Can You Eat Popcorn on a Keto Diet?
For many people, popcorn is their go-to for easy snacking. Low in calories and carbs, plain, air-popped popcorn makes a healthy choice, even for those on a low carb diet.
But is popcorn keto-friendly? Is it enough of a low-carb snack to qualify as a keto snack?
If you’re just starting on a ketogenic diet, then this article will explain how popcorn can fit within it. Let’s first begin with defining exactly what counts as popcorn.
What is Popcorn?
One of the greatest things about corn is the fact that it can make popcorn! When dried corn is heated until the water in the kernel expands enough to cause it to explode… popcorn results. You can make popcorn yourself in a heated pan on the stove, in a popcorn machine, or in the microwave. It’s also sold everywhere, already popped.
People everywhere love popcorn and have been eating it for quite some time. There’s even evidence that Peruvian cultures snacked on popped corn more than 6,000 years ago!
Traditionally, popcorn as a snack is buttery, salty, and hot. But if you’re not into the typical way that it’s served, you can branch out too. Adding spices, sweets, or cheese can satisfy any craving you may have.
Maybe the best thing about it? It’s a snack meant to be eaten by the handful!
Popcorn Nutrition Facts
So, now that we’ve established how delicious popcorn is, let’s get to its nutritional value. Yes, popcorn comes from corn, and corn grows on a plant. But, corn is considered a grain, and not a veggie, as most people believe.
Not only is corn a grain, but mature corn cobs are considered a whole grain. Whole grains have a great reputation—and for good reason. By keeping the kernels whole and intact, the most fiber, vitamins, and minerals are reaped from it.
As a result, people that eat a diet rich in whole grains enjoy a host of health benefits. These include a lowered risk of cancer, heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes.
In terms of nutritional breakdown, popcorn is decidedly nutritious. 3 cups of popcorn (air-popped) provide:
- 90 calories
- 1 gram of fat
- 3 grams of protein
- 4 grams of fiber
- 9% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI) for magnesium
- 9% of the RDI for phosphorus
- 12% of the RDI for manganese
- 6% of the RDI for zinc
- 18 grams of carbs
All that fiber-filled whole grain translates into a satisfying snack. Again, keeping the kernel intact keeps the minerals and vitamins intact, too. In addition to magnesium, zinc, manganese, and phosphorous, popcorn contains antioxidants called polyphenols.
Antioxidants are super compounds that fight cell-damaging free radicals. So, polyphenols may help to protect against cancer, as well as other diseases that are chronic!
So…is popcorn keto-friendly?
Yes, and no.
The Good News First
Keto diets require you to keep your carb intake below 50 grams per day. In fact, ingesting even fewer carbs—20 grams—is more effective to maintain ketosis.
Theoretically, you can have a serving of popcorn—at just 4 grams of net carbs per cup—while on a keto diet. It should go without saying, but we’ll do so anyways: avoid movie theater and microwave popcorn! You’ll have no way to measure the added sugar and oil, not to mention exposing yourself to additives.
Instead, pop it at home on the stove in butter or coconut or olive oil and you’ll even pick up 2-3 healthy grams of fat. Or use an air popper and add toppings afterward.
Sometimes you’re in the mood for popcorn and only popcorn will do. In that case, be prepared! Keeping some portion-controlled keto popcorn on hand will give you some snacking grace. That way you can still enjoy movie nights without feeling too deprived. Crunchy craving satisfied, ketosis maintained: a win-win!
Just remember: you’ll need to be wary not to exceed your carb limit for the day with your other meals and snacks. Carb-counting must be strict in order to maintain ketosis! If you have trouble estimating them, try using our Keto Macronutrient Calculator.
Now for The Bad News
Have you ever—even just once—ONLY eaten one cup of popcorn in a sitting? Annnnd, there’s your answer.
Look, following any restrictive diet can be challenging. So, it’s not always prudent to indulge in your guilty pleasure snacks regularly. Even those with the strongest will power can get carried away.
If you find that your weight loss has stalled out, you may want to reconsider having popcorn as a snack. Eating 25 grams of net carbs can successfully keep some people in ketosis, but that’s not true of everyone.
If you’re not getting the carb-counting wiggle room needed to enjoy some low-carb popcorn, don’t fret! Here are a few other alternatives to popcorn.
Nuts — As long as they are keto-friendly, you’ll still get the salt and the crunch you crave. You’ll also benefit from the added anti-inflammatory and immune system-boosting they provide! Macadamia nuts and pecans are both good choices.
Pork Rinds / Beef Jerky — Sometimes just the saltiness of these low-carb snacks is enough to do the trick. And just think about all the added bonus protein you’ll get from them too!
Cauliflower — Ok, hear us out. Season some of these florets with your beloved movie theater flavors and then roast them. Now tell us that doesn’t make for an awesome snack stand-in! There’s a reason cauliflower is a keto fan-favorite. They’re packed with nutrients, low in carbs, and have a hearty texture that fills you up…so really, what’s not to love?
Follow a cyclical or a targeted ketogenic diet? Then enjoy popcorn in periods of carb-loading. For everyone else, stick to the basics. In order to hit your goals, you need to strictly maintain a lowered net carb intake by controlling what you eat.
And popcorn does make for a healthier snack than many alternatives. It’s low-calorie and filled with gluten-free fiber. When it’s made by you, it’s devoid of junky fats and artificial preservatives. You can dress it up with cheese, butter, and sea salt to add in some healthy fats and flavor. What’s not to love, right?
If you’re tracking positively towards your set targets—GREAT! Eating popcorn is cool for your body in the way that you’re doing it. But if you’re not? Well, then you’ll need to examine your portion sizes and food choices—including popcorn.
Just like any smart lifestyle modification—moderation is key. For that reason, we would classify popcorn as more keto-risky, than keto-friendly. (For the people in the back, that means—YES, you can have it. Just be smart about it and indulge weekly, not daily.)