Popcorn has earned its rightful place in movie theaters and our homes for very good reasons. It’s delicious and cheap! These salty clouds of goodness just seem to make movie night a whole lot better. It may feel like you can eat a never-ending supply of popcorn because it’s basically like eating crunchy air, but like most other tasty treats, popcorn does contain carbs, which brings us to this question: Is popcorn keto approved? 

In this article, we take a look at popcorn and it’s health benefits to find out whether or not this movie staple has a place in the keto diet.

Is Popcorn a Vegetable?

is popcorn keto?

While popcorn may form part of the corn family, which most consider a vegetable, popcorn is a whole grain. The kernels are typically harvested from Zea mays and Zea mays everta corn strains when the plant has matured. Popcorn kernels are comprised of three components, called the:

  1. Germ 
  2. Endosperm  
  3. Pericarp, otherwise known as the bran. 

The endosperm, which is located beneath the pericarp is made up of starch granules. These granules are what gives the living part of the kernel, the germ, energy. The endosperm is what makes up most of the carbohydrates found in popcorn. 

Popcorn may not be a vegetable, but like many other whole grains, popcorn can provide many health benefits because it is rich in fiber, minerals, vitamins, and plant compounds.

How Many Carbs are in Popcorn?

Popcorn is a healthier and more nutritious snack compared to other snacks like chips or biscuits. However, this doesn’t mean that popcorn is a carb-free delight. Depending on how it is prepared and how much you consume, it could kick your body straight out of ketosis.

A cup of air-popped popcorn contains:

  • 30 calories
  • 1 gram of dietary fiber
  • 5 grams of net carbs
  • 1 gram of protein

A cup of popcorn cooked on the stovetop in coconut oil contains:

  • 45 calories
  • 1 gram of dietary fiber
  • 5 grams of net carbs
  • 2 to 3 grams of fat
  • 1 gram of protein

Microwave popcorn, on the other hand, contains twice as many calories as air-popped and stovetop popcorn. It also contains a higher percentage of fat, which is roughly around 48%. It’s better to avoid microwave popcorn altogether because most brands contain artificial flavorings, preservatives, and refined oils. The microwavable bag may also be lined with Perfluorooctanoic Acid, a carcinogen which has been linked to possible developmental issues and birth defects.

The number of carbs in movie popcorn varies depending on the size of the box and the toppings. However, it is safe to say that movie popcorn is not keto-approved because the average serving size of a “small” tub is usually anywhere between 6 to 11 cups. 

Is Popcorn Keto-Friendly?

is popcorn keto?

In theory, it is safe to eat popcorn on a keto diet, but whether or not you should is the real question. While air-popped and stovetop popcorn only contains 5 grams of net carbs per cup, it all boils down to self-discipline. Most of us can eat five cups of popcorn in a single sitting because it’s just the kind of snack that you can’t seem to put down.

Popcorn is certainly not the worst food you could eat on a keto diet, but if you know that a single cup serving is not going to satisfy your craving, then it may be best to avoid it altogether.  If you can limit yourself to a cup serving of popcorn every once in a while and haven’t reached your macro quota for the day, then go ahead!  

Does Popcorn Have Any Health Benefits?

Surprisingly, these magical puffs can have positive effects on our health. In its natural state, popcorn is a healthy nutritious snack, but when it is prepared with processed toppings, trans fats, and sugar, it can affect its nutritional quality. 

Here are a few health benefits of popcorn that has been air-popped or cooked on the stove in coconut oil:

High in Fiber

Popcorn contains a significant amount of fiber, in fact, a 100-gram serving contains an impressive 15 grams of fiber, which is a good thing on the nutrition scale. Including a substantial amount of fiber in your diet helps to promote weight loss and can improve your digestive health. Fiber has also been linked to a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. 

Snacking on a cup of popcorn can help with some of the symptoms associated with the keto flu, like diarrhea and constipation. 

It’s Loaded With Minerals and Vitamins

Despite their size, popcorn certainly packs a punch when it comes to nutrition. According to the USDA, popcorn accounts for almost 8% of the recommended daily value of iron. As if that is not impressive enough, popcorn also contains beneficial vitamins and nutrients such as:

  • Folate
  • Magnesium
  • Niacin
  • Vitamins B6, A, E and K
  • Calcium
  • Manganese
  • Copper
  • Riboflavin
  • Thiamin
  • Pantothenic acid
  • Phosphorus
  • Potassium
  • Zinc

Protects the Eyes

The pericarp, which is the outermost layer of the kernel contains zeaxanthin, beta-carotene, and lutein, which are natural carotenoids that play an important role in maintaining eye health. The zinc content found in popcorn also helps to protect the eyes from inflammation.

Regulates Blood Sugar Levels

Unlike most carbohydrate loaded foods, popcorn has a decent score on the glycemic index, which means that it won’t cause a spike in blood sugar levels after you eat it. Two slices of white bread equate to a GI of 88 where air-popped popcorn only has a GI of 55. Foods that rank lower on the glycemic index are not absorbed very quickly by the body, which leaves you feeling fuller for longer.

Keto-Friendly Popcorn Alternatives 

If you know that one cup of popcorn is not going to cut it, then it may be best to leave popcorn off your keto menu. Here are a few healthy alternatives that will give you all the crunch and saltiness you are looking for.

Cauliflower Pops

keto cauliflower

Cauliflower has proven time and time again that it is no match for the keto diet. With the right ingredients and some imagination, cauliflower can be turned into anything you want it to be. This popcorn doppelganger is just as easy to make too. Place eight cups of small cauliflower florets onto a lined baking pan. Toss the florets with three teaspoons of olive oil, a pinch of garlic powder, turmeric, and salt. Coat the florets with a ¼ cup of grated parmesan cheese and roast them in the oven on 475F for 20 minutes or until they have browned. 

Puffy Cheese Pops

Could there be a better alternative to popcorn than cheese! These puffy cheese pops are so easy to make and do not require much effort at all. All you need to do is cut your favorite hard cheese like gouda or cheddar into small popcorn sized cubes. Set them aside to dry out for one to two days. Place them on a lined baking tray and pop them in the oven on 390°F and bake for three to five minutes. 

Our Final Note on Popcorn and The Keto Diet

While popcorn may be a healthier snack than most, it still contains a substantial amount of carbs. Whether popcorn is safe to eat on the keto diet depends on the individual. (For the ultimate keto hacks, check this out!) If you can limit yourself to a one-cup serving, then is it safe to occasionally indulge in this salty treat. If not, you may want to consider avoiding popcorn altogether because we know how hard it is to resist the temptation!

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