Original publish date November 2011 | Updated July 1, 2019
Popcorn is a delicious, gluten-free, whole grain snack. I set out to review 9 microwave popcorn brands and ranked them on calories, fat and salt.
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. 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, trans fats, and sodium.
I set out to find the healthiest microwave popcorn based on a review of 9 microwave popcorn brands in the grocery store.
What to Look For in a Microwave Popcorn
Before we dig in, you need to understand what you’re looking for in a healthy popcorn.
There are 5 things to which you should pay attention to when you are purchasing microwave popcorn:
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 if 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 a food containing 0.5 grams trans fat can exceed the recommended maximum of 2 grams per day for a 2,000 calorie diet.
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.
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.
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.
Popcorn Serving Size
Serving sizes of popcorn vary from product to product. Always check the serving size and the number of servings per bag.
Finding the Healthiest Microwave Popcorn
When selecting the best healthy microwave popcorn, I considered calories, total fat, saturated fat, and sodium. I steered away from off-brand varieties and stuck with recognizable popcorn brands.
Some of the brands touted they were gluten-free; popcorn is naturally gluten-free.
Nowadays, you can find just about any flavor of microwaved popcorn you can think of. I stuck to the basics and featured the plainest versions, usually just salted.
I’ve ranked these from least healthy to healthiest. As you read down the list, you’ll see the bottom three or four have very subtle differences.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
And…the Healthiest Microwave Popcorn Is…
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.
You get 27 calories, 0.3 gm fat, no saturated fat and 53 mg sodium in each cup of popped popcorn.
Another Option: DIY Microwave Popcorn
Of course, you can skip the grocery store and be in full control over your popcorn nutrition.
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 Healthy Snack Ideas?
I’ve got it for you!
My Healthy Snack Planner for Kids not only helps you target healthy foods and satisfying nutrients, I also give you a ton of snack idea combos to try with your kids.
Disclaimer: I provided an objective and independent review of these products; no affiliations or support was obtained from any grocer or food marketer.
Written by: Jill Castle, MS, RDN
Published on: July 1, 2019
Updated on: July 1, 2019