Is popcorn fattening or good for weight loss?

Popcorn is a delicious snack that is enjoyed by both adults and children. It is made by heating a special type of corn, which has kernels that are smaller and harder than other types of corn.

They contain water in them, and when heated, the water turns into steam. The steam builds pressure, causing the kernels to explode inside out, leaving behind the white fluffy food we are all familiar with.

Nutritional information

1 cup of air popped popcorn contains:

Calories 31
Fat 0
Cholesterol 0
Sodium 1 mg
Carbohydrates 6 g
Fiber 1 g
Sugar 0 g
Protein 1 g

The first thing you will notice is that a cup of air popped popcorn only has 31 calories. Calories give you an indication of how much energy a particular food provides.

Foods that have a lot of fat tend to be high in calories, whereas those that have a lot of water tend to be low in calories. For example, 100 g of chia seeds, which have a lot of fat, contain 486 calories. 100 g of Swiss chard on the other hand, which is made up of more than 90% water, has only 19 calories.

Calories are important to consider when it comes to weight loss. The most basic formula for weight management is calories in – calories out. ‘Calories in’ equates to the number of calories you ingest from food. ‘Calories out’ equates to the number of calories you use up during the day and whilst you exercise.

If you consume fewer calories than you use, you will lose weight. This is because your body will use its stores of fat as a source of energy. However, the opposite is true as well; if you consume more calories than what your body requires, you will end up gaining weight, because your body will store the excess calories as fat.

The number of calories that needs to be consumed can vary greatly from person to person. Calorie intake depends on a various factors, namely gender, age, weight, height and activity levels. You can use the tool below to determine how many calories you should be consuming, depending on your goals.

Gender Age Weight Switch to lbs Height Switch to feet and inches Activity Level

This calculator will never show a number below 1000 calories per day. Please speak to a qualified health professional before attempting to eat less than that.

For example, a 25 year old lady who weighs 80 kg, is 155 cm tall and exercises twice a week will need to consume approximately 2000 calories to maintain her weight, 1600 calories to lose weight and 1200 calories to lose weight fast.

The thing to note here is that popcorn is very low in calories. If the lady in the example above were to eat two cups of popcorn daily on a 1600 calorie diet, it would only contribute to about 4% of total calories.

This makes it a great snack to have, compared to potato chips. This study investigated short term satiety from low fat popcorn and potato chips. The results showed that participants felt less hungry and more satisfied when they ate 6 cups of popcorn compared to one cup of potato chips, even though they consumed 50 fewer calories.

What else makes popcorn good for weight management?

Dietary fiber content

Fiber is important for your overall health. It has been shown to reduce cholesterol levels, helps control blood sugar and keeps you regular. Fiber is also important when it comes to weight loss because it makes you feel full faster, so you are less likely to overeat.

A study was carried out on 240 volunteers who all had metabolic syndrome. Half were asked to follow the diet recommended by the American Heart Association (AHA), which involved them eating more fruits, vegetables, fish and lean protein, whilst cutting back on salt, sugar, fat and alcohol. The second group was asked to simply eat 30 g or more fiber per day.

Both groups ended up losing weight, with the AHA group losing more weight than the fiber group. The results show that making a simple change and increasing fiber intake can lead to weight loss (of course, you still need to manage overall calorie intake well).

Another study found that over a 12 year period, women with the greatest increase in intake of dietary fiber gained 1.52 kg less on average, than those with the smallest increase in intake.

Corn contains the most fiber out of all vegetables, and popcorn contains 1 g of fiber per cup, which helps increase your overall daily intake.

Protein content

Protein is also important when it comes to weight management. Similar to fiber, protein helps you feel full faster, causing you to eat less. Using our healthy food finder tool, you can see that weight for weight, corn is the most protein rich vegetable and contains more than twice the amount of protein that kale does.

Protein consumption also helps boost your metabolism and build muscle mass, both of which burn more calories. Granted, popcorn is by no means the best source of protein, there are far better options out there. But it does contain 1 g per cup, which is more than what many other snacks contain.

Can popcorn be fattening?

Any food, if eaten in abundance can make you fat. This is simply because the more you eat, the more calories you ingest. But you would have to eat a very large amount of air popped popcorn in order to gain weight.

However, keep in mind that we are talking about plain old air popped popcorn here. There are other versions such as those made using butter and oil, or topped with cheese that have many more calories.

Sweet versions of popcorn have added sugar, and when it comes to weight management, excess sugar is the enemy. It leads to spikes and drops in insulin, which can leave you feeling hungry.

You should stick to plain air popped popcorn whenever possible and always check nutrition labels if you eat any other kind.


Popcorn is a healthy snack that can help your weight loss efforts. Your best option is to opt for air popped popcorn, with very little added butter, toppings or salt. To lose weight effectively, be sure to have a healthy balanced diet and exercise on a regular basis.

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