Pop a healthy snack– popcorn

December 14, 2023 at 1:25 p.m.
Avoiding salty popcorn is easy. Make your own, using good old-fashioned kernels.
Avoiding salty popcorn is easy. Make your own, using good old-fashioned kernels.

...by Katy G. Wilkens

On its own, popcorn is a low-fat, low-calorie, high-fiber and low-sodium snack you can eat a lot of because it’s mostly air. Put it in a bag and package it up with too much fat and salt, and it becomes a horror movie. Almost every brand of microwave popcorn I see in the store contains more than 300 milligrams of sodium – even the low-fat, no-butter kind. All that salt harms your heart and kidneys.

Avoiding salty popcorn is easy. Make your own, using good old-fashioned kernels. Think how much plastic, cardboard and packaging you will save if you make popcorn from scratch.


  • Making your own microwave popcorn in a brown paper bag, using either olive oil or butter to flavor it. See the recipe below.
  • Using an old-fashioned metal tray popcorn popper to pop kernels in your fireplace.

  • Packing a few little bags of popcorn kernels when going camping. They can make a drippy, dark night turn suddenly magic around the campfire.

  • Getting an old air popper from your local thrift store. You’ll be amazed how good the popcorn is.

  • Using a Whirley-Pop Stovetop Popcorn Popper, my favorite. It has a blade inside, and you turn the handle while holding it over the stove burner. You can find one at a kitchen store or online.

Brown bag popcorn for one

¼ cup high-quality popcorn kernels

2 teaspoon olive oil

1 brown paper lunch bag


Toss popcorn kernels with the oil in the paper bag. Fold to close and staple twice. Place the bag in the microwave on high for 2 minutes or until 5 seconds go by between pops. Don’t worry, the staples won’t hurt your microwave.

Nutritional information (per bag):
Calories: 155, Carbohydrates: 27 grams, Fat: 4 grams, Protein: 4 grams, Sodium: 0 milligrams

This popcorn is sodium-free, low-calorie and just as fast as any of the packaged brands. Making popcorn this way gives you control to decide what to put on it. No-sodium spice mixes are tasty. (Try Mrs. Dash, Lawry’s, or Trader Joe’s salt-free seasonings.) If you want, you can add butter and/or cinnamon and sugar.  Parmesan cheese is tasty and not too high in sodium. Try the chili popcorn flavoring below for a corn chip-like flavor.  

Zesty chili popcorn

1 teaspoon ground chili powder

1 teaspoon paprika

½ teaspoon ground cumin

½ teaspoon garlic powder

¼ teaspoon granulated sugar

¼ teaspoon black pepper

3 teaspoons grated parmesan cheese

6 cups popped popcorn

Butter-flavored cooking spray

In a small bowl, combine all seasonings. Put popcorn in a bowl and spray lightly with butter-flavored cooking spray. Sprinkle 3 teaspoons of spice seasoning onto popcorn. Mix thoroughly. Add more spice seasoning to your liking, and use more cooking spray if needed.

Place any leftover seasoning in the refrigerator for the next batch of popcorn.

Nutritional information (per cup):
Calories: 40, Carbohydrates: 7 grams, Protein: 1 gram, Sodium: 15 milligrams, Potassium: 30 milligrams, Phosphorus: 36 milligrams

[Contributor Katy G. Wilkens recently retired as registered dietitian and department head at Northwest Kidney Centers. The National Kidney Foundation Council on Renal Nutrition has honored her with its highest awards for excellence in education and for significant contributions in renal nutrition. She has also been awarded the Medal of Excellence in kidney nutrition from the American Association of Kidney Patients.]

Eating Well, Living Well classes

Studies show that working with a registered dietitian can delay kidney failure and postpone dialysis for longer than two years. FREE nutrition classes taught by Katy’s former team of registered dietitians are available at convenient times and locations around Puget Sound.

Eating Well, Living Well classes teach people how to eat healthier to slow the progress of kidney disease and postpone dialysis. Learn more at www.nwkidney.org/classes.

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