Is Popcorn Allowed on Keto?
Picture this: you’re at the movie theater, waiting to see that movie that everyone’s raving about when it happens.
Your stomach rumbles.
And the delicious smell of buttery, salted popcorn wafts by your nose.
Some movie-theater popcorn sure would hit the spot right now…and it would give you something to munch on during the commercials. After all, what’s a movie without popcorn, right?
It can’t do that much damage, can it?
Well…here’s the thing.
It actually can.
When you’re on Keto, prepping meals and calculating your macros is just part of the battle.
Since the Keto diet is focused on macros rather than calories, you might think you can get away with a few handfuls of popcorn…you’re good so long as you keep your net carbs down to below 25 grams a day, right?
Actually, you’d be wrong.
Today, I’m going to walk you through the nutritional profile of popcorn so you can see where you stand, and I’ll also show you some alternatives so you can still enjoy a tasty treat when you’re at the theater or curled up in front of the tv at home, or just out and about.
Is Popcorn Keto?
If you’re just dipping your toes into the Keto diet, keep a few general pointers foremost in your mind when you’re looking at the viability of snack foods…
- Carbs over Calories: Unlike a regular diet where you might consume upwards of 300 grams of carbs a day (1), with Keto carbs are cut back substantially to roughly 25 grams daily. By focusing on your macros, eating the right amount of calories will fall into place. If you ride roughshod over your macros, though, you’ll end up falling out of ketosis.
- Avoid Processed Foods: Your goal should be to eat as many natural, unprocessed foods as possible. Flavorings, colorings, preservatives, and sugar should be kept at bay (2).
We’ll take a look now at how popcorn fits with your Keto goals…
What is Popcorn?
Popcorn is a grain. In particular, it’s a variety of corn kernel with a hard outer shell. When heated, the moisture within the kernel turns to steam and expands, increasing the pressure inside the grain and causing it to pop.
When it pops it essentially turns inside out and revealing the white fluffy flakes we’ve come to know as popcorn.
There are 3 main parts to the popcorn kernel:
- Endosperm: This is the starch forming the inner kernel (and the white part after it pops).
- Germ: The germ is the living part of the kernel.
- Pericarp: Made from cellulose, the pericarp (also known as the bran or hull) forms the hard outer kernel.
Since popcorn can be low in calories (3), is it OK to wolf some down on Keto?
While nothing should be off-limits in the tiniest quantities, it’s not a smart move to overindulge on popcorn if you want to hit your macros.
Why is that?
Problems with Corn
Although it’s low in calories, there are 3 main reasons for steering clear of popcorn if you’re following Keto:
- Popcorn is a grain
- Carbs in popcorn
- Sugar and preservatives in commercial popcorn
Popcorn is a Grain
Since most grains are high in carbs, they are not recommended when you’re on Keto.
According Gina Nguyen, M.D. following a ketogenic diet involves giving a pass to grains. “Foods that are high in starch and carbohydrates, as well as factory raised protein sources, should be avoided whenever possible.” This includes, “all types of grains and starch (rice, oats, wheat, corn, potatoes).”
Popcorn is a grain, and it’s this density of carbohydrates that brings us to the main reason that popcorn is not Keto-friendly…
Carbs in Popcorn
While popcorn is generally low in calories, when you’re counting your macros it’s the carb content that’s a killer.
A single cup of air-popped popcorn contains a whopping 5 grams of net carbs (4). This amounts to your entire daily allowance in as little as 5 cups.
This number of carbs does not present a problem for someone following a regular diet since it would only make up a small percentage of their daily carb allotment. On Keto, though, popcorn is simply too carb-rich to make a wise snack food.
Popcorn also has another hidden drawback for Keto followers…
Sugar and Preservatives in Popcorn
You should avoid processed foods as much as possible.
Most commercial popcorn is laced with artificial colorings and flavorings and also preservatives.
Many types of popcorn also have far too much sugar. You can find plenty of low-fat popcorn with only trace amounts of sugar, but caramel popcorn can have as much as 16 grams of sugar per ounce (5).
Since you want to slash your sugar intake on Keto, this is just one more reason to rethink your movie snack food if you want to stay on track with your macros and remain in ketosis.
With that in mind, we’ll wrap up today by showing you some mouth-watering alternatives to popcorn.
Keto Popcorn Alternatives
If you’re adhering to the Keto diet, you should feel less inclined to snack as you’ll feel fuller for longer (6).
If you do feel peckish between meals and you’re disappointed that popcorn is off-menu, what options are at your disposal?
When you’re deciding what snacks mix well with Keto, think in terms of your macros.
- Fat: Opt for snacks that are high in fat so you won’t feel deprived.
- Protein: Shoot for snack food that has moderate levels of protein.
- Carbs: Zero-carb snacks are ideal, although low-carb treats are fine as long as you’re within your macros.
If you keep these pointers in mind and you’re on line to hit your macros, you can enjoy a little leeway with snacking.
Here are 5 excellent options if you haven’t got enough carb allowance left for a cup of popcorn…
- Pork Rinds
- Salami Chips
- Zucchini Chips
We’ll round out today by pointing you in the direction of 3 superb recipes if you want to sidestep carb-rich popcorn.
Keto Popcorn Recipes
- Pork Rinds: As a replacement for higher-carb fare check out these imaginative pork rind recipes. Pork rinds topped our list of 5 excellent snack options because they’re carb-free with moderate protein and contain plenty of healthy fats, making them tailor-made for Keto.
- Keto Popcorn: This fantastic low-carb Keto popcorn has the added advantage of being high in healthy fats with no grain, corn or dairy. The recipe also includes a dipping sauce for a decadent touch.
- Cheese Pops: This snack takes a bit more planning up front, but when you’re ready for this low-carb popcorn, you’ll have them plated up in less than 5 minutes. While very low in carbohydrate, this snack does obviously contain dairy.
- Low-Carb Popcorn Cauliflower: With just a handful of ingredients, you can rustle up this crunchy snack that’ll be baked and on the table within the hour. If you’re dying for a savory snack and you need to keep those carbs down, this popcorn cauliflower is a must-try.
You’ll be surprised that cauliflower can stand in for popcorn! And there are added reasons to make the swap. Registered Dietitian Brianna Elliott, RD says, “It is a great source of nutrients, including a few that many people need more of. Plus, cauliflower contains unique antioxidants that may reduce inflammation and protect against several diseases, such as cancer and heart disease.”
Popcorn is not your friend if you’re following the Ketogenic diet.
Made from corn and far too high in carbs, a 3-cup serving of popcorn packs more than 15 grams of net carbs. Eating it would quickly push you up to your daily limit.
Your aim with Keto should be to eat as many whole, unprocessed foods as possible. Packs of microwave popcorn are riddled with artificial coloring and flavoring. They also contain vegetable oils and, often, sugar.
The bottom line is that popcorn does not align well with a low-carb Ketogenic diet, so roll with some of our alternative suggestions instead and you’ll have an easier time sticking to your macros.
The good news is, sticking to a low carb diet often means you’re not all that hungry between meals anyway. Dr. Andreas Eenfeldt, M.D. says, “Snacks are not really needed on low carb, as the hunger should go away when doing it right. If you’re still hungry, you may want to add more healthy fat to your meals.”
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Just because you can’t have popcorn on Keto doesn’t mean you can’t have tasty snacks!
We’ve got recipes for Keto granola, donuts, fries, chips, crackers, and more over on our Keto Snacks Recipes page. These tasty treats will fill that crunchy craving for sure!