The ketogenic diet—also known simply as “keto”—has been around for decades but in the last couple of years, has seen a dramatic increase in popularity. In 2020, “keto” was the most-searched food-related topic in Google with 25.4 million searches. Whether you’re keto now or simply curious about keto diets, people search hundreds of thousands of keto questions per day. One of the most frequent keto Q’s: Is popcorn keto?
Parade consulted Rima Kleiner MS, RD, a Registered and Licensed Dietitian, nutritionist, and blogger at Dish on Fishto find out more about eating popcorn while keto and more keto diet-related questions.
What Is Popcorn?
For many of us, popcorn has been a staple snack in our household or at the movie theater since childhood. But you may be surprisingly stumped if someone were to ask you: Do you even know what popcorn really is,
“Popcorn is literally popped corn,” Kleiner explains. “However, it’s a special variety of corn and it’s the only [kind] that expands and puffs up when heated.”
So, is it a vegetable? Not exactly. But in some aspects, popcorn is an even healthier snack than regular corn.
Related: 14 Tips To Eat Keto On A Budget
One ear of sweet corn contains 90 calories, 3 grams of protein, 1 gram of fat, 19 carbohydrates, 1 gram of fiber, 5 grams of sugar, and 3.6 milligrams of vitamin C. But three cups of air-popped popcorn can have as much as 4 grams of fiber and 15 grams of carbs. (More on the nutritional value of popcorn later.)
It’s no wonder popcorn is so, well, pop-ular in the US The Popcorn Board—yep, it’s a real organization—estimates that Americans eat 45 quarts of popcorn each year. So, clearly, we’re a popcorn-obsessed nation.
Popcorn Nutrition Facts
Popcorn can be a healthy, low-carb snack if made correctly. When considering store-bought popcorns (especially ones with added flavoring and whatnot), you may be looking at higher levels of fat, sugar, sodium, and more.
But traditional popcorn that’s air-popped, unsweeted, and unsalted is surprisingly nutritious.
Related: 75 Best Low-Carb Recipes
“You may be surprised to learn that popcorn is a whole grain,” Kleiner says. “And like other whole grains, popcorn provides a variety of B-complex vitamins and dietary fiber, which may help lower blood cholesterol and reduce risk of heart disease. Air-popped corn contains only 30 calories in a 1-cup serving.”
Here’s the USDA’s nutritional breakdown for 1 cup of air-popped popcorn:
- Calories: 31 calories
- Total fat: 0.4 grams
- Cholesterol: 0 milligrams
- Sodium: 0.6 milligram
- Total carbohydrate: 6.2 grams
- Fiber: 1.2 grams
- Total sugar: 0.1 grams
Related: Tips From Experts on Creating a Keto-Friendly Kitchen
Is Popcorn Keto?
If you’re a popcorn devotee and thinking of going keto, there’s good news: Popcorn can be eaten on a keto diet.
“Even though popcorn is technically a grain food, it can be enjoyed on a Keto diet… in moderation,” Kleiner advises. “Stick with one cup of popcorn, which contains 6 grams of carbohydrate. Of course, as serving sizes increase, so do the number of carbs. So, enjoy a cup of air-popped popcorn with a drizzle of avocado or olive oil or a little butter and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese or your favorite herbs as a keto-friendly snack.”
Related: What Makes Popcorn Pop?
It may not be exactly keto, but popcorn can fit into your keto program so long as you know how many carbs your specific body can handle while still remaning in ketosis—where your body doesn’t have enough carbs to burn for energy so it burns fat as an alternative, making ketones to use for fuel instead—then you can add your popcorn snack in accordingly.
“In addition, because popcorn is high in fiber and other nutrients, it can also help to boost your overall diet on a ketogenic plan,” Dr. Daniel Boyer of the Farrin Institute adds.
Related: If You’re One of These 6 Types of People, the Keto Diet May Be Bad for You
Other Keto-Friendly Snacks to Try
You already know that popcorn—perhaps drizzled with a bit of avocado, olive oil, or butter—can make a healthy, keto-friendly snack. But when going keto, what other snacks are fair game?
“Keto snacks are a great way to keep your energy up, and your body fueled on the keto diet,” Dr. Boyer points out. “There are a variety of snacks that can be keto-friendly, so it’s essential to find something that you enjoy, and that will keep you satisfied.”
Related: Why Traditional Corn Doesn’t Pop When You Cook It
Dr. Boyer recommends snacks like hard-boiled eggs, salads, low-carbohydrate fruits like berries, kiwis, and apples, and fat bombs—a high-fat, bite-sized keto snack made from healthy fats and protein.
“In addition to popcorn, there are other keto-friendly snacks you can enjoy,” Kleiner says. “Think higher protein snack foods, like canned salmon in an avocado half, grilled or sauteed shrimp, hard-boiled eggs, celery or bell pepper sticks with guacamole, kale chips, canned tuna in lettuce, small handful of nuts or string cheese.”
Or if you prefer to follow a recipe, check out Kleiner’s recipes from Dish on Fish:
Next up, the best high-fat, low-carb keto diet recipes.