 'no salt' , definitely try this product. as it has some sodium, but not enough to be of any health concerns," says Jonathan Valdez, owner of Genki Nutrition and spokesperson for New York State Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
"For butter lovers, this should hit the spot with its natural butter flavor. And it has less than 200 mg of sodium," says Gans.
Available at Whole Foods Market.
"This one also has just a handful of simple ingredients (including butter), and each bag is only 160 calories," says Charlotte Martin, MS, RDN, CSOWM, CPT, owner of Shaped By Charlotte. "This is perfect for if you're snacking alone and want some help exercising portion control."
"It has just 4 simple ingredients and is one of the few brands that has actual butter in it, instead of butter flavor," says Martin.
"This has half the total AND saturated fat content than most leading microwave popcorn brands and no artificial flavors," says Martin.
"This is my top pick for healthiest microwave popcorn because it only contains popcorn and/or sea salt!" says Fox. "With minimal ingredients and nothing crazy processed, it is a great low-sodium popcorn treat. [Popcorn] doesn't have to be flavor-less to be healthy! Get creative and dress up your popcorn by adding some toppings like extra-virgin olive oil or avocado oil, your favorite seasonings, etc!"
Available at Whole Foods Market.
If you need a low-calorie popcorn, opt for this bag by Healthy Heart Market. "This popcorn has zero grams of saturated fat and is very low in calories," says Valdez.
"Although this option has the normal 4g of saturated fat you see with a lot of other brands, I wanted to include this as a top option for kettle corn fanatics, as it is a great alternative option for sweet & salty flavor," says Fox. "It contains minimal ingredients, and the main benefit is that it doesn't use artificial sweeteners as a source of sugar. Although it does have a little bit of sugar, it's very minimal at 1g per serving."
The worst microwave popcorn brands you can buy.
"It contains a long list of ingredients that don't seem necessary given that there are plenty of microwaveable popcorn options with just a few simple ingredients," says Martin. "I also try to stay away from artificial flavors when possible, and many microwaveable popcorn options are free of them."
"This popcorn is low in protein and fiber, and high in saturated fat," says Valdez.
"This popcorn is the lowest I found in both fiber and protein, at 0 grams each," says Valdez.
"This particular popcorn has a whopping 5g of saturated fat in one serving," says Fox. "In addition, it contains processed oils/ingredients, natural flavors (which can mean a wide variety of things that are not actually natural), as well as artificial flavors, and preservatives."
"This flavor of Jolly Time is filled with additives, including modified food starch, dextrin, and more," says Fox. "It also contains sugar as well as artificial sweeteners, preservatives, and more."
"Pop Secret Kettle Corn might seem like a better alternative compared to Jolly Time's (which I would technically agree that it is), but I also wanted to include it on this list to point out the 'not so great' ingredients that it does have," says Fox. "Although it has a lot less processed ingredients, it does use artificial sugar for its sweet taste and, like many other brands, uses processed oils. It also has almost 5g of saturated fat, which can add up when consumed in excess."
"With this flavor, in particular, I really want to highlight that just because something is marketing as a 'health' or 'weight loss' item, doesn't mean it's the healthiest option. Yes, this flavor does contain less saturated fat, and I think that's awesome, but I often find that many people only focus on the numbers and not the ingredients," says Fox. "When you compare this to many other popcorn brands (some of which I've already named), it has the same unhealthy ingredients, just less of them."
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