Is Popcorn Bad for Cholesterol?

  • Author: Sue Dorrens
  • Published: September 14, 2022
  • Time to read: 4 min.

You want to do what’s best for your health, but you also love a big bowl of popcorn. You may wonder, is popcorn bad for cholesterol?

The answer entirely depends on which type of popcorn you’re consuming. You are completely in control of your popcorn’s cholesterol level, and you can take the reins by paying attention to a few key points when selecting what type to eat.

Microwave Popcorn & Cholesterol

Since most of the cholesterol content of popcorn comes from toppings, microwave popcorn is the worst culprit. Thanks to a lot of butter, and artificial oils, these toppings are typically the definition of ‘bad fats.’

When you want to avoid high cholesterol, look for labels claiming to have less butter or less fat. Even better, look for those seasoned with a high-quality oil such as olive oil instead of low-quality vegetable oil such as canola.

And what to avoid?

Steer clear of movie theater-style popcorn, those with extra butter, and especially those containing fake butter substitutes.

Air-Popped Popcorn & Cholesterol

Air-popped popcorn is made without oil or butter, so it has a negligible effect on your cholesterol. That said, if you smother it in butter, that defeats the benefit. Keep the toppings light on cholesterol, and you’ll be all set.

Does air-popping make that big of a difference?

It does!

Here is a comparison to illustrate the difference:

  • Air-popped popcorn: 0g
  • Buttered air-popped popcorn: 9g

Especially if you partake in a popcorn snack often – like, once a week or more – that extra nine grams of cholesterol can build up and make a difference to your health.

Is Fiber Good for Cholesterol?

High fiber intake is associated with better levels of cholesterol in general. Thankfully, popcorn is a high-fiber food, so consuming it as a snack can be a healthy, low-cholesterol choice.

The key to making this work for you?

Take a few extra minutes to pop it yourself at home, where you can control the type and amount of fat used when cooking (and when it’s finished). This approach will be far better for your health than any microwave popcorn product you can buy.

More High-Fiber Choices

Fiber – especially soluble fiber – reduces the amount of LDL cholesterol (the “bad” kind) in your body. It can also reduce cholesterol absorption into your bloodstream, making it an essential nutrient if you watch your cholesterol. Aim for 10g or more per day to maximize these benefits.

Here are some delicious options high in soluble fiber:

  • Oatmeal
  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Kidney beans
  • Brussels sprouts
cholesterol

How to Optimize Popcorn for Less Cholesterol

Popcorn is whole grain and cholesterol-free, so you have much control if you want a low-cholesterol snack: pay attention to the seasonings.

The most important thing to pay attention to is?

The fat.

Not all fat is created equal, so you don’t necessarily need to look for ‘low fat,’ ‘reduced fat,’ or ‘50% less fat’ versions of microwave popcorn (if you’re not making it yourself).

Look at the ingredient lists of the popcorn you’re considering buying. Choose something with a healthy fat such as olive oil, avocado oil, or coconut oil. These fats can increase your HDL cholesterol (the “good” kind) instead of your LDL cholesterol (the “bad” kind).

Avoid butter and processed oils such as canola, safflower, and vegetable. These are the ones that can increase your LDL levels. Especially avoid anything made with partially hydrogenated oils. These are the worst for your cholesterol (and your health overall).

Snacks to Eat with Popcorn for Low Cholesterol

There are so many great snack options to keep your cholesterol low. Munching on these and some occasional popcorn will provide a well-rounded diet that’s still ripe with delicious snacks.

Here are some things to look for when choosing a low cholesterol snack:

  • What type of fat does it contain? Avoid saturated and trans fats, and look for unsaturated fats instead.
  • Are they made with natural food ingredients? Vegetables and fruits – even processed versions – are always better options than artificial ingredients.
  • Read the nutrition facts label. How much sodium, cholesterol, alcohol, and fat does this food contain? Keep these ingredients as low as possible.
  • How much fiber is there? Foods with high levels of soluble fiber are especially good for cholesterol levels.

Think outside the box. Less common snacks that contain ingredients such as fish are high in omega-3 and omega-6 fats, which are great for heart health.

And here are some snack ideas to start with:

  • Avocado toast
  • Roasted chickpeas
  • Edamame (raw or cooked)
  • Oatmeal (overnight oats, warm oatmeal, or even energy bites)
  • Tuna or salmon salad
  • Anchovies
  • Guacamole & veggies
  • Apples & nut butter (almond, walnut & peanut are the best)
  • Bagged, pre-made popcorn
  • Hummus & veggies
  • Flax seed crackers
  • Black bean chips
  • Trail mix

These are just a few examples, and it’s hardly an exhaustive list. There are loads of delicious, low-cholesterol snacks out there.

Popcorn isn’t necessarily bad for your cholesterol. The toppings and fats used when making popcorn could be bad for your cholesterol.

Choose a pre-made or microwave version made with healthy fats instead of drenched in butter, or pop it yourself at home to optimize your snack for low cholesterol levels.

You can also choose some other low-cholesterol snacks to accompany the popcorn in your diet to keep those levels low without sacrificing the pleasure of snacking.

Sources

https://www.livestrong.com/article/443084-how-to-cook-popcorn-without-oil/
https://www.fatsecret.com/calories-nutrition/food/popcorn/cholesterol?frc=True
https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/low-cholesterol-snacks#how-we-chose
https://intermountainhealthcare.org/blogs/topics/live-well/2019/01/5-snacks-to-help-battle-high-cholesterol/
https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-cholesterol/in-depth/cholesterol/art-20045192#:~:text=Soluble%20fiber%20can%20reduce%20the,to%204%20grams%20of%20fiber.

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