Yes, popcorn is generally healthier than chips. Popcorn is a whole grain food that’s high in fiber and low in fat and calories. Chips are generally fried in fat and heavily salted. There are unhealthy popcorn options like movie theater popcorn or caramel corn, and there are healthy chip options.
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Popcorn vs. Chips
It’s mid-afternoon and you’re craving a snack. You want something crunchy, savory and salty. You go to the cupboard, and you find two options, popcorn and potato chips. You’re trying to make healthy choices and you want to pick the snack that is the healthiest, so which one should you choose? Is popcorn healthier than chips? Let’s take a look at both options.
Is Popcorn Healthy?
Yes, popcorn can be a healthy snack. Plain, air-popped popcorn has about 30 calories per cup. There are about 4 cups in a serving, so one serving of popcorn has about 120 calories. Not bad!
Popcorn is a whole grain food, which means it’s high in fiber and other important nutrients like magnesium, zinc, and iron. Whole grains have many health benefits, including a high fiber content high in fiber and they’re high in micronutrients. Whole grains may reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, and help you maintain a healthy weight.
Don’t be fooled though, not all popcorn is created equal. Popcorn starts to lose its health benefits when unhealthy toppings are added. Flavored popcorns like caramel corn, kettle corn and cheese popcorn are made with butter, sugar, artificial colors and other additives. They can contain high amounts of fat, sugar and salt, making the once-healthy-snack a very unhealthy disaster.
|Per 1 oz.||Caramel Corn||Kettle Corn||Movie Popcorn (without butter)|
Is Movie Theater Popcorn Healthy?
Movie theater popcorn is one of the unhealthiest types of popcorn. According to AMC theaters, a medium plain (no butter) popcorn has 600 calories and 27g of fat! And that’s without butter!
Actually, what they put on movie theater popcorn isn’t even really butter. It’s a fake butter topping made from different chemicals, additives, and preservatives. It’s very high in sodium and has 20 more calories per Tbsp than real butter. Add 1 Tbsp of the butter topping and that’s another 140 calories and 14g of fat. And who adds just 1 Tbsp of butter topping? You can easily add another 200-500 calories and another 20-50g of fat to your already unhealthy popcorn bucket. Yikes!
But let’s face it, when you’re eating movie popcorn or caramel popcorn, you’re not eating it every day. It’s something you treat yourself to once in a while and that’s ok. Just don’t eat it every day!
Healthy Homemade Popcorn Toppings
The healthiest kind of popcorn is popcorn you make at home. When you make your own popcorn, you can control how it’s made and the ingredients you put on it. Here are some healthy homemade topping ideas.
- Nutritional yeast is a vegan and gluten-free way adds a cheesy flavor without adding extra fat and calories. Sprinkle it over popcorn instead of butter, cheese, or salt.
- Try some chili powder with fresh lime juice and lime zest.
- Melt some dark chocolate over popcorn and sprinkle with a touch of sea salt. Dark chocolate is high in minerals, antioxidants and flavanols.
- I love to sauté fresh, minced garlic in a bit of butter and mix it into popcorn with fresh, chopped parsley and some sea salt. It’s delicious!
Here’s how to make the perfect stovetop popcorn.
Healthy Popcorn Options
- Snappy White Popcorn – This is one of my favorite popcorns. The kernels are small and tender. The hulls are soft and tiny and don’t stick in your teeth like larger kernels do. And my dog loves it too!
See my article on hulless popcorn to learn more.
- Orville Redenbacher’s Gourmet Popcorn Kernels – This is your classic popcorn. We make this at home when we want large, fluffy popcorn. There’s lots of surface area to hold butter and seasonings.
- Amish Country Popcorn Red Popcorn Kernels – The kernels are a beautiful, deep red and they pop into bright white snowflakes. I really like most of the Amish Country popcorn. They’re good quality, taste great and you don’t end up with a lot of unpopped kernels.
See my article on red popcorn to learn more.
Are Chips Healthy?
In general, chips are not the healthiest snack choice. They are generally high in fat, calories and sodium with very little nutritional value. Eating foods like chips and other fatty foods can cause you to gain weight which can lead to health issues like heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
One of the main issues with chips is how difficult it is to just eat what is considered one serving. One serving of Lay’s potato chips is 1 oz or about 15 chips. Who eats only 15 chips?? I mean, that’s not even close to realistic. I usually end up eating half a bag of chips in one sitting, especially if I’m watching TV while eating chips!
There are many different types of chips, so making an overall blanket statement that “all chips are bad for you” is difficult and inaccurate. However, in general, the most popular, best-selling chips are the least healthy. There are tortilla chips, potato chips, corn chips, Doritos, etc. Each has their own nutritional profile, and some are better than others.
|Per 1 oz.||Air-popped popcorn||Lay’s Classic Potato Chips||Mission Tortilla Chips|
Healthy Chip Options
The good news is that there are healthy chip options! Those cooked in healthy oils, made without artificial ingredients, additives, and other unhealthy ingredients. So if you want to have chips for your snack here are a few healthy options.
- Good Health Olive Oil Potato Chips – These chips are made with healthy olive oil and are made with only 3 ingredients – potatoes, olive oil and sea salt. They are gluten-free and non-GMO. They also make chips with avocado oil.
- Siete Grain-Free Tortilla Chips – These chips hit all the markers of a healthy chip. They’re made with cassava flour and avocado oil so they’re grain-free and gluten-free. They also contain no dairy and soy and fit perfectly into a paleo or vegan diet. The one downside is that they’re expensive.
- Barnana Organic Plantain Chips – For something a little different, try these plantain chips. Made with organic plantains, coconut oil and sea salt, they’re also organic, non-GMO, gluten-free and Kosher. And they come in a tropical and delicious sounding Acapulco Lime flavor!
Is Microwave Popcorn Healthier than Chips?
Microwave popcorn can be a healthy snack option, but again it depends on which microwave popcorn you choose.
Microwave popcorn can contain many unhealthy chemicals and additives like hydrogenated fats (trans fats), artificial colors and preservatives. They also can contain high amounts of saturated fats and sodium.
The oils in microwave popcorn can go rancid. Rancid oils are full of free radicals that can damage cells and lead to the development of chronic diseases.
It’s not just the popcorn that’s the problem. Microwave popcorn bags contain chemicals called PFAS (perfluoroalkyls and polyfluoroalkyl substances). It’s used to keep the oil in the bag from leaking out. PFAS have been linked to many health issues including high blood pressure, liver damage and cancer.
So, if you’re going to snack on some microwave popcorn, your best bet is to find the healthiest options that are PFAS-free and don’t contain artificial flavorings and additives.
Healthy Microwave Popcorn Options
Here are a couple healthy options for microwave popcorn. They have chemical-free bags and very simple ingredients. Their either unseasoned or very lightly seasoned, so you can add your own healthy toppings to them.
- Black Jewell Gourmet Microwave Popcorn – This is just straight-up plain popcorn. It has no oil, butter, salt or seasonings. It’s just like popcorn you’d get straight from an air popper, so you’re in control of what topping you add to it, if any. They’re popcorn bags are chemical-free and don’t contain PFAS. It’s also non-GMO and virtually hulless.
- Quinn Microwave Popcorn – Quinn uses organic and non-GMO popcorn kernels. Their microwave popcorn comes in a biodegradable bag with no chemical coatings. There are only two ingredients, organic popcorn kernels and sea salt.
Other Healthy Snack Options
Of course popcorn is my number one recommendation for a healthy snack. That’s probably because I love it so much I’ve dedicated an entire website to it! But, if you’re in the mood for something else, here are some other healthy snack options.
- apple slices with almond butter
- fresh and dried fruit
- hummus with bell peppers
- beef jerky or beef sticks without artificial colors and flavors (I love Chomps)
- roasted chickpeas
- dark chocolate
Popcorn is the healthier snack when compared to chips. components It’s high in fiber and nutrients To keep it healthy, make sure you don’t smother it in sugars, fats and artificial ingredients and additives.