Is Popcorn Keto? Is It Low Carb? The Answer, Plus Alternatives

Is Popcorn Keto? Is It Low Carb? The Answer, Plus Alternatives
Daniel Thompson

on June 27, 2019

If you’re following a keto diet, having the right snacks on hand can make or break your success. Nothing will cause you to cave to a craving faster than heading to the pantry and finding it filled with carb-loaded temptations. 

Popcorn is often touted as a healthy snack option for people who are watching their caloric intake, but what about when it comes to carbohydrates? 

Read on to learn more about popcorn’s nutritional content and whether or not it can coexist with a low carb high-fat ketogenic diet.

Is Popcorn Keto? How Many Carbs Does Popcorn Have? And Popcorn's Nutrition Facts

In its most basic form, popcorn is made by heating whole corn kernels, usually on a stove or in a microwave. The water inside the kernels expands, causing the kernel to puff up. Voilà! We have popcorn. 

Although popcorn comes from corn, a vegetable, since it’s made with the whole kernel intact it’s actually considered a whole grain. 

While whole grains are rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals that bring many health benefits, they're also high in carbohydrates.

A typicall bag of popcorn contains 3 1/2 cups of popped, popcorn which contains:

  • 21g Carbs
  • 4g of Fiber
  • 17g Net Carbs
  • 108 calories
  • 4 grams of protein
  • 0 gram of fat

Splitting a bag of popcorn isn't unreasonable and I'm sure we've all indulged on a full bag. Even cutting the serving size in half we end up with 8.5g of net carbs.

While it's a great low-calorie snack for non-keto dieters, on the keto diet it is a snack you'll want to eat in moderation.

How Much Popcorn Can You Eat on a Low Carb Diet?

Most low-carb diets are built around a guideline of consuming 25-50 grams of carbohydrates per day or less. With that as a baseline, you can enjoy a small amount of popcorn and still have room for other carbs during the day. 

The trick here is to watch your portions. Popcorn is so light and airy that it can be easy to overeat. If you’re using a pre-packaged bag, be sure to read the label as many bags can contain multiple servings. If you’re popping your own popcorn, try separating individual servings into Ziploc bags directly after popping so you can easily break one out next time a craving strikes without the risk of going overboard. 

Low Carb Popcorn Dos and Don’ts

Here are a few helpful hints for eating popcorn on a low-carb diet. 

Dos

  • Make your popcorn using high-quality fats, like extra virgin olive oil, grass-fed butter or coconut oil. These fats are rich in healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids and contain more nutrients than their lower quality counterparts like vegetable oil.
  • Use it to curb your high-carb cravings. Popcorn is a great alternative to beat cravings when you’re dreaming of something crunchy and salty but not-so-healthy, like potato chips
  • Look for single-serving bags or make your own to avoid the temptation to overeat. Many microwave popcorn brands on the market offer convenient single-serving bag options. 
  • Get creative with it. Popcorn is great on its own with just a touch of salt, but it’s so versatile that it also pairs well with a range of other flavors. For a savory option, top your popcorn with garlic powder and fresh parmesan cheese. For a sweet and salty snack, combine equal parts granular Stevia and sea salt and toss to coat your popcorn in a bowl. All of these options are ideal for low-carb dieters. 

Avoid

  • Overdoing it on portion sizes. As we mentioned above, you’ll want to pay attention to just how much popcorn is in that bowl and limit your intake of other grains on days when you enjoy a popcorn snack. 
  • Beware of the bottomless and oversized tubs of movie theater popcorn! Even a small is going to be too much. It's better to avoid popcorn at the movies all together unless you have exceptional will power.
  • Sweet varieties like kettle corn or caramel. These are generally filled with sugar, a simple carb that will quickly push you past your recommended daily carb allotment. For best results, keep it simple with a drizzle of melted butter and a dash of salt. I would also highly recommend Trader Joe's Chili Lime seasoning on your popcorn.

Best Low-Carb, Keto Popcorn Options:

SkinnyPop Popped Popcorn

A serving size of Original SkinnyPop is 3 3/4 cups and contains:

  • 15g of carbs
  • 3g of dietary fiber
  • 12g of net carbs
  • 150 calories

As is the case with regular popcorn you won't want to eat 3 1/2 cups of it. But a cup can satisfy those cravings and will only cost you 3g of net carbs, making this an excellent low-carb snack.

In addition to the Original flavor, which is your standard popcorn, SkinnyPop comes in a range of tasty options 

Aged White Cheddar SkinnyPop- Serving Size 1 Cup

  • 4.7g of carbs
  • 1g of dietary fiber
  • 3.7g of net carbs
  • 47 Calories
  • Fat 2.7g

Sweet and Salty Kettle Popped SkinnyPop - Serving Size 1 Cup

  • 5.6g of carbs
  • 0.8g of dietary fiber
  • 4.8g of net carbs
  • 44 calories
  • Fat 2.4g

SkinnyPop is non-GMO and made with no artificial ingredients or preservatives. It’s made with only three ingredients: popcorn, salt, and sunflower oil. Sunflower oil is an unsaturated fat that’s been shown to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and raise HDL (good) cholesterol. It’s high in Vitamin E and antioxidants, too. 

SkinnyPop is a reasonably healthy and convenient. It comes pre-popped in an airtight bag similar to potato chips, so it’s easy to break out as a party munchie or bring along on a road trip for guilt-free snacking.

Orville Redenbacher’s Naturals - Simply Salted

If classic microwave popcorn is what you’re after, try Orville Redenbacher’s Naturals line in the Simply Salted variety. 

A bag of Orville's Redenbachers Natura's is 4.5 cups popped

  • 17g of carbs
  • 3g of dietary fiber
  • 14g of net carbs
  • 170 calories
  • 11g of fat

Orville Redenbacher’s Naturals are made with whole kernels, salt, and palm oil, which is rich in Vitamin E and supports brain health. 

Like with the other options on this list - you'll need to be careful you don't devour a whole bag if you want to get and stay in Ketosis.

Homemade Stove-Popped Popcorn

Most of us grew up sticking a popcorn bag in the microwave and standing a few feet away, counting the amount of time between pops. Though the microwavable version is definitely convenient, the beautiful thing about popcorn is that it’s so easy to make this low-carb snack from scratch (and it’s fun, too!). 

The other nice thing about making popcorn on the stove top or with a popcorn maker is controlling the serving size is much easier. Plus, you get a blank canvas so you can add healthy fats, the perfect amount of butter and even try out some fun recipes like this smoked paprika popcorn.

If you're going to indulge with a little bit of popcorn making your own is going to be your best bet.

How to Make Stove-Popped Popcorn

Begin by heating two tablespoons of coconut or avocado oil in a wide pan. You’ll want to use something deeper than a frying pan to account for the volume of the popped corn. A stock pot with a tight-fitting lid works well. 

Once the oil is warm, remove it from the heat and toss in a half a tbsp of un-popped kernels (which makes 1 cup of popcorn - a good serving of popcorn for the keto diet). The idea here is to slowly start warming up all of the kernels at the same time so they pop more evenly. 

After the kernels have warmed up away from the heat source for a minute or two, place the pan back on the burner with the heat on high. Cover with the lid and let the popping begin. It’ll start off slowly and quickly pick up speed. Don’t be alarmed if the popping even raises the lid of your pot. This happens; just stay close to keep any stray kernels from making contact with the burner.  

Once the majority of the kernels have popped, remove the pan from the heat and toss in your desired toppings. 

We like adding a tablespoon of Kerrygold Irish Butter (100 calories, 0 carbs). It’s made from the milk of grass-fed cows, which has a higher quantity of healthy fats and fat-soluble vitamins and fewer toxins than its grain-fed counterpart. 

Once the popcorn is fully popped, melt your butter and stir it in. Add any seasoning and consider drizzling MCT oil over it for additional healthy fat. And now, you're ready for movie night. 

Alternative Keto Snacks to Cure Your Popcorn Craving

As I mentioned at the top of this article, popcorn isn't the most keto friendly snack, as popcorn has a pretty high number of carbs. 

If you're trying to stay in Ketosis one of these snacks may be a better bet.

Pork Rinds

Crispy, salty and 0 carbs - these are hands down one the best options to satisfy those popcorn cravings. These tasty little treats are made from pork skin, fried in pork fat and seasoned.

You can buy plain pork rinds and flavor them however you like. Remember that Trader Joe's Chili Lime seasoning I was raving about above? 

Throw a few cups of pork rinds into a ziplock bag. Season generously with Trader Joe's Chili Lime seasoning

Nuts

If you're watching your caloric intake you'll want to tread carefully around nuts, as they're easy to overeat. However, they are low carb and high in fat making them a great keto snack. Some of the more keto-friendly nuts are Macadamia Nuts, Pecans and Walnuts. 

Beef Jerky

Beef jerky is another low carb snack that won't spike your blood sugar as long as you're careful to avoid brands or flavors that have lots of added sugars. If you make it yourself it can be a zero-carb snack. 

Veggies

While a veggie plater doesn't have the same appeal as popcorn, if weight loss is your goal focusing on high quality, low carb whole foods will go a long ways. Celery sticks, cauliflower, bell peppers and cucumbers with a high-fat low carb veggie dip is a delicious snack.  

In Summary: Is Popcorn Keto?

Yes, if you're careful you can include a limited amount of popcorn on the keto diet.

It is by no means the perfect keto snack but by being mindful of ingredients, limiting portion sizes and keeping toppings simple, low-carb dieters can incorporate popcorn into their rotation of healthy snacks.

 

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