Why Popcorn Is Healthier Than Potato Chips

By Ali Luke

A small study by Dr. James Rippe of the Rippe Lifestyle Institute has found that eating popcorn at the start of a meal does not increase the total intake of calories at that meal – but eating potato chips sees total calorie intake rise by 12%.

Results of the Study

The study, which is detailed on the Rippe Health website, tracked how much 35 people (ages ranging from 20-50) ate. They were divided into four groups:

  1. Water only prior to lunch
  2. One cup of popcorn prior to lunch
  3. Six cups of popcorn prior to lunch
  4. One cup of potato chips prior to lunch

Participants were allowed to eat as much of the meal (after the popcorn/crisps) as they wished.

The results showed that, in the first three groups, the total calorie intake (including the popcorn) was consistent, averaging 717 calories. But in the fourth group, the total calorie intake for the potato chips and the rest of the meal was 12% higher – an extra 86 calories.

It’s important to note that the popcorn did not reduce appetite (similar studies involving a bowl of soup prior to a meal have seen a reduction in total calorie intake), but popcorn does appear to be a better snack than potato chips in reducing hunger.

More About Popcorn

This was a very small study – and involved a commercial popcorn brand – so you may want to take the results (though not your popcorn) with a grain of salt…

It is, however, a good reminder of the benefits of popcorn as a snack option.

Plain, air-popped (not microwaved) popcorn is generally agreed to be a good alternative to other snacks like potato chips, candy or cookies. Popcorn is a wholegrain, and provides fiber. Unless you add butter or sugar, it’s also sugar and fat free.

Microwaved popcorn is unhealthier as oil is added to the popcorn so that it can be popped in the microwave.

The drawback, of course, is that few of us do eat our popcorn plain! You might like to try adding flavorings like black pepper, paprika or other spices (rather than salt).

What are your favorite snack options? Do you find that popcorn helps to fill the gap when it’s a while till your next meal?

Filed in Snacks, ,


  1. Susan

    Popcorn before a meal? Why not a nice healthy salad instead??

  2. julie

    I air-pop it, eat with soy sauce and nutritional yeast. Very yummy. High salt, but I have no blood pressure issues, and it doesn’t bother me.

  3. bethsheba

    great idea Jody! spraying the pop corn with canola oil spray would distribute the oil better and therefore (hopefully) you’d use less of it.

  4. Kellie

    I love popcorn! and plain is fine. All the flavours taste so fake and full of chemicals. ‘Butter flavour’ is usually just yellow food coloring and artificial flavouring. 🙁

    Popping your own is a fun thing to do with kids too. They love the noise and it’s better than opening a bag of chips.

  5. Jody - Fit at 51

    Lots of ways to make popcorn taste great! I like it plain too but you can spritz a tiny bit of that spray butter or canola oil enough to add any spices you want… cayenne, cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, Mrs. Dash & others have interesting no-salt seasonings or just don’t overdo on the salt…. think outside the box! It can taste good. And, I would take popcorn over potato chips but that is me!

    I love the other options people put out there for flavoring popcorn!

  6. Spectra

    I love popcorn! I snack on it several times a week. I usually make it in the air-popper and I top it with a few sprinkles of Kernel Seasonings Popcorn flavors. They’re pretty yummy and they add lots of flavor without as many calories as butter and salt.

  7. e.

    You can add things like nutritional yeast (it has a parmesean cheese flavor) to popcorn.

    Around Christmas time when my husband and I are watching lots of movies together, I make my own version of popcorn balls where you boil down maple syrup and drizzle it over popped corn for a healthier version of kettlecorn. You can also toss in dried fruits (like cranberries or cherries) and raw cacoa nibs. That is a once in awhile treat, obv, not a daily snack. But unlike chowing down on a bag of cheetos, it has some nutritional redemption.

  8. Dr. J

    There are plenty of ways to add “taste” to popcorn that are very low calorie. I eat air-popped popcorn frequently and enjoy it.

  9. insideouthealth

    sounds good in theroy but who really wants to swap potato chips for plain popcorn? it’s not really an equal swap if you remove the sugar from the popcorn!

  10. Cari from ditch diets live light

    I love plain popcorn and always have some ready to be popped which makes me wonder why I don’t often remember to make the stuff. The way I make it is a small amount of olive oil and a teaspoon of butter with a light sprinkling of salt and it’s got a great flavour. I personally don’t enjoy the ones with artificial flavours added – I find they taste synthetic.

  11. drh1966

    Unfortunately, plain popcorn is rather tasteless, almost like eating cardboard. It’s one of those snacks that are decent but needs something to make it palatable. This is where the whole thing goes south. It’s too bad because I love my popcorn. And yes, once I learned that a large movie size popcorn weighed in at 2000 calories, I gave it up. Now its a rare treat but it was a real change as the association of movies and popcorn is very strong.

  12. Trainer Shauna

    Interesting. Just don’t do this at the movies! A small popcorn WITHOUT butter at the movies packs a whopping 400 calories! Yikes.

  13. TheHealthBlogger

    Good info. – many people don’t actually know that popcorn (without the fat and sugar) is quite healthy, especially from a fibre perspective.