Let’s face it, no matter what kind of diet we follow, most of us will continue to snack. There must be some kind of snack gene in all of us. But there is some hope in the form of popcorn. No, not the tubs from the movie theater. Those aren’t healthy at all. We’re talking about the easy-to-grab bags sold by companies like Garrett Popcorn, King Of Pop and Popcorn Indiana, one of the largest independent brands selling ready-to-eat popcorn in the United States and the center of a healthy snacks revolution taking place.   

“Popcorn can actually be healthy when prepared properly and eaten as part of a snack,” says fitness expert Jamie Atlas. “The kernel itself contains very little calories and is high on the satiety scale, meaning you get your maximum return of fullness per calorie invested.” He adds one crucial nugget. “The way we prepare or where we purchase these tiny delicacies is where the danger lies.”

Popcorn Indiana, which is actually based in New Jersey, recognized the potential goldmine they were sitting on and, after several months of testing out new flavors and engineering manufacturing techniques, launched a line of low-calorie and no-trans-fat popcorns last spring, christening the product Fit. Previously, the company had sold more decadent (and higher-calorie) bags of kettle corn with names like Bacon Ranch, Aged White Cheddar and Dark Fudge Chocolate Chip.

On the bag, Fit touts its all-natural contents as having only 30 to 40 calories per cup, no cholesterol, no preservatives, no genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and gluten-free. Though they did aim to create a healthier snack, Popcorn Indiana CEO Hitesh Hajarnavis reveals they weren’t trying to fill-in-the-blank with buzzwords.

“These factors are part of our holistic efforts to deliver a better for you popcorn alternative,” he says. “They are not buzzwords to us, and we did not think of them this way as this is part of who we are, and who we have always been.”

Hajarnavis, who has children with food allergies, had already kept the facility 100-percent gluten free, free of trans fat — and always use non-GMO corn. So it wasn’t hard to engineer a healthier snack.

The Fit line is available in five flavors including Parmesan Herb and Virgin Olive Oil and Sea Salt. After trying all five, I can officially say not one felt like eating a health food item at all. I especially enjoyed the Parmesan Herb. The Onion Djion, on the other hand, tasted fake and almost too savory. Either way, sampling one serving size of each of these types didn’t cost me more than 200 calories — certainly less than a handful of the average potato chips. 

But, we asked, why stop at 30 calories a cup? Was 30 a designated “sweet spot” the food scientists were targeting? Though he admits that they could go lower, the answer for Hajarnavis stayed simple. “Unfortunately, sometimes when you create an item with a significantly low calorie count it could compromise the taste, which in-hand would alter the experience,” he says. “We truly believe that the snacks have to taste great, and this is important to us.”

With Fit, the company aimed to create a tasty popcorn that also spoke to the people looking for a healthy snack, but also maintained the integrity of the company. “We simply married taste with lower calories and fat,” says the proud CEO. “I want to stand behind something that I believe in, I want to stand behind my product and whatever we say is in the bag is in the bag.”

Food Republic Healthy Living Week Stories: