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Chocolate vs Popcorn

What’s the healthier treat? FITSHIT Compares!

Ever since I’ve been writing this blog, the question I get asked most (apart from “Will you judge me if I eat this?”), is…

Is this healthy?

Now that, might be the most tricky, the most complex question of the fitness world. Depending on how you define ‘healthy’, you may classify (and hence justify) any food as healthy.

I can personally argue for a 1000-calorie home-cooked meal as being healthy, just as I can argue that a zero calorie, artificially sweetened canned juice isn’t. Which might sound intuitive, but not after I make the same arguments for mangoes vs peanuts. That’s how subjective health is.

Depending on your fitness goals, your body type, your food consumption on that particular day and the frequency at which you tend to indulge in said food, I can argue for any food in the world as being healthy or unhealthy.

Looking for one word, one-off answers to ‘Is this healthy’, hence, is foolhardy. It’s impossible to label anything as inherently and undeniably ‘healthy’. And this predicament, is what the health-industry exploits to sell anything under the garb of healthy.

So you’d buy a brand of butter popcorn because its ‘Non GMO’, and then hog an entire bag because ‘hey, it’s organic’. Or a dark chocolate that’s ‘85% Cacao’, which doesn’t change the fact that it still has the same calories/gm as milk-chocolate (yup, deal with it). And you’d end up not-achieving your fitness goal, even after you’ve made all these seemingly healthy choices. And that’ll break your motivation and make you give up.

That, in a nutshell, is the vicious cycle perpetrated by the Health Industry. And breaking that cycle, is the sole reason why FITSHIT exists. So here comes another line of attack.

Once every month, FITSHIT will pick two widely consumed foods and compare how ‘healthy’ they really are. In relation to each other.

We do this as a comparison because that gives us a benchmark. And we do this with foods that are so different, in every way, that in bringing them on the same platform, we need to deconstruct them fully. And apply a lot of nuance and judgement. Which is the only way we can ever learn to truly appreciate and understand our food.

Let’s begin.

Which Chocolate? Which Popcorn?

As with any food, the varieties and hence the variations available today in the market as so wide-spread, that it’s hard to make any judgement about that food-group as a whole.

So, for the purpose of this series, we’ll use the most common, most widely consumed version/brand of that product. Also, in case a commonly consumed, seemingly healthy variant exists, we’ll try and use that for comparison.

So, for the purpose of this first comparison, I’m choosing Lindt 85% Dark Chocolate and Act II ‘Butter-Lovers’ Popcorn.

The NuCaP Method

Since comparing any foods, especially two which are so divergent, is so tough, I’ve created my own system of comparison. I call it,

The NuCaP Method

If you’re talking of a single instance of eating any kind of food (I’m basically removing the variable of you ordering dessert every single day. Because you don’t need me to tell you if that’s healthy), then with just 3 parameters, you can bring most any kind of food on the same plane and compare them.

Nutrition. Calories. Portion. NuCaP.

Break down any food on these 3 axis, and compare it to any other. You’ll have your answer. Let’s test this, on what I hope you agree, is a very difficult pair.

Calories

If you’re on a diet, or worried about putting on/ losing weight, this is the first parameter that should concern you. If you exceed your total calorie quota for the day, then no amount of nutrition will help you achieve your fitness goals.

Popcorn

If you see this back-of-pack and get confused, I don’t blame you. I don’t blame the manufacturer either, they’ve actually done a decent job. Including the ‘smartlabel’, which is a great initiative.

Problem is, with foods that increase in volume post cooking (rice, lentils, popcorn), it’s a bit tough to get your head around cooked and un-cooked portion sizes. And that’s where a lot of trickery hides.

Keep this in mind, I’ll come back to this point. For now, focus on the ‘un-popped’ values. Since a food’s macro-composition doesn’t change much per-post cooking, we are safe in referring this figure.

As you can see, one serving (32gm) or un-popped product has about 140kcal. So 100gm popcorn has ~430Kcal.

Chocolate

This one’s easy. 30gm has 170 calories.

So 100gm has ~560Kcal.

That’s about 25% higher than Popcorn.

Nutrition

Within NuCaP, nutrition is the trickiest beast. Anything, from healthy-fats to vitamins to high-protein can be used as reason to claim ‘nutritious’. If I had a penny for every-time someone justified eating dark-chocolate for the anti-oxidants, or popcorn for ‘how fibrous it is’, I’d be a rich man.

But let’s be clear, if you really wanted anti-oxidants or fibre or minerals, you’d be consuming green tea or whole grains or fresh fruits. No one devours a bag of popcorn for it’s health benefits.

And hence, the question of nutrition, in the case of indulgences, comes down to which one causes the least harm to your fitness goals. And judging by that lens, here is the hierarchy of villains, each more villainous than the next:

Sugar →Refined Carb → Fat →Whole, Raw Carb → Protein

(I’ve not split Fat into saturated and unsaturated, on purpose. It’s a very complex discussion. We’ll do it another day.)

Popcorn

Popcorn is a fairly clean food. On it’s own, it’s just clean, fibrous carb. If you can satisfy your movie-snack craving with just raw, lightly-salted popcorn, I’d encourage you to go for it. I’d also bet that you won’t eat through a whole tub.

The problem is caused by the butter we pour onto it. Infact, if it were good quality butter, I’d still excuse it. But if you read the list of ingredients, it’s actually just palm-oil. The butter taste is through a flavoring agent. Sigh.

And that’s the only nutritional downside here. About 45% of the calories in this product comes from bad-quality Fat. The rest is good carb. Sugar is Zero (which is great). Protein is negligible.

Chocolate

About 70% of chocolates calories are Fat. So this one too, will be tough for chocolate to win. Thankfully the fat is from cocoa butter, so it isn’t as harmful as palm-oil.

About 40% of the carb comes from Sugar. Which isn’t much. And given this is a good brand with good ingredients, that sugar is brown, fibrous sugar. And that redeems the product some more.

Protein, here again, is equally negligible. No wonder you won’t find people serious about their protein goals wasting calories on either food.

Portion Sizes

This last bit, is where the cookie (or three) crumbles.

Unfortunately, for foods that we’ve as a society deemed healthy, there is no portion limit. So while we consume chocolates and desserts with caution, we hog on popcorn with wild-abandon. And that’s popcorn’s undoing.

Let me make a guess. If you’re a health-conscious person, you consume at most 2 squares (there are 10 large squares in this 100gm Lindt bar) after dinner, maybe. I’d also guess that when you’re at the movies, you order a medium-tub of popcorn with your partner, and finish half of it.

After a lot of research, I figured that a medium-tub of popcorn at the movies, is about 90–100gm, un-popped. If you consume half, you consume ~50gm popcorn. Now let’s compare.

20gm Dark Chocolate Vs 50gm Butter Popcorn

20gm Chocolate → 110 Kcal. 10gm Fat. 2.5gm Sugar.

50gm Popcorn → 210Kcal. 12gm Fat (bad-quality). No Sugar.

There we go. Tables turned. Who’s the bigger villain now?

Well, your guess, is better than mine. Because only you know how, how much, and how often you consume either of these.

My only attempt, with NuCaP, is to give you the tools to judge for yourself. To not let anyone else, nor yourself, lie to you. Hope it helps!

PS: Some foods like ‘Shahi Tukda’ and ‘Starbucks Frappucinos’ are just irretrievably unhealthy. If you find yourself applying NuCaP to judge these, then judge your intentions first 🙂

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