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Happy Spring! As the primary chorister for our Ward, last week I asked the children to name their favorite snack   They cheerfully called out “Grapes!”  “French Fries!” “Chips!”  “Carrots!”  “Apples!” ”Cookies!”

Then I asked them to identify Heavenly Father’s favorite snack.   That led to some adorable perplexed faces.  The answer?  Based on a Primary song we all love and sing year-round, but is really meant for spring, the answer of course, in my humble opinion, is POPCORN!  I had hot-glued some popcorn onto some bare tree branches, so we all laughed and sang as several children waved the popcorn branches around.

“I looked out the window and what did I see –Popcorn popping on the apricot tree!

Spring had brought me such a nice surprise — Popcorn popping right before my eyes!”

We agreed that He must love popcorn because there are reminders of it are everywhere in the spring!  It literally grows on the trees and comes in fancy colored varieties as well.  Oh, popcorn.  Who doesn’t love it?  For a bit of trivia, October is actually National Popcorn Popping Month because that’s when it is harvested, and Americans eat some 13 billion quarts of it each year!  It even has its own National Association and you can read up at www.popcorn.org.

The truth is, popcorn can be one of the most unhealthy snacks, or the absolute healthiest of snacks.  Too bad we can’t eat it off the trees, as we do an apple, so it would be 100% healthy.  Popcorn, however, is a grain (fresh corn is a vegetable), like wheat or rice.

Sad Fact: The countdown on movie theatre popcorn (even the stuff that you buy and microwave at home) can be shocking.  A small popcorn, even without butter, from AMC movie theatres weighs in at 225 calories and 11 grams of fat. Crank it up to a medium and you’re up to about 430 calories and 20 grams of fat. A large AMC popcorn, without butter, contains 1,030 calories and 41 grams of fat.

Happy Fact: You can still have your popcorn, and eat it too!  It’s very possible to please both your need to snack and your tastebuds too.  I have a feeling that this is what Heavenly Father has in mind for his very special snack-lovin’ children of all ages.

As a whole food plant based eater, I’m a big fan of Dr. John McDougall, (www.drmcdougall.com) a medical doctor whose whole food plant based approach has revolutionized the health of thousands.  He emphasizes that eating hole grains in their least processed form is foundational for health.  The good news is that popcorn is, I repeat, one of these powerful whole grains!  It has many health benefits that you may have never even heard of!  The trick is in how you cook and flavor it. 

Organicfacts.net, a website containing information and ideas for organic living, has a dandy report on popcorn and how it blesses our overall health:

Popcorn can regulate blood sugar, lower cholesterol levels, improve the digestive process, protect against osteoporosis, prevent cancer, inhibit cognitive decline, prevent premature aging, and help you lose weight.

Popcorn is quite simply, a type of corn that has a hard endosperm, hull, or shell, containing a starchy interior. When this popping corn is heated, the pressure inside the hull increases and eventually a POP! occurs. There are a number of varieties of popcorn, including types that are meant to be cooked in a microwave, as well as other unaltered kernels that can be made in small appliances specifically made for popping corn.

Historically, there is evidence that popcorn has been enjoyed by cultures for more than 6,000 years, since corn (maize) has been an important part of many cultural diets in ancient times. Simple heating of that plant product over a fire would have created the very first popcorn, what a pleasant surprise! The earlier archaeological discoveries of popcorn were in Peru, but New Mexico and Central America also showed remnants of popcorn creation approximately 5,000 years ago. Popcorn can even come in different colors, if different color corn kernels are used.

Popcorn is enjoyed around the world, in nearly every place where normal corn is consumed. However, its limit as a healthy food ends when you begin pouring salt, butter, or other flavorings or toppings on the popcorn, and then it moves into the realm of unhealthy junk food. However, if popped corn is eaten plain, or with some simple seasonings to enhance its flavor, it is both a delicious and beneficial snack for many people. Heat alone is enough to create popcorn, so avoid cooking with olive oil or other vegetable oils, since it can impact the polyphenolic content of the hull once it “pops”, which removes a lot of the healthy benefits.

Nutritional Value of Popcorn

The health benefits of popcorn are mainly derived from its impressive content of fiber, polyphenolic compounds, antioxidant, vitamin B complex, manganese, and magnesium content. Let’s explore how these important nutrients make popcorn a healthy choice for your snacking habits!

Health Benefits of Popcorn

Digestion: It is important to realize that popcorn is a whole grain, which is a designation for grains that contain the endosperm, germ, and bran. This is similar to whole grain cereals, rice, and breads that also contain all three of these vital parts. Since popcorn is a natural whole grain, it contains all of the fiber from the bran, not to mention the minerals, B complex vitamins, and vitamin E that is stored there. In terms of digestion, the high fiber content keeps your body “regular”, meaning that your bowel movements move smoothly and quickly through your digestive tract and conditions like constipation are avoided. Fiber stimulates peristaltic motion of the smooth intestinal muscles and induces the secretion of digestive juices, both of which help keep your entire digestive system healthy.

Cholesterol Levels: Fiber functions in another beneficial way within the body, and whole grains contain the type of fiber which can strip off excess cholesterol from the walls of blood vessels and arteries, thereby reducing your overall cholesterol levels, and lowering your chances of dangerous cardiovascular conditions like atherosclerosis, heart attacks, and strokes.  This also reduces the strain on the cardiac system, since the heart doesn’t need to work so hard to move blood through clogged vessels and arteries.

Blood Sugar: The third vital role of fiber is its impact on blood sugar within the body. When the body has ample amounts of fiber, it regulates the release and management of blood sugar and insulin levels better than people with low levels of fiber. Reducing these fluctuations in blood sugar is a major bonus for diabetic patients, so popcorn is always a recommendation if you suffer from that difficult disease.

Cancer Prevention: Researchers in recent years have been shocked to find an amazingly large amount of antioxidant capacity within popcorn. It used to be considered a relatively unhealthy junk food, but it now appears that the hull of popcorn contains large amounts of polyphenolic compounds, one of the more powerful types of antioxidants that you can put in your body. In fact, research has even shown that popcorn consumption can do more for the antioxidant potential in your body that a daily dose of fruits and vegetables! Antioxidants are the powerful defensive agents that scavenge and eliminate free radicals, those byproducts of cellular metabolism that are associated with a variety of diseases in the body, particularly cancer. Free radicals are notorious for mutating healthy cellular DNA into cancerous cells, which is a big problem. Popcorn can seriously help reduce those risks.

Anti-Aging: Free radicals do a lot more damage than cancer; they have been closely linked to of age-related symptoms like wrinkles, age spots, macular degeneration and blindness, muscle weakness, cognitive decline, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, hair loss, and a wide variety of other things we generally don’t look forward to as we age. Popcorn can keep you feeling healthy and happy well into your old age thanks to the powerful antioxidants that combat these effects of free radicals.

Fun Recipes and Cooking Tips!  Ok, that is all well and good. But many (including me) agree that air-popped popcorn is about as interesting as eating cardboard. Here are some great ways to perk it up!

How To Make Air Popped Popcorn:  You can buy an air popper, and they work just great.  You can also buy a package of regular popping corn kernels at the grocery store. Put ½ cup or so in a brown paper lunch bag and place in the microwave.  Cook on high for 2-3 minutes, listening until the popping has stopped.

Spices and Herbs!  Taco Popcorn!  Cinnamon and More!

Sprinkling some dry spices on your popcorn instantly gives it a flavor boost, and there’s a wide variety of combinations to use.  The best way to do it with air popped popcorn is to put in a large bag while it’s still hot and shake it up.

One of my newsletter readers at www.MyMiracleTea.com suggests Ranch Dressing seasoning and Taco seasoning from a packet for popcorn!  Her grandchildren crave her taco popcorn! Doesn’t that sound yummy???

Cayenne pepper and paprika make a simple pairing that will awaken your taste buds with pleasant spice. Herbs such as ground sage or thyme make the popcorn taste earthy. Premixed blends such as lemon pepper, Italian herb blends and steak seasonings give popcorn a kick, too. Experiment by tossing a handful of popcorn with some seasonings to see if you like it. For sweeter popcorn, add ground cinnamon and nutmeg.

Add Some Citrus and Vitamin C!

Freshly squeezed citrus juice gives popcorn an eye-opening boost. Lemon, lime and orange work well, and so does grapefruit if you’re feeling adventurous. Citrus zest intensifies the flavor, but use it sparingly since it can make the popcorn bitter. To keep from making your popcorn soggy, drizzle the juice on in small increments while tossing the popcorn for even distribution. Alternately, toss citrus slices with the popcorn for an interesting presentation and a more subtle flavor.

Add Some Trail Mix!

Adding trail mix ingredients to popcorn introduces a variety of flavors and can make your snack healthier. Peanuts, slivered almonds, carob pieces, soy nuts, dehydrated vegetables or dried, unsweetened fruit are good options. Keep in mind that trail mix ingredients do increase the calorie content, so use them sparingly. An ounce of trail mix with chocolate chips, unsalted nuts and seeds has 137 calories and 9 grams of heart-healthy fats. Grab just one or two pieces of the trail mix ingredients with every handful of popcorn for added flavor.

I don’t know about you, but I’m headed to the kitchen to pop up a bag of delicious healthy popcorn right now!  It’s fun to eat and sweet to know that you and Heavenly Father have one more very special thing in common!

Carolyn Allen is the Author of 60 Seconds to Weight Loss Success, One Minute Inspirations to Change Your Thinking, Your Weight and Your Life, available HERE.

She has been providing mental and spiritual approaches for weight loss success both online and in the Washington, DC community since 1999 presenting for Weight Watchers, First Class, Fairfax County Adult Education and other community groups. She and her husband Bob are the parents of five children and grandparents of ten. They are now happy empty nesters in Jackson Tennessee, close to Memphis where they center their online business, a very helpful herbal detox in keeping with the Word of Wisdom.