The nutritional value of popcorn depends on the type of popcorn, how people prepare it, and what they choose to top it with. Generally speaking, popcorn is high in fiber and contains trace amounts of a number of important nutrients. Plain popcorn can be a nutritious snack and may be part of a restricted diet, as it allows people to fill up while getting some nutrition and avoiding nutritional perils like high concentrations of sugars and fats.
A number of corn varietals can be used to make popcorn, and they all have slightly different nutritional values. The conditions the corn is grown in can also play a role. The packaging should provide precise nutritional information, but the popcorn will usually contain significant dietary fiber along with some folate, zinc, copper, manganese, iron, riboflavin, and thiamine. Some corn may have higher levels of these minerals than others.
Air popping popcorn preserves the nutritional value of popcorn, as people just expose it to heat to force the kernels to explode. When people use oil, it adds fat to each serving. The amount of fat varies depending on the kind of oil and how much people use in the pan. The nutritional information on the oil packaging should show how it will affect the nutritional value of popcorn. In the case of packaged popcorn for microwave or stove-top preparation, the packaging should disclose the fat content and note whether it contains any transfats.
Toppings also play a key role in the nutritional value of popcorn. Toppings will add calories from a variety of sources and can also contribute vitamins and minerals. Common toppings include butter, cheese, salt, and nutritional yeast. People with concerns about calories can check the packaging for the toppings to see how many calories they add and to determine if they add any vitamins, minerals, or fiber to each serving of popcorn.
When assessing the nutritional value of popcorn, it is important to take note of how the packaging measures a serving. Popcorn can be measured by weight or volume, and it is easy to get a serving size wrong. The packaging should indicate the serving size used to measure nutritional values and should also indicate how many calories it is using as a baseline for daily recommendations. This may vary from 1,500 to 2,500; a claim like “5% of daily value” is useless without knowing how much the company thinks a “daily value” is when it determines nutrition information.