Popcorn is a snack many of us love to have, whether it’s at home or on the move.
But if you’re following a Mediterranean diet, you might be wondering whether it’s a good snack to have and whether you should replace it with something healthier?
After all, how can something like popcorn fit in with a Mediterranean diet?
In this article, we’ll go through everything you need to know about eating popcorn on the Mediterranean diet.
Is It Healthy?
Popcorn is a type of corn which expands and puffs up when heated.
It’s also surprisingly a whole grain food, which are encouraged within the Mediterranean diet and has many of the same benefits.
Eating whole grains has been linked with several health benefits, including a reduced inflammation and heart disease (1, 2, 3, 4), reduced body fat and BMI index (5) and a lowered risk of diabetes (6).
Many are surprised at how nutrient-rich popcorn is too. The list below contains the highest concentrations of vitamins and minerals in a 100g serving of popcorn (7):
- Vitamin B1 (Thiamin): 7% of the RDI.
- Vitamin B3 (Niacin): 12% of the RDI.
- Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine): 8% of the RDI.
- Iron: 18% of the RDI.
- Magnesium: 36% of the RDI.
- Phosphorus: 36% of the RDI.
- Potassium: 9% of the RDI.
- Zinc: 21% of the RDI.
- Copper: 13% of the RDI.
- Manganese: 56% of the RDI.
Popcorn is also quite high in fiber and has a good glycemic index of 55. This means that popcorn doesn’t spike your blood sugar.
Can I Lose on the Mediterranean Diet Whilst Eating Popcorn?
Popcorn contains a lot of fiber and is a relatively low-calorie food — both of which are traits to look for when looking for foods that help with weight loss.
Increasing fiber intake can help you lose weight because it suppresses your appetite. Therefore, you are more likely to reduce your calorie intake by eating less.
There aren’t many studies that specifically look at the effects of popcorn. However, one study compared how full adults felt when eating popcorns and potato chips. They found that participants felt far fuller when eating the same amount of whole-grain popcorn compared to potato chips and ate less in subsequent meals (10).
Whole-grains are filling because they include the entire grain—unlike refined grains, which have been stripped of their fiber and nutrients.
Therefore, whole-grain popcorn is a recommended snack to eat, as you’re less likely to be tempted by sweets and fatty foods in-between meals.
However, moderation is essential. Even though it may leave you feeling full, eating too much can still cause you to gain weight.
What Type of Popcorn Should I Eat?
Air-popped, unflavored popcorn is what you look for.
This type of popcorn only has trace amounts of fat, which consist predominantly of healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
As soon as extra flavors are added to the popcorn, it becomes unhealthier and more fattening.
For example, microwave popcorn contains hydrogenated oils. These contain unhealthy trans fats, which can increase the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and strokes.
Another example is butter-topped popcorn. These can add more than 100 calories and 7g of saturated fat per serving.
Sweet or salted popcorn increases the amount of sugar and salt respectively.
If there are oils listed within the ingredients, ensure they are heart-healthy oils such as olive oil. These are actually encouraged on the Mediterranean diet and contain lots of monounsaturated fats that are good for you.
Oil higher in omega-6 fatty acids can cause inflammation. These include oils such as sunflower oil, soybean oil, corn oil and cottonseed oil.
If you’re looking to buy popcorn, a good rule of thumb is the fewer the ingredients the better. Try to stick with less than 8. Simple sugar or salt variations of popcorn will normally use fewer ingredients than flavoured popcorn.
Try adding some cinnamon, cayenne pepper or parmesan cheese instead of just a lot of salt and pepper.
If you’re looking to buy, Quinn’s Just Sea Salt and Organic Popcorn is a microwaveable popcorn that doesn’t contain any oils.
Healthy Mediterranean-Friendly Popcorn Snacks
Coconut oil, dates and almonds are combined and added to the popped kernels. The sauce is a rich blend of tastes that works with all kinds of deserts. You’ll be surprised at how dried fruit tastes very similar to caramel when made into this sauce.
Fresh rosemary, popcorn and Parmesan are combined for a savoury snack bursting with flavour. It’s packed with a surprisingly good amount of protein due to the Parmesan. If you’ve got plenty of hungry snackers around, don’t be surprised if they disappear far quicker than you expected.
The cilantro and lime create a perfect base with its light lime flavor and just a touch of saltiness. This combo will have you dreaming about a margarita and is perfect with some cayenne pepper, garlic and cumin.
The Bottom Line
Popcorn isn’t found in traditional Mediterranean diets. That doesn’t mean you can’t eat it though.
Popcorn itself is simply a whole grain, which are recommended when following a Mediterranean diet.
They contain lots of fiber, low-calorie and contain other nutrients and minerals. This makes them a great snack.
If you’re buying popcorn, go for air-popped, unflavored popcorn. Look out for popcorn with lots of ingredients that you don’t recognise the names of.
Simply eat in sensible amounts and you’ve got nothing to worry about.