Nutrition

Carbs in Popcorn & Other Nutritional Info

Published on: February 06, 2019

Carbs in Popcorn & Other Nutritional Info

Popcorn is considered a healthy low-calorie snack [1]. But if you're on ketogenic diet, you'll have to steer clear of popcorn. Just one small 3-cup serving packs around 15g of net carbohydrates, which is 30% of the recommended daily intake on keto.

However, you could simply keep your intake of popcorn to one cup per day and stay within your macros. If you want to learn more about the popcorn, including about popcorn nutrition, popcorn health benefits, and its place in a keto diet, then keep reading.


How Many Carbs in Popcorn?

Popcorn is made from corn kernels, which are cereal grains. Like all cereal grains, popcorn kernels are high in carbohydrates. In fact, carbs make up 75% of a corn kernel's total weight. The rest is composed of protein, fat, and water.

Furthermore, around two tablespoons of fried kernels yield 3 cups of popcorn (24g), which is a typical serving of air-popped popcorn. This provides around 18g of total carbs or 15g of net carbs [2]. Carbs in popcorn are mostly complex such as resistant starch and fiber. This gives popcorn a low to moderate glycemic index.


How Many Calories in Popcorn?

When heated, popcorn kernels expand up to 50 times their original size. This change in volume in popcorn kernels is what makes popcorn a low-calorie food, i.e. you get far more volume of food for fewer calories.

Two tablespoons of unpopped kernels, for example, provides around 92 calories, which is the same calories you get from a 3-cup serving.

Most calories in air-popped popcorn come from carbohydrates, but up to 10% comes from protein and 4% from fat. Most microwave and theater popcorn contain up to 200 calories per 3-cups. These extra calories come from the added palm or partially hydrogenated soybean oil in commercially prepared popcorn.


group-of-friends-having-fun-at-home-eating-popcorn-and-enjoying-together

Nutritional Value of Popcorn

Besides 15g of net carbs, a 3-cup serving of air-popped popcorn provides 3g of protein, 1g of fat, 3.6g of fiber, and 1.8mg of sodium.

Popcorn only contains trace amounts of vitamins. It's moderately rich in several minerals such as magnesium, manganese, copper, and zinc, providing 6-12% of the daily value for these nutrients.


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%

Vitamin B-6

0%

Vitamin C

0%

Calcium

0%

Magnesium

6%

Cobalamin

0%

Iron

3%


Can You Eat Popcorn on The Keto Diet?

Popcorn is not recommended on the ketogenic diet for the following reasons:

  • It's a cereal grain
  • It's relatively high in carbohydrates
  • It's poor in micronutrients

Keto experts do not recommend grains of any type on this diet because grains are composed mostly of digestible carbohydrates. And since keto is a low-carb diet, you want to avoid food that's predominantly carbs.

Plant foods that are recommended on keto are those that are low in net carbs but high in fiber and micronutrients. Examples include leafy greens and non-starchy vegetables like zucchini, cauliflower, and cucumbers. These foods help you to stay within the recommended carb limit of ~50g per day while still meeting your daily needs for fiber, vitamins, and minerals.


Health Benefits of Popcorn

If you don't follow a low-carb diet or don't plan on giving up popcorn on keto, you may be interested in popcorns health benefits. Health experts claim that air-popped popcorn is a healthy snack food [3]. That's mostly because popcorn is a whole grain that's also low in calories. However, there are many more health benefits of popcorn and that we discuss below:


Carbs in Popcorn & Other Nutritional Info_infographic_1

Popcorn is satiating

Compared to many other snacks, popcorn keeps you feeling full for longer [4]. That's mostly because it's rich in fiber and has a relatively low glycemic index, both of which lead to a favorable effect on appetite. Another reason behind popcorn's satiating effect is its unique structure – foamy and airy.


It's loaded with antioxidants

Studies found that popcorn is richer in polyphenols, which are powerful antioxidants than fruits and vegetables [5]. 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

Air-popped varieties are lowest in calories, while many microwave popcorns may also be a good choice (just make sure you read the label). Low-calorie snacks are one of the best ways to curb hunger pangs without eating too many calories.


It's gluten-free

All corn is gluten-free, including popcorn. 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 [6].


How to Eat Popcorn on Keto?

If you simply can't live without popcorn, keep your intake to one cup a day. This amount will give you around 5g net carbs. Other things to do to make popcorn more keto friendly include:


Add more fat

To meet your daily fat requirements on keto, prepare popcorn in healthy fat like butter, olive oil, or coconut oil. Other reasons to prepare popcorn with fat is that it makes popcorn taste better and helps heat up the kernels.


Add salt

You've probably heard about the keto flu. It's a side effect of carb withdrawal but that's easy to treat by adding more salt to your meals. Feel free to add up to a half a teaspoon of salt to popcorn if you're dealing with keto flu.


Add cheese

Add grated parmesan or cheddar cheese to popped popcorn. Cheese is a great popcorn flavoring and it helps boost its fat content.


Make cheese pops

An even better alternative is to make high-fat popcorn copycats like cheese pops. Cheese pops are popcorn-like snacks made from hard cheddar or gouda. Simply cut the cheese into popcorn-sized squares, leave to dry for 48 hours, and pop in the oven for 3 minutes.


Go for pork rinds

Pork rinds are another low-carb alternative to popcorn. Pork rinds are also healthy since up to 40% of their fat is unsaturated. Pork rinds are also a great source of protein, which makes them particularly filling.


Cauliflower popcorn

Season and roast cauliflower florets until crisp to get a low-carb snack that somewhat resembles popcorn. It won't be as crunchy as the real thing but at least it's low in carbs (3g per cup serving).


Takeaways

  • An average serving of 3 cups of popcorn provides 15g of net carbs. That amount will get you pretty close to your daily carb limit while not providing that many micronutrients.
  • If you still want to eat popcorn, 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.
  • When prepared in butter and cheese, popcorn becomes more keto friendly providing you keep your intake to one cup a day.
  • Alternatively, go for popcorn copycats so you can enjoy a low-carb snacks that resembles popcorn in texture or flavor.

References:

  1. Dietitians of Canada. Healthy Snacks for Adults. 2013 - https://www.dietitians.ca/Downloads/Factsheets/Healthy-Snacks-for-Adults.aspx
  2. United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Agricultural Research Service. Basic Report: 19034, Snacks, popcorn, air-popped. 2018 April - https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/19034?fgcd=&manu=&format=&count=&max=25&offset=&sort=default&order=asc&qlookup=AIR+POPPED+SALT+&ds=&qt=&qp=&qa=&qn=&q=&ing=
  3. Olsen J. Mayo Clinic Minute: Popping a healthier high-fiber snack.... View all references

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