Surprising Side Effects Of Eating Too Much Popcorn

There's something a little magical about popcorn. Just one whiff, and it reminds people of summer carnivals, movie theaters, and nights out with friends. It's one of America's most popular snacks and may even be one of its oldest. Stars Insider reports that evidence of popcorn's popularity can be traced back as far as 6,700 years.

Of course, popcorn has changed a lot over time. Today, it's considered either a fantastically healthy snack, or a junk food indulgence that should be limited to outings and parties. So which is it? 

The truth about popcorn lies somewhere in between these two categories. The American Heart Association interviewed Maya Vadiveloo, an assistant professor in the University of Rhode Island's department of nutrition and food sciences. The distinction with popcorn, said Vadiveloo, is in its preparation. Air-popped popcorn with minimal seasoning is very healthy; slathered with butter and salt, however, it is not.

Both forms of popcorn are high in fiber and a specific antioxidant known as polyphenols. A 2013 study found that polyphenols can benefit our gut health, making them a great addition to our diet. But when they come loaded with sodium and saturated fat, they can become a health nightmare.

Eating too much popcorn can cause bloating and lead to heart disease

So if popcorn's health effects depend on how it's prepared, what happens when you eat too much? In her interview with the American Heart Association, Vadiveloo cautioned against eating too much buttery or salty food in general, "Sodium is one of the leading risk factors for hypertension and stroke in general, so it's something we do care about from a perspective of heart disease."

The FDA recommends adults consume less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day. According to Orville Redenbacher's nutrition facts, one bag of their standard butter popcorn contains about 775 mg of sodium. While you would have to eat the whole bag to consume all 775 mg, that's not terribly hard to do. When you factor in the rest of your daily diet, a popcorn habit on top of additional junk food could potentially damage your health.

On the flip side, popcorn can serve as a great source of fiber. That same bag of popcorn has five grams of fiber. Experts at the Mayo Clinic suggest between 21 and 38 grams of fiber per day for adults, depending on age and sex. As recently as 2020, GQ reported that Americans are still not getting enough fiber. However, overloading on fiber-rich popcorn could put you over the daily recommendation. While this isn't the worst thing, it may land you on the toilet with an upset stomach, gas, or bloating until your fiber levels even out. The impact on your heart health is more concerning, of course. Overall, it's best to consume popcorn in moderation.

You might gain or lose weight, depending on what kind of popcorn you eat

Popcorn can be a healthy and low-calorie snack. Despite its high fiber content, popcorn has gotten a bad rap due to its movie theater variety. That's because movie theater popcorn, which is slathered in salt and butter, is loaded with calories and fat. Eating this type of popcorn on a regular basis can potentially lead to weight gain, especially if you consume more than the serving size. However, popcorn can also be a part of a healthy and well-balanced diet (via Medical News Today).

As it turns out, plain, air-popped popcorn is not only healthy for you, but it can also help promote weight loss. That's because it's low in sugar, calories, and fat, and high in fiber and whole grains, which can help keep you feeling full for longer. In conjunction with a healthy diet and regular physical activity, snacking on unflavored, air-popped popcorn in moderation can lead to weight loss over time — just make sure the popcorn isn't too high in sodium!