When many people think of popcorn, they envision large, butter-soaked buckets sold at movie theaters. But popcorn can be a healthy addition to anyone’s diet.

Recent studies have indicated that popcorn can be quite healthy so long as it’s not smothered in salt, sugar or other flavorings. Popcorn is a whole grain that contains plenty of fiber and antioxidants. Joe Vinson, a professor of chemistry at the University of Scranton, reported in 2012 that popcorn may contain just as many, if not more, healthful antioxidants as fruits and vegetables. 

After grinding up the popped kernels and hulls, then simulating the digestion process, Vinson discovered roughly 1.5 percent by weight of air-popped popcorn is made up of polyphenols. Polyphenols can help prevent damage to human cells and can help fight disease, including cancer. Polyphenols are considered by some to be more potent than vitamins C or E. 

Polyphenols are concentrated in the hull of the popcorn, so it’s important to eat them, and not just the fluffy popped center, for maximum health benefits.

Popcorn is full of dietary fiber, which helps a person feel full and also has other benefits. Men and women are advised to consume 38 and 25 grams, respectively, of dietary fiber each day. Popcorn contains roughly one grams of dietary fiber per cup, helping to keep the digestive system regular. Popcorn also can reduce cholesterol levels and help regulate blood sugar. Feeling full will also prevent a person from overeating.

According to Organic Information Services, a cup of popped popcorn contains only 30 calories, which is approximately five times less than the number of calories in a similar serving of potato chips. Popcorn also is very low in saturated fat, which can help men and women realize their weight loss goals.

In addition to being an abundant source of fiber and antioxidants, popcorn contains thiamin, folate, vitamin B6, and niacin. Popcorn also contains minerals such as manganese, magnesium, iron, zinc, and phosphorous.

The best way to enjoy popcorn is to air-pop it, which will not add any calories from oil. If seasonings are desired, look to low-calorie, salt-free flavors, like chili powder, garlic or fresh herbs. 

While many people may only know the often unhealthy popcorn they find at movie theaters, air-popped popcorn makes for a healthy, low-calorie snack.