The good news is that popcorn can be a healthy part of your diet. Popcorn supplies you with fiber and protein, as well as small amounts of vitamin A, iron and zinc. The bad news is that drenching your popcorn in butter and salt won't make it a healthy snack no matter how nutritious the popcorn is. Swap the salt and high-fat butter for nutritious toppings that taste just as yummy, but also provide essential nutrients and offer health benefits.
Savory Herbs and Spices
If the salty taste of traditional popcorn is what you're after, replacing the salt with savory herbs and spices can help satisfy that craving. Herbs and spices also boost your health. Spritz your popcorn with a small amount of olive oil and then sprinkle garlic powder over it. Garlic can help lower your cholesterol and blood pressure and might reduce your risk of blood clots, too, according to a 2006 article published in the "Medical Journal of Australia." Sprinkle on a bit of turmeric. Turmeric has potential against cancer, heart disease and infections, reports a 2011 article published in the "African Journal of Food Science." Dried chili powder, black pepper, turmeric and onion powder pair well with a spritz of olive oil.
Sweet Herbs and Spices
Air-popped popcorn with a sprinkle of sweet herbs and spices can satisfy your sweet tooth and provide certain health benefits. Shake a bit of ground cinnamon over your popcorn for a fat-free and tasty snack. Add ground cloves for a bolder taste. Cloves have antibacterial, antifungal and antioxidant compounds, each of which can help prevent certain types of infection, according to the "African Journal of Food Science." Try nutmeg, too, which can promote healthy digestion and treat diarrhea.
Cheese adds protein and calcium to your popcorn. Getting plenty of calcium is one way to help prevent bone loss and osteoporosis. Grate Parmesan cheese over air-popped popcorn for a calcium-rich snack. Cheddar cheese and mozzarella cheese are additional types of cheese that will jazz up a bowl of popcorn. Use just a small amount of cheese, though, because it contains saturated fat and sodium. A sprinkle is all you need anyway since cheese has such a bold flavor. Add a bit of garlic powder or crushed red pepper, along with the cheese, to punch up the taste even more.
Small amounts of dark chocolate can boost your overall health, according to MayoClinic.com. The cocoa in chocolate might reduce your risk of heart disease. The flavanols in cocoa beans, which are used to make chocolate, help reduce the kind of cell damage that contributes to heart damage. Drizzle a bit of melted dark chocolate over air-popped popcorn. Dark chocolate has more flavanols than milk or white chocolate, and it often contains less sugar, too. Don't go crazy with the dark chocolate though. Even if it provides health benefits, it's still high in fat and calories.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: Snacks, Popcorn, Air-Popped
- African Journal of Food Science: Biopotency Role of Culinary Spices and Herbs and Their Chemical Constituents in Health and Commonly Used Spices in Nigerian Dishes and Snacks
- Medical Journal of Australia: Health Benefits of Herbs and Spices: The Past, The Present, The Future
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Calcium
- MayoClinic.com: Healthy Chocolate: Dream or Reality?
Sara Ipatenco has taught writing, health and nutrition. She started writing in 2007 and has been published in Teaching Tolerance magazine. Ipatenco holds a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in education, both from the University of Denver.