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Healthy Microwave Popcorn for Your Family [Review]

Looking for a healthy microwave popcorn? The search ends here. I’ve done the research for you and come up with some of the healthiest microwave popcorn on the market.

Popcorn is a delicious, gluten-free, whole grain snack. I set out to find a healthy microwave popcorn based on calories, fat and salt.

I reviewed the following 9 microwave popcorn brands:

  • Black Jewell Natural Popcorn
  • Newman’s Own Sea Salt
  • Orville Redenbacher Simply Salted
  • Angie’s Boom Chicka Pop Sea Salt Microwave Popcorn
  • Pop Secret Homestyle
  • Skinny Pop Sea Salt Microwave Popcorn
  • Act II Light Butter
  • Eliza’s Organics Organic Microwave Butter Popcorn
  • Quinn Popcorn
Popcorn -healthiest microwave popcorn

Is Microwave Popcorn a Healthy Snack?

Microwave popcorn makes cooking and serving popcorn almost effortless.

As a whole grain snack, you’d think popcorn would be a slam dunk in the healthy category. Not necessarily.

If you’re popping at home on the stove, you know you need to add oil so the kernel won’t stick to the pan.

After popping, you might add butter and salt.

Similarly, microwave popcorn brands do the same.

They include ingredients such as oil and salt, but may also contain artificial ingredients, like flavorings, and trans fats, and sodium.  

I set out to find healthiest popcorn options you can make in the microwave based on a review of 9 microwave popcorn brands from the grocery store.

Popcorn: A Healthy Snack for Kids

Did you know popcorn is a whole grain?

Kids in the US aren’t getting enough whole grains or fiber, so incorporating popcorn into your snack rotation can be a nutritious addition.

Snacks should cover your child’s appetite until the next meal and contribute some nutrition. This is why it’s a good idea to be strategic with snacks.

In the case of popcorn, it’s a good idea to add a serving of fruit or cheese to make it more filling.

Need other snack ideas? Check out my book The Smart Mom’s Guide to Healthy Snacking for inspiration.

Book cover for The Smart Mom's Guide to Healthy Snacking: How to Raise a Smart Snacker from Tot to Teen

The Healthiest Microwave Popcorn: What to Look For

Before we dig in, you need to understand what you’re looking for when selecting a healthy popcorn.

There are 5 things to which you should pay attention when you’re purchasing a microwave popcorn brand:

1. The Trans-Saturated Fat Content of Popcorn 

Check the ingredient list to see if the product contains partially hydrogenated oils.  These oils contain trans fats that raise bad cholesterol and lower good cholesterol in the blood.

The exterior packaging may claim zero grams of trans fat per serving, yet companies can claim their product is trans fat free even when it contains less than 1 gram per serving.

A serving of microwave popcorn can range from 2.5 cups to 3.5 cups.

Eating several servings of popcorn containing 0.5 grams trans fat can exceed the recommended maximum of 2 grams per day for a 2,000 calorie diet.

2. Check the Total and Saturated Fat Content 

Be sure to check the total fat and saturated fat content on the Nutrition Facts Panel.  Choose a variety that is lower in total fat and saturated fat. 

Look for light or reduced fat varieties. They can contain around 70% less fat than regular products.

3. Are There Any Artificial Ingredients in Microwave Popcorn? 

Many microwave popcorns contain artificial ingredients or flavorings

The more butter or other flavorings added to the popcorn increases the likelihood of artificial ingredients.

Check the ingredient list to be sure your choice is free of these. This is particularly important if you have a child with ADHD or food sensitivities.

4. The Popcorn’s Sodium Content  

Inspect the sodium content on the Nutrition Facts Panel. 

The lower the better. 

Do the best to find a brand that has less than 300 mg per serving.

For the purpose of this review, I compared brands using a one cup portion size.

5. What are the Serving Sizes and Calories in Microwave Popcorn?

Serving sizes of popcorn vary from product to product.  Always check the serving size and the number of servings per bag.  

Keep reading for the calorie content of the brands I reviewed.

healthiest microwave popcorn

What are the Healthiest Microwave Popcorns?  

When selecting the best microwave popcorn, I considered calories, total fat, saturated fat, and sodium.

I steered away from off-brand varieties and stuck with recognizable brands.

Some of the brands touted they were gluten-free.

Just an FYI: Popcorn is naturally gluten-free.

Nowadays, you can find just about any flavor of microwave popcorn you can think of.

I stuck to the basics and featured the plainest versions, usually just salted. The healthiest popcorn will be the one with the least amount of added salt and fat.

Scroll to the bottom for an easy homemade popcorn version.

9 Healthy Popcorn Brands

I’ve ranked the following brands from least healthy to healthiest. As you read down the list, you’ll see the bottom three or four have very subtle differences.

As with anything we eat, finding the balance (remember the 90-10 Rule!) is the secret to success!

Black Jewel Natural microwave popcorn

9. Black Jewell Natural Popcorn

This brand contained the most calories per serving, at 47 calories per cup. This was due to the fat content (1.6 gm/cup).

This microwaveable popcorn contains 0.7 gm saturated fat and 53 mg sodium per cup.

Newman's Own Sea Salt Microwave Popcorn - Healthiest Microwave Popcorn

8. Newman’s Own Sea Salt

I’ve eaten this popcorn before and it’s quite tasty. Newman says on his website, “Nobody gets trusted with popcorn — except me!” 

Of all the microwave popcorns I reviewed, this one had the most fat and saturated fat per cup.

You get 43 calories per cup, 2.6 gm fat and 1.1 gm saturated fat per cup, and 82 mg sodium.

Orville Redenbacher's Naturals Simply Salt microwave popcorn

7. Orville Redenbacher Simply Salted

A well-known name in the popcorn industry, this simple version of microwave popcorn touts 38 calories per cup with 2.4 gm of total fat and 1.1 gm of saturated fat.

It is the brand with the highest amount of sodium per cup. (Ironic, given the name of the popcorn.)

Picture of Boom Chicka Pop - Healthiest Microwave Popcorn

6. Angie’s Boom Chicka Pop Sea Salt Microwave Popcorn

A newer brand on the market, Boom Chicka Pop delivers about 35 calories per cup. You’ll get 2 gm of total fat and 50 mg sodium in each cup. 

Remember, we rarely eat just one cup of popcorn! These numbers multiple based on the amount you eat.

Allergen Alert! This brand is made in a peanut-free facility.

pop secret microwave popcorn - healthiest microwave popcorn

5. Pop Secret Homestyle

I’ve bought Pop Secret quite a few times. My kids like it, and I don’t have problems with the packaging or popcorn burning in the microwave (worst smell ever!).

This brand contains 30 calories per cup, along with 2 gm total fat and 1 gm saturated fat. You’ll get 70 gm of sodium in each cup.

Allergy Alert! This product contains milk.

skinny pop sea salt microwave popcorn

4. SkinnyPop Sea Salt Microwave Popcorn

‘Skinny’ can be a deceiving name, as it might lead you to believe there is no fat in this microwave popcorn.

There is: each cup contains about 1.5 gm of total fat (no saturated fat, though). You’ll get 30 calories and 65 mg sodium per cup.

Act II microwave popcorn - healthiest microwave popcorn

3. Act II Light Butter 

Because this is a “light” version of microwave popcorn, you can expect the calories and fat to drop significantly.

This version is half the calories of Newman’s Own or Black Jewell Natural Popcorn.

For each cup you eat, you’ll consume 22 calories, 0.5 gm total fat, a smidge of saturated fat (0.15 gm) and 65 mg sodium.

2. Eliza’s Organics Organic Microwave Butter Popcorn

I haven’t tasted this popcorn, but the nutrition facts are certainly appealing. Each cup of popped popcorn offers 25 calories, 0.5 gm of total fat (no saturated fat), and 65 mg sodium.

The ingredient list is short, too: popcorn, oil and salt.

Even though the calories from this brand are a bit higher than #3 Act II, I gave it higher ranking due to the absence of saturated fat.

Quinn Snacks - Healthiest microwave popcorn

1. Quinn Snacks Just Sea Salt

With only two ingredients, this popcorn has the lowest amount of fat and sodium of the 9 brands of microwave popcorn I reviewed.

You get 27 calories, 0.3 gm fat, no saturated fat and 53 mg sodium in each cup of popped popcorn.

DIY or Homemade Microwave Popcorn

Of course, you can skip the grocery store and be in full control over your popcorn nutrition.

How to make microwave popcorn at home:

  • Put 1/4 cup popcorn in a brown paper bag with 1 teaspoon canola oil.
  • Fold the opening over tightly, shake well, and tape the opening closed.
  • Place in microwave folded side up for 2 to 3 minutes.
  • Eat plain or add salt, melted butter, sugar, parmesan cheese or whatever else you like!

What’s your favorite popcorn and how does it measure up?

Need More Help with Feeding Kids?

I’ve got it for you! 

Check out The Nourished Child, a website for parent nutrition education. There, you will find workshops, classes and guidebooks geared towards making feeding easier for you and more healthy for your chid.

***

Disclaimer: I provided an objective and independent review of these products; no affiliations or support was obtained from any grocer or food marketer.

This post was updated from its original on January 17, 2021

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  1. Does anyone ever eat less than a full bag of microwave popcorn when they fix it? I know my family has always considered each bag to be one serving.

    My concerns about healthy microwave popcorn are to
    1) Find something salt-free or at least with less than 80 mg of sodium PER BAG.
    2) Find something containing absolutely NO artificially hydrogenated oil, and no liquid vegetable oil. Natural coconut oil with butter flavoring could work very nicely for shelf life with no need for artificial partial saturation.

    While your choices are certainly healthier than most, I don’t think any of your choices fit my criteria for healthy microwave popcorn.

    1. My family eats the whole bag too! Of course, popping kernels in a brown paper bag (in the microwave), is probably the healthiest!

  2. No quantity of transfat is safe. Any amount of transfat will enable cholesterol deposits to form in blood vessels, which does not happen in the compete absence of transfats. This article says 2 grams is an acceptable level of transfat per day, but 0.2 grams is unacceptable.

    Nearly all liquid oils are partially hydrogenated to prevent oxidation (rancidity). Artificial hydrogenation of oils is the only cause of transfats in foods. Naturally saturated fats such as butter, coconut oil, and lard don’t oxidize, because hydrogen occupies the parts of the oil molecules that are susceptible to oxidation, and in the absence of transfats, will not build up in arteries.

    However, unless liquid oils are stored in pressurized cans (such as spray olive oil), that prevents contact with air, they will oxidize. Heated oils oxidize extensively when heated. Oxidized oils cause cancer. The best way to consume oils is in the foods that naturally contain them, although dry roasted nuts will oxidize quickly unless they are stored in vacuum-sealed cans, and even then, they must be eaten within a few hours of opening.

    Some of my sources:

    Kummerow, F. A. (2009). The negative effects of hydrogenated trans fats and what to do about them. Atherosclerosis, 205(2), 458–65. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.atherosclerosis.2009.03.009

    Esmaillzadeh, A., & Azadbakht, L. (2008). Home use of vegetable oils, markers of systemic inflammation, and endothelial dysfunction among women. Am J Clin Nutr, 88(4), 913–921. Retrieved from http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/88/4/913.short

    Wirth, M. D., Burch, J., Shivappa, N., Steck, S. E., Hurley, T. G., Vena, J. E., & Hébert, J. R. (2014). Dietary inflammatory index scores differ by shift work status: NHANES 2005 to 2010. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine / American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 56(2), 145–8. https://doi.org/10.1097/JOM.0000000000000088

    Liu, J., Li, A., & Seneff, S. (2011). Automatic Drug Side Effect Discovery from Online Patient-Submitted Reviews: Focus on Statin Drugs. IMMM 2011, The First International Conference. Retrieved from http://www.thinkmind.org/index.php?view=article&articleid=immm_2011_5_10_20050

    Shivappa, N., Steck, S. E., Hurley, T. G., Hussey, J. R., & Hébert, J. R. (2014). Designing and developing a literature-derived, population-based dietary inflammatory index. Public Health Nutrition, 17(8), 1689–96. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1368980013002115

    Small, G. W. (2002). What we need to know about age related memory loss. BMJ (Clinical Research Ed.), 324(7352), 1502–5. Retrieved from http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=1123445&tool=pmcentrez&rendertype=abstract

    Reddy, D. S. (2010). Neurosteroids: Endogenous Role in the Human Brain and Therapeutic Potentials. Progress in Brain Research, 186, 113–137. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-444-53630-3.00008-7