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Low-fat popcorn is a snack food made from popped corn kernels and contains very little, if any, fat. In order to be considered low in fat, popcorn must generally have less than three grams of fat per serving and less than one gram of saturated fat. The unpopped corn kernels themselves are naturally low in fat. Typically, fat and calories come from the way in which popcorn is prepared.
It is believed that Native Americans developed methods of popping corn many, many years ago, and the food was introduced to Europe sometime in the 1500s. The hull of a raw corn kernel is very hard and moisture proof, while the inside is soft and starchy. When intense heat is applied to the kernel, the interior pressure increases until the hull bursts, resulting in what most people recognize as popcorn.
Corn by itself is a naturally low-fat, high-fiber food. Most of the fat content in popcorn comes from the method of heating the kernels and the flavorings used after they are popped. For instance, before the invention of the microwave, many people prepared popcorn by cooking the kernels in oil. With the hot oil method, when the kernels pop, they tend to absorb some of the oil. This increases the fat content of popcorn.
On the other hand, individuals can also pop corn using a dry heat method, such as hot air or roasting. These methods add no additional oil and result in natural, low-fat popcorn. Unfortunately, people often find the taste of air-popped or roasted popcorn to be rather bland. Consequently, toppings are often added to enhance the flavor. Butter is a favorite, but while it might taste great, it adds a lot of fat.
Popcorn is also available in convenient microwave pouches. Many microwave varieties of popcorn are low in fat. Generally, these types of low-fat popcorn are also low in calories, usually having anywhere from 15 to 35 calories per one-cup serving (about 15 grams). Manufacturers often enhance the taste of low-fat popcorn by using high amounts of salt and a host of natural and artificial flavors. Quite a few companies make low-fat, microwave popcorn in several varieties, including natural, butter, and kettle style, and the fat content can range anywhere from zero to three grams per serving.
Some individuals prefer to make their own low-fat popcorn. To do so, they generally use an oil-free method to pop the corn, or they use unflavored, low-fat microwave popcorn. After popping, various toppings can be added to the kernels, such as powdered cheese, cinnamon sugar, or garlic herb. These toppings usually add very little, if any, fat or calories but give the snack an extra boost of flavor.
Unfortunately, some consumers believe that all popcorn is low in fat when this is not the case. For instance, prepackaged popcorn or tubs purchased at movie theaters or sporting events are notoriously high in fat and calories. This is because, many times, they are prepared using large quantities of coconut oil, palm oil, or butter, each of which adds fat and calories to an otherwise healthy snack. In fact, a small bag of movie-theater popcorn can have as many calories and as much fat as an order of fast-food fries. When prepared properly, though, low-fat popcorn can be a delicious, nutritious alternative to other high-calorie snacks.