Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

Natural Weight-Loss Food: Popcorn

When prepared correctly and eaten in the proper quantity, popcorn is actually a healthy snack. It is an excellent fiber source that can keep you feeling full for hours, which can help if you're trying to lose weight.

Popcorn is a whole grain, so it helps you achieve the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommendation to get half your daily servings of grains from whole grains. Popcorn fills you up, but not out.

Health Benefits

What snack food do you know that provides fewer than 100 calories, no fat or sodium, and almost four grams of fiber in three cups? Only one: popcorn. The catch is that it must be air-popped popcorn with no added oil, butter, margarine, or salt. It's chewy, tasty, and filling: everything a snack food should be.

Keep in mind that whole grains, like popcorn, are abundant in vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytochemicals. In a 12-year study of nearly 75,000 nurses, it was noted that those who ate more whole grains had a lower body weight than those who ate fewer whole grains. And those eating whole grains were less likely to gain weight.

Besides all that, popcorn provides protein. And you can't beat its fiber content, practically all of which is insoluble. Eat plenty of popcorn, and with all the fiber, you'll be less likely to suffer constipation. Plus your intestinal tract will also be less likely to harbor carcinogens and other toxins.

Selection and Storage

Nutritionally, air-popping is the best method and the only way to avoid added oil. Not everyone is pleased with the taste, however. If you prefer popcorn with added oil, keep it minimal since the oil used is often a combination of saturated and trans fatty acids. Fortunately, some microwave popcorns have only a fraction of the fat and calories of regular popcorn. Some are as low as one gram of fat per serving, so check labels when you shop and try different brands to find one you like. What about ready-popped packaged popcorn? Most of them are loaded with fat, especially the popular cheese-flavored varieties; some get as much as three quarters of their calories from fat. So make sure you read the labels. The good news in all of this is that no matter the variety, you still get the fiber bonus. Figure at least one gram per cup.

Preparation and Serving Tips

You can do it the old-fashioned way and pop kernels in oil on the stove, using extra-light olive oil. Otherwise, stick with a light microwave popcorn.

If you want more flavor, try dusting popcorn with grated Parmesan cheese, which is tasty but adds calories. Or flavor it with sprinkle-on butter substitute, garlic powder, or cinnamon. You might also use a few pumps of a spray-type margarine. Then sprinkle with Brewer's yeast flakes for a boost of B-vitamins. The moisture of the spray margarine helps hold any of the above flavors on the popped kernels.

So remember, watch the butter, oil, salt, and toppings, and you can still enjoy your favorite movie treat without over-indulging and staying true to your weight-loss routine.

©Publications International, Ltd.