We all know the deal when it comes down to dieting. Whip out the celery and spandex, and start the diet and exercise routine. At least for a little while. Most of us unfortunately aren't thrilled by the changes needed to lose weight, and that often results in failed diets and the return of the pounds we worked so hard to lose.
What if we could make changes that we liked keeping however? Instead of struggling to give up the foods we love, and sweat it out at the gym, what if we could start with something easy? What if that first step to permanent weight loss was eating popcorn?
Popcorn: The new weight loss tool?
It's not as far fetched as it seems. While the popcorn you typically make in the microwave is often very high in calories, it isn't the popcorn itself causing the issues (see my post on the different types of popcorn poppers to see which one is best for you).
Done right, popcorn can be a delicious and nutritious snack with several powerful tools in its arsenal to help you lose weight.
Here are just a few:
3 full cups of popcorn have less than 100 calories.
Most of the time we eat because we're hungry. Sometimes we eat just to eat. The brutal reality is however that an order to lose weight you have to take in fewer calories than your body needs. When you do this, your body thinks it is starving—and it is. Against your will, the brain sends out signals to your body to fight back against your diet, and the result is even more hunger than you would otherwise feel.
Your body will fight changes in your fat levels for up to a year, making it a brutal and nearly impossible to win fight. Luckily, popcorn can help with this.
Scientists now recommend that the easiest way to lose weight is to help your brain adjust to lower fat levels at its own pace. That means swapping out the more calorie-dense foods in your life for lower calorie ones, and popcorn is an easy first swap.
Air popped corn may sound plain and boring without all that delicious butter coating every morsel, but coated in barbecue seasoning, curry powder, or other zesty flavors they can be infinitely tasty for just a fraction of the calories. Even more so, if you're go to snack is chips or other calorie dense snacks.
For recommendations on what popper to get, check out my hot-air popcorn popper review.
You can also try heirloom popcorn. The white and yellow popcorn kernels typically used for microwave popcorn and at the movie theater were specifically bred for productivity and storage, not flavor. The result is a fairly bland snack when air-popped. Heirloom popcorn still has its flavor intact. Some taste like they have butter on it, others have nutty flavors, and still more simply have a fresh taste.
If you've never tried seasoning popcorn yourself, a simple recipe for tasty popcorn include tossing it with cilantro and lime for a refreshing and zingy flavor. You can also try cajun seasoning, or chili powder for a spicy kick to your food.
The number of ways you can season air-popped corn (without those pound packing butters and oils) are fairly limitless. Once you get started, you may never go back to those plain old bags of microwave popcorn at all.
Popcorn is extremely healthy
While all the things we pile onto our popcorn might not be, the popcorn itself is actually a healthy snack. Popcorn is quite literally a whole grain, even if it is fluffy and soft. It still has all the fiber of the hull intact, which is necessary for healthy gut function and a healthy heart. It also has a respectable amount of iron, with 18% of your daily recommended allowance. It has 36% of your recommended magnesium and phospherous, and over half the recommended intake of manganese.
Where popcorn really shines however, are its antioxidants. When we think of this cancer causing micro nutrient, we tend to think of wine, berries, or even chocolate. Popcorn has more antioxidants than all of these. In fact, popcorn even has more antioxidants than fruits and vegetables, making them a great choice in the fight against free radicals.
The type of antioxidant they contain, called polyphenols, are extremely good for your health. Since popcorn's polyphenols aren't diluted in water like fruits and vegetables are, each bite packs a powerful punch. They help our arteries stay clean and clear, give them strength, and slow down the formation of blood clots. It's a great tool to have on your side, and even better that it comes with such a delicious and savory crunch.
Some of the antioxidants specifically fight cancer as well, making popcorn an ideal choice of food.
What makes popcorn the perfect dieting food?
You already know that popcorn minus the toppings is a low calorie snack, but what makes it great for diets goes beyond that. Popcorn, being a whole grain, is also high in fiber. Although fiber is not a nutrient in itself, we need it to help our bodies function properly.
Some studies even show that it can help prevent diabetes, and stabilize your blood sugar if you do happen to have this disease. Fiber is good for our heart health, and good for our guts, but it is also great for dieting.
Fiber takes much longer to digest than other food, which makes you feel fuller for longer. This makes it one of the very best dieting foods you can get. That low calorie snack lets you eat a fairly large amount without guilt, and keep the hunger pains at bay.
There are relatively few snacks out there that are nutritious, delicious, and also low calorie. Are bodies are conditioned to seek out the highest fat and sweetest foods, and while this one has neither, it is just as satiating.
Eating popcorn also has another dieting benefit—it reprograms the body to slow down. No matter how hard you try, it is impossible to eat popcorn quickly. You can grab a big handful and stuff it in your mouth, but you'll still be chewing it a long time to keep it from sticking in your throat as you go down.
Even people who tend to rush through their food usually eat popcorn one piece at a time, or at most a few pieces. Slowing down your eating helps retrain your brain to feel fuller sooner, and may help slow you down with other foods.
The psychological impact of the way you eat popcorn could help you when you eat a high fat food.
How to use popcorn for your diet
While the easiest step is to simply swap out your chips for popcorn, it's important to take a few things into consideration. If you simply buy bags of high fat microwavable popcorn, swapping probably won't do much good. Microwave or other oil-popped popcorns double their calories.
While it is still probably more nutritious and lower calorie than other kinds of junk food, it's still not as beneficial as the air-popped corn we talked about earlier. To get full benefits, avoid using oils, and consider hand popping the corn yourself to make sure you keep tabs on how much is going into your food.
Popcorn can be a great help in your diet, and has a number of health benefits that can give you the energy you need to exercise, and make other changes to your life that will aid you in the process. It may not be the magic pill we all hope to see in the supermarket one day, but it is a delicious and enjoyable snack we can use as a tool to help us in our fight against fat.
Frequently Popcorn/Diet Questions
Yes, popcorn can be a healthy snack for weight loss if prepared in a healthy way, such as air-popped or with minimal oil and salt.
Popcorn is generally lower in calories compared to many other snacks, especially when not loaded with butter or heavy seasonings.
Absolutely! Popcorn can be part of a balanced diet when consumed in moderation along with a variety of nutrient-rich foods.
While popcorn is a lighter snack option, eating late at night may not be ideal for some diets. Listen to your body's hunger cues and choose a portion size that suits your dietary goals.
Yes, plain popcorn is naturally gluten-free, making it a safe option for those with gluten intolerance or celiac disease.
Flavored popcorn can be enjoyed occasionally, but be mindful of added sugars, fats, and calories. Stick to small portions as a treat.
Many pre-packaged microwave popcorns contain added fats, salt, and artificial ingredients. Opt for air-popped or homemade versions for a healthier choice.
Yes, popcorn is a whole grain and a good source of fiber, which can support digestive health and provide a feeling of fullness.
Popcorn is relatively high in carbs, so it may not be suitable for very low-carb diets. However, it can fit into a moderate-carb diet in moderation.
Remember to always consult with a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian to determine the best dietary choices for your individual needs and goals.