Food & Nutrition

Is Popcorn Keto Approved? (Carbs in Popcorn and Other Info)

Is Popcorn Keto Approved? (Carbs in Popcorn and Other Info)

Popcorn has always been a popular home and theater snack. But lately, it seems popcorn is becoming even more popular with the global popcorn market reaching $9,060 million in 2016 and projected to reach $15,098 million by 2023 [1]. That's not surprising given that popcorn is one of the most wholesome and economical snacks out there.


But, more importantly, is it keto approved?


We talk about that and more here, paying special attention to carbs in popcorn. If you're a big fan of this theater staple yourself, keep reading to see if popcorn can fit into your keto meal plan.

What is popcorn?

Puff-Corn-on-Gray-Ceramic-Bowl

Popcorn is a variety of corn kernel that expands and puffs when heated.

A popcorn kernel is rich in water and has a strong hull. When a kernel is heated, all that water turns to steam, and the created pressure causes the kernel to rapture and expand up to 50 times its original size – impressive, huh?

Most popcorn strains are cultivated specifically as popping corns, with the most common variety being Zea mays everta.

If you've been craving a nice bowl of popcorn lately, you're not alone. It just so happens that the peak period of popcorn sales is fall. Sales remain fairly high all throughout winter and taper off with sunny weather [2]. Obviously, there’s something about popcorn that makes it homely and comforting during the colder seasons. 

Popcorn nutrition – carbs in popcorn and other info

Compared to many other snacks, popcorn is healthy and nutritious. It's rich in fiber and antioxidants, while being low in calories. Unfortunately, popcorn is also high in carbohydrates, so fitting it into your keto diet plan will be a challenge.

A 3-cup serving of air-popped popcorn has 15g of net carbs. If you want to make popcorn a part of your keto diet, then you'd need to stick to around 1 cup daily, which provides around 5g net carbs. Besides the carbs in popcorn, you also get 92 calories from a 3-cup serving along with 3g of protein, 1g of fat, 3.6g of fiber, and 1.8mg of sodium.

Popcorn only has trace amounts of micronutrients. It's richest in the minerals magnesium, manganese, copper, and zinc providing 6-12% of their daily value.

Nutrition Facts

Popcorn Nutrition Facts – 3 cups air-popped (24g)

Calories 92

% Daily Value

Total fat 1g

0%

Saturated 0g

Polyunsaturated 0.6g

Monounsaturated 0.3

Trans fat 0g

Cholesterol 0mg

0%

Sodium 1.8mg

0%

Potassium 26.3mg

0%

Carbohydrates 15g

6%

Fiber 3.6g

12%

Protein 3g

6%

Vitamin A 0%

Vitamin D 0%

Calcium 0%

Vitamin B-6 0%

Vitamin C 0%

Magnesium 6%

Cobalamin 0%

Iron 3%

What are popcorn health benefits?

Popcorn is considered a healthy snack food by dietitians and health experts [3, 4]. Unfortunately, the theater variety of popcorn had made all popcorn gain a bad rap. Theater popcorn can contain up to 960 calories in a bucket. But the biggest problem with it is that it's made with partially-hydrogenated soybean oil, which is high in artery-clogging trans fats [5].

However, homemade air-popped or butter popcorn is a whole different story. Despite being such an unassuming snack food, tis type of popcorn is packed with the following health benefits:

Popcorn is satiating

Studies comparing popcorn to other popular snacks claim that it is more satiating [6]. Researchers believe the satiating-effect is due to popcorn's unique shape and structure – foamy and airy. Because it's relatively low in macronutrients, including fat (unless buttered), it also exerts a modest response on blood glucose and hunger hormones.

woman-sitting-on-a-couch-with-a-bowl-of-popcorn

It's loaded with antioxidants

You may find it surprising that popcorn is richer in types of antioxidants called polyphenols than fruits and vegetables [7]. Polyphenols are more concentrated in popcorn because a popped kernel averages only 4% water, while these compounds are diluted in the 90% water making up most fruits and vegetables.

Popcorn is low in calories

Snacking is one of the parameters that studies link to weight gain [8]. To reduce your chances of unintentionally gaining weight, it's best to eat low-calorie snacks like popcorn. Air-popped varieties are lowest in calories while many microwave popcorns may also be a good choice (just make sure you read the label).

It's gluten-free

All types of corn are gluten-free, popcorn included. Popcorn is simply a whole grain pepped into a foamy shape. It's safe to serve it to anyone with a sensitive digestive tract. Because it's low in plant proteins, it's also not a major allergen, and corn allergies are among the rarest out there [9].

Other popcorn benefits are that it's rich I fiber and dirt cheap. You can also make it quickly by popping it in the microwave, and the flavoring options are endless – sweet, savory, spicy, salty, or plain.

Can you eat popcorn on keto?

Popcorn is normally not recommended on a ketogenic diet. The carbs in popcorn will be your biggest obstacle to making this snack favorite a part of your weekly meals. The safest way to go about eating popcorn on keto is to limit your intake to one cup daily – that will give you around 5g net carbs. But because popcorn is not very nutrient dense, we don't recommend it.

However, if you're addicted to popcorn and just can't live without it, then consider doing the following:

Butter your popcorn

Or add olive oil. The ketogenic diet is a high-fat diet. To meet your daily fat requirements on this diet, always prepare your food in healthy fat like butter, olive oil, or coconut oil. Popcorn tastes best with butter, and when microwaving it, the butter helps heat up the kernels for more spring.

Popcorn-in-Bowl-Placed-on-Chopping-Board

Add salt to your kernels

You've probably heard about the keto flu. It's a much-dreaded side effect of carb withdrawal but that's easy to treat with electrolyte supplements or by adding salt to your meals. Most people like to salt their popcorn, and if you plan to eat it during your keto flu days, then feel free to add up to a half a teaspoon.

Add cheese

If you're a fan of cheesy snacks, then add grated parmesan or cheddar cheese to your popped popcorn. Cheese is a great popcorn flavoring and it helps boost the fat content of this snack – something you should always look for in your keto meals.

Bottom line is that you shouldn't really eat popcorn on keto if ketosis, nutrient density, and fat adaptation are your goals. But it's all up to you in the end. If you can make popcorn a nutritious part of your keto meals, then kudos to you.

Keto popcorn copycats

Do you miss popcorn? Lucky for you, many creative keto dieters came up with fantastic low-carb snacks that are just as crunchy as addictive as popcorn. And even better, they have the fraction of the carbs in popcorn and ample fat and protein to fit into your keto macros. Here are some keto popcorn alternatives you may want to consider:

Cheese pops

Cheese pops are popcorn-like snacks made from hard cheeses like cheddar or gouda. You simply cut the cheese into popcorn-sized squares, leave to dry for 48 hours, and pop in the oven for 3 minutes. You can find many cheese pop recipes with more detailed instructions online.

Pork rinds

Every keto dieter should have pork rinds in their pantry (unless they're following a plant-based keto diet). These are great for curbing cravings and hunger pangs, and what's best, they're healthy. Up to 40% of the fat in pork rinds in unsaturated. Pork rinds are also a great source of protein, which makes them particularly filling.

Cauliflower popcorn

Cauliflower can be anything you want it to be on a keto diet – rice, mashed potatoes, couscous, and even a popcorn substitute. It won't be as crunchy as the real thing, but at least it resembles popcorn in appearance and flavor (almost). Simply season and roast cauliflower florets until tender and snack all you want, it's low in carbs.

Conclusion

Is popcorn keto approved? No, it's not.

An average serving of 3 cups of popcorn provides 15g of net carbs. That amount will get you dangerously close to your daily carb limit while not providing much in vitamins and minerals.

But if you really want to have popcorn badly, then keep your intake to one cup a day. That should help you stay within your daily carb limits while also not compromising your overall nutrient intake.

Popcorn is a healthy snack that's low in calories and rich in antioxidants. Studies have also linked it to some health benefits like appetite control and antioxidant protection. When prepared in butter and other flavorings, popcorn becomes even more nutritious.

If you're on a keto diet and looking for tasty snack options, then go for popcorn alternatives or even beef jerky, string cheese, and keto nuts – the choices are endless and you won't even have to miss popcorn for a bit.

References

  1. https://www.alliedmarketresearch.com/popcorn-market
  2. https://www.popcorn.org/Facts-Fun/Industry-Facts
  3. https://www.dietitians.ca/Downloads/Factsheets/Healthy-Snacks-for-Adults.aspx
  4. https://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/mayo-clinic-clinic-popping-a-healthier-high-fiber-snack/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17991616
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3502142/
  7. https://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/pressroom/newsreleases/2012/march/popcorn-the-snack-with-even-higher-antioxidants-levels-than-fruits-and-vegetables.html
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26192183
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18778272

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