Popcorn! If there's any snack food that has a split personality, this is it.
Healthy, low-fat, low-calorie source of dietary fiber? Or artery clogging, sodium slathered tub o' fat?
All depends on how you pop and top it.
If you use an air popper or microwave naked kernels in a brown paper lunch bag with minimal or no oil, two cups of white popcorn have about 65 calories and 3.5 grams of fiber. If you pop popcorn in a pot on the stove with a olive, grapeseed or coconut oil, a two-cup serving is 110 calories.
Consumer watchdogs have long lambasted the buttery salted tubs of popcorn served in many movie theaters citing excessive sodium, saturated fat and trans fat (which can lead to clogged arteries) and monster portion sizes. Large movie popcorn vats can hold up to 1,030 calories – not including the ladleful of extra butter flavor that pours on 130 to 500 additional calories.
Commercial pouches of microwave popcorn often contain trans fat and dozens of added chemicals, including some that leach from the packaging when it's heated. One of the additives, diacetyl, can cause severe respiratory disease if you breath in the vapors when the bag is first opened. So definitely don't inhale!
When it comes to popcorn, the healthiest choice is to make your own at home. Bonus: It's quick and only pennies a serving!
For a boost of flavor and protein, sprinkle with nutritional yeast a deactivated yeast, often a strain of Saccharomyces cerevisiae, sold as yellow flakes or powder. It's a source of complete protein, low in fat and sodium and free of sugar, dairy and gluten. Filled with B-complex vitamins, some brands of nutritional yeast are fortified with vitamin B12.
Also known as "nooch," nutritional yeast does not sound yummy, but it is—adding a musky, umami, cheese-like flavor to popcorn or whatever else you put it in.
Other terrific popcorn toppings: soy sauce, miso, smoked paprika and parsley, cumin, hot sauce, furikake (with seaweed and shaved bonito flakes), lemongrass, chili, lime zest. Check out this popcorn topping slideshow on Serious Eats and go wild!
And when you visit Wellbody Academy's Cafedium, be sure to stop by Professor Rosemary Baker's desk to peek at her recipes and cookbook.