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Is Popcorn Healthy? 5 Ways to Keep Popcorn Healthy

Is Popcorn Healthy? 5 Ways to Keep Popcorn Healthy

Cinema goers know all about the legendary kernel, which when heated forms into fluffy popcorn for a tasty, readily consumable snack. Without the familiar smell as you walk into your local cinema, the whole experience just wouldn’t be the same. Although it has evolved over the years into a modern luxury, popcorn is actually an ancient dish. Archaeologists and scientists from the Natural History Museum in Washington have discovered evidence maize had been domesticated 9000 years ago in Mexico, and that it was being popped 7000 years ago in Peru.

These days, when you scan the shelves of a supermarket, you will be confronted with an impressive selection; butter, toffee, salt, and sweetened flavours are all mass produced and readily available. The phenomenon is mirroring what happened to crisps around a decade ago, when the salty snack became chunky, exotic, and gentrified. The public never looked back, and gained a lot of weight as a result. With popcorn now a mass produced commodity there are some unpleasant health effects unwary shoppers may have missed. Popcorn is, however, a very healthy snack, and to exploit this all you need are the facts. This handy five step guide will help you pop those kernels the right way.

1. Popcorn may be healthier than fruit and vegetables.

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    Is popcorn healthy? The answer, not including commercially distributed popcorn, is almost certainly a “YES!” In its purest sense popcorn is very close to nature; if it’s dry popped in hot air there are no oils, fats or sugars added to it – what you eat is simply the inside of the kernel after a little physical manipulation. And the facts speak for themselves: a single portion of popcorn contains more antioxidants than all the fruit and veg most people eat in a day, as noted in a study by Scranton University. Antioxidants keep molecules harmful to cells in check, and are present in many fresh fruits and vegetables. Popcorn also has a large amount of vitamins; folate, niacin, riboflavin, thiamine, vitamins B, A, E, and K, as well as being a source of iron, potassium, zinc, and polyphenols which contain the antioxidants to fight off cancers and cardiovascular health problems.

    To add to this, after a search on Calorie Count, a single cup (25 g) of air-popped corn has a mere 31 calories, with 0.3 g of fats (0.03 g saturated, 0.16 g polyunsaturated, 0.1 g monounsaturated). Popped in oil, however, the values above can roughly be tripled, but compared to a pack of salted sunflower-oil-fried crisps, popcorn’s attraction suddenly becomes apparent: for the same portion size, crisps weigh in at 128 calories, with a whopping 8.2 g of fat (0.6 g saturated, 0.7 g polyunsaturated, 6.5 g monounsaturated). This is around 13% of your total recommended fat intake in one standard pack. Popcorn, clearly, is the better option

    2. Stick with wholegrain kernels and steer clear of microwaveable varieties.

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      Some modern brands are resorting to the traditional method of popcorn making, minus additives, leaving you to enjoy a healthy snack. It’s worth chasing down some of these brands. In the UK companies such as Graze and Proper Corn are offering “gourmet” popcorn in all its health giving glory, with flavours such as black pepper, and fiery worcester sauce and sun dried tomato making up a low carb, low calorie, low sugar and salt snack. These firms tend to use whole grain kernels in order to offer the maximum health benefits; whole grains use the full health properties, consisting of the bran, germ, and endosperm. These are packed full of healthy oils, vitamin E, B vitamins, and the bran’s also a great source of fibre.

      Unfortunately there are many commercial popcorn brands with mass produced, chemically overloaded varieties, with one of the main culprits being microwave popcorn. As a convenient, enjoyable snack this is a glorious modern day luxury but, sadly, these often tend to be crammed full of unpleasant toxins. Whilst your microwaved Butter Popcorn may taste exactly like butter, the truth is it simply isn’t – the pleasant buttery taste is supplied by diacetyl. To add to the chemical woes, the American Food and Drug Administration has been studying the effects of heating the plastics coating the insides of the microwaveable packets. Although the risk to the general public is considered slight, these chemicals stay in the body for a long time and can accumulate, causing various complications. The Environmental Work Group (EWG) add to this with alarming news; “It’s no secret that diacetyl, the chemical that gives butter-flavored microwave popcorn it’s buttery-ness, has caused serious and sometimes fatal lung disease in workers in flavoring and popcorn factories.” Due to this some top brands of microwave popcorn, such as Pop Weaver, announced they would stop using diacetyl in 2009. However, to be on the safe side you should find genuine popcorn makers who rely on traditional, healthy practices. You could even take this a step further with our next step!

      3. Cook popcorn at home for a nutritious, cheap snack.

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        We take popcorn so much for granted we might not stop to think about what a natural marvel it is. The process is aptly named because it really is popping like an overinflated balloon, the only difference being that instead of air it’s superheated, pressurised steam causing the hull to pop. Because the hull doesn’t allow water in or out, when the small amounts of moisture inside it become extremely hot, they expand and squeeze amid the natural oils and starches. Then when the pressure is high enough compared to the pressure outside, the kernel lets go and the gelatinous mixture inside blows out into the familiar shape and rapidly cools and sets – all in the blink of an eye. With so much energy in the process, it’s remarkable the kernel doesn’t disintegrate upon popping, but the chemical structures of the inner starches just about keep it together. For a detailed scientific analysis you can head here.

        It’s such a wonderful, fun process there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy cooking popcorn in your home. This will help eliminate any added nasties from the end result, and you can monitor how much sugar or salt you add. All you need to do is head to a nearby health store and pick up a bag of organic kernels – you can experiment with flavours and oils, but a stove, pan, and a cover to set off the popcorn is all that is required. You can buy a 500g bag of organic popcorn kernels for around £5 ($6 or $7) making it an excellent choice for family snacks.

        4. It’s a good dieting food.

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          Hunger pangs are a nuisance if you’re trying to lose weight, or just attempting to lead a healthy lifestyle. Popcorn, in its light, filing form, is one way to banish those annoying pangs and receive a health boost whilst you’re at it. There is a new fangled Popcorn Dietyou can consider, although we recommend you steer clear of a diet focusing of one ingredient. Humans need a wide variety of foods to remain healthy, and popcorn can act as a contributor to this overall health.

          As a dieting tool popcorn has plenty to offer, not least its ability to fend off hunger pangs. This is, in part, due to its glycemic index (GI). The United States Department of Agriculture has highlighted popcorn’s good GI, a term which describes blood sugar levels after food containing carbohydrates has been consumed. Foods with a low GI are desirable as they won’t spike your blood sugar and will leave you feeling fuller for longer. With a GI of 55 (which compares to two slices of white bread at a GI of 88) it is clear consuming popcorn in small portions is an excellent way to manage your weight, or to fend off those pesky hunger pangs. However, do remember moderation is important and overindulgence should be curbed. With this in mind popcorn can, and should, be enjoyed in sensible portions as part of a varied and balanced diet.

          5. Popcorn is likely to make you more popular!

            As a positive social tool popcorn making should not be underestimated. Whilst it’s a simple process to make popcorn (refer to point 3 for more details) it is likely most people simply don’t know how to, or would revert to local stores for their supply. I would argue, however, becoming a popcorn making specialist would wow your friends and family at social events. Personalising recipes and impressing your nearest and dearest with your kernel popping skills could have all manner of benefits; it’s a good conversation point, makes you appear very skilled, and as feel-good-factors go the positive feedback would certainly be an excellent self-confidence boost! All in the name of popcorn.

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            Alex Morris

            Content Manager, Copywriter, & Blogger

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            Published on November 14, 2018

            Why You Suffer from Constant Fatigue and How to Deal with It

            Why You Suffer from Constant Fatigue and How to Deal with It

            With our busy, always on lives, it seems that more and more of us are facing constant tiredness and fatigue on a regular basis.

            For many people, they just take this in their stride as part of modern life, but for others the impact can be crippling and can have a serious effect on their sense of wellbeing, health and productivity.

            In this article, I’ll share some of the most common causes of constant tiredness and fatigue and give you some guidance and action steps you can take to overcome some of the symptoms of fatigue.

            Why Am I Feeling Fatigued?

            Fatigue is extreme tiredness resulting from mental or physical exertion or illness.  It is a reduction in the efficiency of a muscle or organ after prolonged activity.[1]

            It can affect anyone, and most adults will experience fatigue at some point in their life. 

            For many people, fatigue is caused by a combination of lifestyle, social, psychological and general wellbeing issues rather than an underlying medical condition.

            Although fatigue is sometimes described as tiredness, it is different to just feeling tired or sleepy. Everyone feels tired at some point, but this is usually resolved with a nap or a few nights of good sleep. Someone who is sleepy may also feel temporarily refreshed after exercising. If you are getting enough sleep, good nutrition and exercising regularly but still find it hard to perform, concentrate or be motivated at your normal levels, you may be experiencing a level of fatigue that needs further investigation. 

            Symptoms of Fatigue

            Fatigue can cause a vast range of physical, mental and emotional symptoms including:

            • chronic tiredness, exhaustion or sleepiness
            • mental blocks
            • lack of motivation
            • headache
            • dizziness
            • muscle weakness
            • slowed reflexes and responses
            • impaired decision-making and judgement
            • moodiness, such as irritability
            • impaired hand-to-eye coordination
            • reduced immune system function
            • blurry vision
            • short-term memory problems
            • poor concentration
            • reduced ability to pay attention to the situation at hand

            Causes of Fatigue

            The wide range of causes that can trigger fatigue include:

            • Medical causes: Constant exhaustion, tiredness and fatigue may be a sign of an underlying illness, such as a thyroid disorder, heart disease, anemia or diabetes.
            • Lifestyle-related causes: Being overweight and a lack of regular exercise can lead to feelings of fatigue.  Lack of sleep and overcommitting can also create feelings of excessive tiredness and fatigue.
            • Workplace-related causes: Workplace and financial stress in a variety of forms can lead to feelings of fatigue.
            • Emotional concerns and stress: Fatigue is a common symptom of mental health problems, such as depression and grief, and may be accompanied by other signs and symptoms, including irritability and lack of motivation.

            Fatigue can also be caused by a number of factors working in combination.

            Medical Causes of Fatigue

            If you have made lifestyle changes to increase your energy and still feel exhausted and fatigued, it may be time to seek guidance from your doctor.

            Here are a few examples of illnesses that can cause ongoing fatigue. Seek medical advice if you suspect you have a health problem:

            Anemia

            Anemia is a condition in which you don’t have enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to the body’s tissues. It is a common cause of fatigue in women.

            Having anemia may make you feel tired and weak.

            There are many forms of anemia, each with its own cause. Anemia can be temporary or long term, and it can range from mild to severe.[2]

            Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)

            Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is a condition that can cause persistent, unexplained fatigue that interferes with daily activities for more than six months.

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            This is a chronic condition with no one-size-fits-all treatment, but lifestyle changes can often help ease some symptoms of fatigue.[3]

            Diabetes

            Diabetes can cause fatigue with either high or low blood sugars. When your sugars are high, they remain in the bloodstream instead of being used for energy, which makes you feel fatigued. Low blood sugar (glucose) means you may not have enough fuel for energy, also causing fatigue.[4]

            Sleep Apnea

            Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder where sufferers briefly stop breathing for short periods during sleep. Most people are not aware this is happening, but it can cause loud snoring, and daytime fatigue.

            Being overweight, smoking, and drinking alcohol can all worsen the symptoms of sleep apnea.[5]

            Thyroid disease

            An underactive thyroid gland means you have too little thyroid hormone (thyroxine) in your body. This makes you feel tired and you could also put on weight and have aching muscles and dry skin.[6]

            Common lifestyle factors that can cause fatigue include:

            • Lack of sleep
            • Too much sleep 
            • Alcohol and drugs 
            • Sleep disturbances 
            • Lack of regular exercise and sedentary behaviour 
            • Poor diet 

            Common workplace issues that can cause fatigue include:

            • Shift work: Our body is designed to sleep during the night. A shift worker may confuse their circadian clock by working when their body is programmed to be asleep.
            • Poor workplace practices: This may include long work hours, hard physical labour, irregular working hours (such as rotating shifts), a stressful work environment, boredom or working alone. 
            • Workplace stress – This can be caused by a wide range of factors including job dissatisfaction, heavy workload, conflicts with bosses or colleagues, bullying, or threats to job security.
            • Burnout: This could be striving too hard on one area of your life while neglecting others, which leads to a life that feels out of balance.

            Psychological Causes of Fatigue

            Psychological factors are present in many cases of extreme tiredness and fatigue.  These may include:

            • Depression: Depression is characterised by severe and prolonged feelings of sadness, dejection and hopelessness. People who are depressed commonly experience chronic fatigue.
            • Anxiety and stress: Someone who is constantly anxious or stressed keeps their body in overdrive. The constant flooding of adrenaline exhausts the body, and fatigue sets in.
            • Grief: Losing a loved one causes a wide range of emotions including shock, guilt, depression, despair and loneliness.

            How to Tackle Constant Fatigue

            Here are 12 ways you can start tackling the causes of fatigue and start feeling more energetic.

            1. Tell The Truth

            Some people can numb themselves to the fact that they are overtired or fatigued all the time. In the long run, this won’t help you.

            To give you the best chance to overcome or eliminate fatigue, you must diagnose and tell the truth about the things that are draining your energy, making you tired or causing constant fatigue.

            Once you’re honest with yourself about the activities you’re doing in your life that you find irritating, energy-draining, and make you tired on a regular basis you can make a commitment to stop doing them.

            The help that you need to overcome fatigue is available to you, but not until you tell the truth about it. The first person you have to sell on getting rid of the causes of fatigue is yourself.

            One starting point is to diagnose the symptoms. When you start feeling stressed, overtired or just not operating at your normal energy levels make a note of:

            • How you feel
            • What time of day it is
            • What may have contributed to your fatigue
            • How your mind and body reacts

            This analysis may help you identify, understand and then eliminate very specific causes.

            2. Reduce Your Commitments

            When we have too many things on our plate personally and professionally, we can feel overstretched, causing physical and mental fatigue.

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            If you have committed to things you really don’t want to do, this causes irritability and low emotional engagement. Stack these up throughout your day and week, then your stress levels will rise.

            When these commitments have deadlines associated with them, you may be trying to cram in far too much in a short period of time.  This creates more stress and can affect your decision making ability.

            Start being realistic about how much you can get done. Either reduce the commitments you have or give yourself more time to complete them in.

            3. Get Clear On Your Priorities

            If working on your list of to-do’s or goals becomes too overwhelming, start reducing and prioritizing the things that matter most.

            Start with prioritizing just 3 things every day. When you complete those 3 things, you’ll get a rush of energy and your confidence will grow.

            If you’re trying to juggle too many things and are multi-tasking, your energy levels will drop and you’ll struggle to maintain focus.

            Unfinished projects can make you self-critical and feel guilty which drops energy levels further, creating inaction.

            Make a list of your 3 MIT (Most Important Tasks) for the next day before you go to bed. This will stop you overcommitting and get you excited about what the next day can bring.

            4. Express More Gratitude

            Gratitude and confidence are heavily linked. Just being thankful for what you have and what you’ve achieved increases confidence and makes you feel more optimistic.

            It can help you improve your sense of wellbeing, which can bring on feelings of joy and enthusiasm.

            Try starting a gratitude journal or just note down 3 things you’re grateful for every day.

            5. Focus On Yourself

            Exhaustion and fatigue can arrive by focusing solely on other people’s needs all the time, rather than worrying about and focusing on what you need (and want).

            There are work commitments, family commitments, social commitments. You may start with the best intentions, to put in your best performance at work, to be an amazing parent and friend, to simply help others.

            But sometimes, we extend ourselves too much and go beyond our personal limits to help others. That’s when constant exhaustion can creep up on us.  Which can make us more fatigued.

            We all want to help and do our best for others, but there needs to be some balance. We also need to take some time out just for ourselves to recharge and rejuvenate.

            6. Set Aside Rest and Recovery Time

            Whether it’s a couple of hours, a day off, a mini-break or a proper holiday, time off is essential to help us recover, recharge and refocus.

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            Recovery time helps fend off mental fatigue and allows us to simply kick back and relax.

            The key here, though, is to remove ourselves from the daily challenges that bring on tiredness and fatigue. Here’s how.

            Can you free yourself up completely from work and personal obligations to just rest and recover?

            7. Take a Power Nap

            When you’re feeling tired or fatigued and you have the ability to take a quick 20-minute nap, it could make a big difference to your performance for the rest of the day.

            Napping can improve learning, memory and boost your energy levels quickly.

            This article on the benefit of napping is a useful place to start if you want to learn more: How a 20-Minute Nap at Work Makes You Awake and Productive the Whole Day

            8. Take More Exercise

            The simple act of introducing some form of physical activity into your day can make a huge difference. It can boost energy levels, make you feel much better about yourself and can help you avoid fatigue.

            Find something that fits into your life, be that walking, going to the gym, running or swimming. 

            The key is to ensure the exercise is regular and that you are emotionally engaged and committed to stick with it.

            You could also walk more which will help clear your head and shift your focus away from stressful thoughts.

            9. Get More Quality Sleep

            To avoid tiredness, exhaustion and fatigue, getting enough quality sleep matters. 

            Your body needs sleep to recharge.  Getting the right amount of sleep every night can improve your health, reduce stress levels and help us improve our memory and learning skills.

            My previous article on The Benefits of Sleep You Need to Know will give you some action steps to start improving your sleep. 

            10. Improve Your Diet

            Heavy or fatty meals can make you feel sluggish and tired, whilst some foods or eating strategies do just the opposite.

            Our always on lives have us reaching for sweets or other sugary snacks to give us a burst of energy to keep going. Unfortunately, that boost fades quickly which can leave you feeling depleted and wanting more.

            On the other hand, whole grains and healthy unsaturated fats supply the reserves you can draw on throughout the day.

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            To keep energy up and steady, it’s a good idea to limit refined sugar and starches.

            Eating small meals and healthy snacks every few hours throughout the day provides a steady supply of nutrients to body and brain. It’s also important not to skip breakfast.

            Eating a balanced diet helps keep your blood sugar in a normal range and prevents that sluggish feeling when your blood sugar drops.

            11. Manage Your Stress Levels

            Stress is one of the leading causes of exhaustion and fatigue, and can seriously affect your health.

            When you have increased levels of stress at work and at home, it’s easy to feel exhausted all the time. 

            Identifying the causes of stress and then tackling the problems should be a priority. 

            My article on How to Help Anxiety When Life is Stressing You Out shares 16 strategies you can use to overcome stress.

            12. Get Hydrated

            Sometimes we can be so busy that we forget to keep ourselves fully hydrated.

            Water makes up about 60 percent of your body weight and is essential in maintaining our body’s basic functions.

            If we don’t have enough water, it can adversely affect our mental and physical performance, which leads to tiredness and fatigue.

            The recommended daily amount is around two litres a day, so to stay well hydrated keep a water bottle with you as much as possible.

            The Bottom Line

            These 12 tips can help you reduce your tiredness and feeling of fatigue.  Some will work better than others as we are all different, whilst others can be incorporated together in your daily life.

            If you’ve tried to make positive changes to reduce fatigue and you still feel tired and exhausted, it may be time to consider making an appointment with your doctor to discuss your condition.

            Featured photo credit: Annie Spratt via unsplash.com

            Reference

            [1]Oxford English Dictionary: Definition of fatigue
            [2]NHS Choices: 10 Reasons for feeling tired
            [3]Verywellhealth: What is chronic fatigue syndrome
            [4]Everyday Health: Why does type 2 diabetes make you feel tired
            [5]Mayo Clinic: Sleep apnea
            [6]Harvard Health: The lowdown on thyroid slowdown

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