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Keto and popcorn: do they mix?

Everyone loves to snack, but people on diets often have problems. Snacks tend to be off of them unless they are diet specific. Keto is like most diets in this. It’s tempting to grab a bag of potato chips or a handful of pretzels. Nope, not on keto. (1)

That doesn’t stop the craving for a salty snack. In fact, it may make it more intense. What about popcorn? Isn’t that a nice, healthy snack? Yes, usually it is, but is popcorn high in carbs? Let’s find out.


Is popcorn high in carbs?

Yes, it is. It’s a whole grain, which is something most people want to avoid on the keto diet. One cup, the standard serving size, is five grams of carbs. However, not many people stop at one serving when it comes to popcorn.

The normal amount of popcorn consumed in one sitting tends to be around five cups. That’s twenty five grams of net carbs. Net carbs are those that can be digested. Popcorn is also a high fiber food, and there are carbs in it that can’t be digested. (2) (3)


Will popcorn kick you out of ketosis?

That depends a great deal on your body, your own personal goals and your strength of will. Some people can eat popcorn and stay in ketosis, some can’t. If you can stop at one serving, it is unlikely to kick you out of ketosis.

The answer also depends on who you ask. If you ask someone who is into keeping carbs as low as possible “is popcorn keto?” they will probably say no. As mentioned, it’s a grain and most keto fans know to skip grains.


What kind of popcorn can you eat on keto?

The point of keto is to consume more protein and fat with fewer carbs. The two best ways to eat popcorn on the keto diet is simply air popped… no additives or to make it on the stove top with coconut oil. The latter provides more fats that may help you stay in ketosis.  

Air popped and stove top popcorn can have some additions like sea salt and some herbs and spices. It should not have sugar added. That simply adds on carbs that you don’t need. It is also important to stick to one serving.

In the case of popcorn, a single serving is one cup. Most microwave popcorns make closer to four cups, plus they contain additives that aren’t good for the body. Popcorn is a lot like the old Lay’s Potato Chip commercials; “no one can eat just one.”

Why all of the fuss about popcorn?

Besides the snack cravings all dieters have, there are good reasons to consider popcorn as a snack. There is also a lot of history behind corn in general and popcorn in particular. These may have you digging out your air popper.

Nutrition benefits

Fiber: We need to eat a lot of fiber in order to maintain a healthy digestive system. Fiber does more than just move things through the digestive tract. It also provides a feeling of fullness, even when very little has been eaten.

Fiber contributes to the removal of toxins that can damage other organs. That includes the brain, kidneys, liver and even skin. It also slows down the digestive system, which means you don’t get hungry as fast.


Vitamins: Popcorn is loaded with them. Vitamins B6, A, E and K are in these whole grains. So is folate, which can help prevent birth defects in unborn babies. Niacin, thiamine and riboflavin are also found in popcorn, making it a great B vitamin booster.

Minerals: Again, popcorn has a lot to offer. Magnesium, calcium, manganese, copper, phosphorus, potassium and zinc are in a serving of the popped kernels. This helps bones, the immune system and various other organs.


Protein: Corn in general, which includes popcorn, is one of the Three Sisters among the Cherokee. When it is eaten with beans and any form of squash, they form a complete protein. They were also grown together, the vines going up the stalks of corn. (4) (5


Health benefits of popcorn

You’ve already read about the digestive health benefits of the fiber in popcorn, but that isn’t the only health benefit. A serving of popcorn may help in other ways. Some of it is from the nutrients; all of them provide some protection. (6) (7


Eye health: Lutein and other carotenoids are in these tasty popped kernels. They may help prevent some problems including macular degeneration. This is largely a problem for older people; though starting young can help prevent it when you get older.


Energy/metabolism: The large amount of B vitamins in in popcorn can boost both energy levels and metabolism. Because it is in food form, it provides more available nutrients than a tablet or capsule would.


Depression: Popcorn is often considered a comfort food. In this case, it is literal. While it won’t treat major clinical depression, the niacin content may help with mild problems that can occur in all of us. This is especially true during the global Covid crisis.


Bone health: It’s not just the calcium in popcorn that helps the bones. It also has phosphorus and manganese, which are also important for forming healthy bones. Younger people may not appreciate this as much, but as we get older it becomes more important.

Blood sugar management: Diabetics are encouraged to eat popcorn. Granting that it’s a starch, there are other reasons for a serving of popcorn on a regular basis. This goes back to the fiber content. A diet rich in fiber helps both manage blood sugar levels and how well insulin works.


Anti-aging: If you are looking for the Fountain of Youth, look no further. You may think that the most devastating problem you could face is cancer. However, free radicals do far more damage. Wrinkles, age spots and more are part of the problem.

Other aging problems, such as various types of dementia, are also a problem. Thinning bones and hair are also age related problems. The antioxidants in popcorn can help reduce those problems, especially with the minerals that also help.


Cholesterol control: Besides sweeping toxins from the body via the digestive tract, popcorn’s fiber can also help remove cholesterol from the same region. Cholesterol is needed for digestion, so the liver supplies it.

When we eat foods that contain cholesterol, they also go through the digestive tract. Dietary fiber can help remove the excess so it doesn’t start clogging up arteries. This helps to prevent heart and coronary artery disease.


Anemia: People who are anemic often need supplemental iron. Women of childbearing years definitely need to up their iron intake. The good news is there is plenty of iron in popcorn.


If I don’t eat popcorn what else could I eat?

There are a lot of snack suggestions out there for the keto diet. Nut butters usually top the list, particularly almond and macadamia nut butters. The macadamia is higher in fat, and may be too much for some dieters.

String and cream cheeses are usually on the list. String cheese is a little easier to pack in a lunch, as it can be eaten with the fingers. Olives and yoghurt generally round out the list, although some like to have steamed low carb vegetables as snacks.

History of corn and popcorn

Corn in general comes from the Americas. It has been a crop for more than nine thousand years, and by the time the Europeans began arriving it grew as far north at the very least to New England. There is a rumor that Squanto taught the English how to pop it.

It has also been a snack food for thousands of years. Archeological digs in Mexico show this, although it can be clearly seen today, as well. Not all of it was popped. There are now several varieties of corn available.

The first recorded use of popcorn is in the 1820s. After the mid-1800s it became much more popular as a treat for the whole family. This was furthered when the steam popper was invented. During the Great Depression, popcorn was extremely popular.

Movie theaters began to serve popcorn at the concessions stands fairly early, at the beginning of the twentieth century. It was an inexpensive snack that could help the theaters stay in business. Now, the concessions sold are the main moneymakers for the movie theaters.

A lot of popcorn products have been sold over the years. Some older readers may remember Jiffy Pop, which was popped on the stovetop or over a camp fire. That isn’t as popular now, as it takes time to do and can result in burned popcorn.

Air poppers became popular in the 1970s and 80’s. This was much faster and didn’t have the oil that could add to weight and cause burns. After that, microwave popcorn came out. This convenience food is probably the most commonly used outside of a movie theater.

Necessary information

The USFDA has not approved any of these statements. This is for your information only. The history of corn is quite fascinating, it is recommended reading for all who enjoy reading about food, cultures and how crops affect them.

Popcorn can cause allergic reactions in some people. For a few, it’s topical dermatitis. Others may have more serious reactions, up to and including anaphylactic shock. That is serious and can very quickly be deadly.

This isn’t a common reaction, but many things besides popcorn can cause it. If there is any tingling in the lips, they and/or fingernails turn blue or there is trouble breathing, either call 911 or head to the nearest emergency room. The former is preferred.

Starting any diet should begin at the doctor’s office. The doctor can explain how much weight should be lost, check to see if there are any underlying conditions and help to choose the diet. Some doctors approve of the keto diet, many do not.

If the keto diet is the one chosen, it is important to know the risk factors and make sure that it is under close medical supervision. This means that you will need to see the doctor every three months, have blood tests and otherwise make sure you remain healthy.

Most diabetics should not attempt the keto diet. For them, the danger of diabetic ketoacidosis is real. This can be deadly. Should it develop, immediate medical intervention is needed. Call 911 unless you live next door to the emergency room.

The keto diet is appropriate for some people. It is often recommended for extremely to morbidly obese people because it can lose weight faster than other diets. Once enough weight is lost, the person will be switched to a different diet.

Children with a certain type of epilepsy often respond to the keto diet. When medications and other procedures don’t work, it is usually tried. For them, it is the right choice. However, again, medical testing is required regularly.

Microwave and movie theater popcorn often have additives that may not be healthy. This can be sugar, too much salt or artificial flavors. It is important to read package labels prior to purchase to make sure the product is right for you.

That means you need to read both labels. The nutrition information will tell you about sodium, cholesterol and nutrients found in the product. There are many times when that information alone gets the product put back on the shelf.

However, the ingredient list is also important. Keep in mind that anything that ends in –ose is a sugar. Maltodextrin is also a sugar. When it comes to chemicals, if you can’t pronounce it, you may not want to eat it.

The best popcorn to eat is air popped with no additions. For those on keto, coconut oil is acceptable, as is stove top popping with said oil. It is important to remember, for those on keto, to stick to one cup.

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