Low Carb Popcorn: Is it Even Possible?

Low Carb Popcorn: Is it Even Possible?
Daniel Thompson

on June 27, 2019

If you’re following a low-carb 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 the ketogenic diet and other low-carb nutrition plans. 

Nutrition Information on Popcorn

It’s no wonder popcorn is such a popular snack. Humans have been eating the puffed corn treat for hundreds of years, all the way back to its use in Aztec Indian ceremonies in the 16th century. In more recent history, popped corn was eaten as a breakfast food and is likely to have been the inspiration behind the ubiquitous breakfast cereal we know and love today. 

But let’s get back to modern times and the nutritional nuts and bolts of popcorn. 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. Whole grains are rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals that bring many health benefits, including lower cholesterol, lower risk of heart disease and optimal digestive function. Fiber is an important dietary macro for those looking to lose weight by following a low-carb diet since it helps keep you feeling full and doesn’t produce the blood sugar spike that other carbohydrates do. 

One three-cup serving of your average popped popcorn contains about 90 calories, 4 grams of fiber and 3 grams of protein with just 1 gram of fat. So, it’s easy to see why people looking to lose weight and eat healthier reach for popcorn as a snack that’s both filling and diet friendly. 

How Many Carbs Does Popcorn Have?

When you think of grains, you probably think of bread--also known as carbs. As a whole grain, popcorn does inherently contain carbohydrates--about 18 grams in that same 3 cup serving mentioned above, to be exact.

However, for low-carb followers, it’s not as simple as the number of carbs on the label. People following a low-carb diet are concerned with net carbs, which is found by subtracting the number of grams of fiber from the total grams of carbs in a food item. 

A serving of popcorn has 18 grams of carbs, but remember, it also contains 4 grams of fiber. That brings its net carb count down to 14 grams, making it a fully keto-friendly snack option.  

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

Most low-carb diets are built around a guideline of consuming 50 grams of carbohydrates per day or less. With that as a baseline, you can easily enjoy a normal serving size of popcorn and still have room for other carbs during the day. Even those following a more restrictive low-carb diet can enjoy popcorn in lower serving sizes. 

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. 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 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. 

Don’ts

  • Don’t overdo 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 the bottomless tub of movie theater popcorn! Not only are the portion sizes insane, but they’re also often drenched in butter. While butter isn’t necessarily a no-no for low-carb diets, it does contain saturated fat, which should be eaten in moderation no matter what kind of nutrition plan you follow. 
  • Don’t pile on super sweet toppings like chocolate syrup or caramel. These are 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. You can also change it up with a sprinkle of antioxidant-rich cinnamon or even chili powder. 

Low-Carb Popcorn Alternatives

SkinnyPop Popped Popcorn

Clocking in at 150 calories, 15 grams of carbs and 3 grams of dietary fiber, SkinnyPop Popped Popcorn is an excellent low-carb snack. The serving size is 3 ¾ cups, plenty to fill you up without overeating. In addition to the Original flavor, which is your standard popcorn, SkinnyPop comes in a range of tasty options like Aged White Cheddar (14 grams of carbs) and Sweet and Salty Kettle Popped (17 grams of carbs). 

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. 

Not only is SkinnyPop healthy, but convenient as well. 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. This poppable bag will set you back just 170 calories, with 18 grams of carbs and 3 grams of dietary fiber. 

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

One thing to be aware of with this low-carb popcorn option--you’ll need to be mindful of portion sizes, as a single bag contains seven servings. 

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!). 

Begin by heating two tablespoons of 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 half a cup of unpopped kernels (you can scale this recipe up for larger batches). 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 pain. 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 few tablespoons of Kerrygold Irish Butter. 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. One tablespoon of Kerrygold butter contains 100 calories and zero grams of carbs. Enjoy!

By being mindful of ingredients, limiting portion sizes and keeping toppings simple, low-carb dieters can easily incorporate popcorn into their rotation of healthy snacks. 

About Left Coast Performance

Left Coast Performance is an online retailer and educational resource committed to delivering ketogenic, low-carb and clean protein products at a direct-to-consumer price. The company offers only premium, clean label ingredients with no artificial flavors, artificial coloring or fillers. All orders come with free shipping and a 100% no risk money back guarantee. On the company’s blog, you’ll find informational articles on the ketogenic diet along with keto-friendly products, tips and frequently asked questions. Left Coast Performance is based in Calgary in Alberta, Canada. For more information on Left Coast Performance visit www.leftcoastperformance.com. You can also follow the company on Instagram

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