Of all the available snacks, popcorn takes first place for a TV night. Finally, its scent is already tempting.
However, since it contains carbohydrates, popcorn may not fit into a low-carb ketogenic diet.
This article enlightens you about net carbs in different popcorn varieties and whether they fit into a keto diet. In addition, you’ll find ready-to-eat snacks and recipes that can replace popcorn as a low-carb alternative.
Is Popcorn Keto?
No, popcorn is not keto. Popcorn is nothing more than a grain – corn. In short, it is a corn kernel with a hard outer husk.
When popcorn is heated, the liquid inside the kernel turns to steam, causing it to expand. Due to the increasing pressure inside the grain, the husk eventually pops.
The kernel turns inside out when it pops, revealing the white, fluffy flakes we know as popcorn.
Popcorn is arguably the most popular movie and television snack today. It originated in America and has been enjoyed for thousands of years.
Consequently, individual studies suggest that people in Peru already consumed popcorn over 6,000 years ago (Grobman et al. 20121).
However, unlike the Western world, they probably did not eat it in movie theaters. There, it is primarily prepared in hot-air popcorn vending machines today.
You can prepare it on the stove or microwave or buy it ready to eat at the grocery store.
Popcorn is always touted as a relatively low-calorie snack, as long as it’s air-popped and not enriched with a butter sauce or other fats.
However, to determine if it is suitable for a low-carb diet like the keto diet, we must look deeper into the nutrient distribution.
Carbs in Popcorn
Depending on how it is prepared, popcorn can have different nutritional values. However, I have not included caramel popcorn and other varieties in the following analysis containing added sugar.
They are not suitable for a ketogenic diet.
Carbs in 1 Cup of Popcorn at the Movie Theater
If popcorn is air-popped, as we know it from most movie theaters, and without additional butter topping, the following nutritional values per 100 grams result (*):
- Energy: 382 calories
- Protein: 12.0 grams
- Fat: 4.2 grams
- Carbs: 77.9 grams
- Dietary fiber: 15.1 grams
- Net carbs: 62.8 grams
For a cup of the same popcorn (8 grams), the nutrition values are (*):
- Energy: 30.6 calories
- Protein: 1.0 grams
- Fat: 0.3 grams
- Carbs: 6.2 grams
- Dietary fiber: 1.2 grams
- Net carbs: 5.0 grams
With this in mind, the result is a lousy fat-to-net carbohydrate ratio of 0.07.
Especially since popcorn is ultimately nothing more than corn, we shouldn’t be surprised that we’re talking about high-carb food.
How Many Carbs Are in Microwave Popcorn?
Microwave popcorn nowadays is mainly sold in reduced-fat varieties. For typical popcorn that you prepare in the microwave, the following macronutrient values per 100 grams result (*):
- Energy: 429 calories
- Protein: 12.6 grams
- Fat: 9.5 grams
- Carbs: 73.4 grams
- Dietary fiber: 14.2 grams
- Net carbs: 59.2 grams
Then, the bottom line is that microwave popcorn is marginally different from that from the movie theater. The fat-to-net carbohydrate ratio is a touch better at 0.16 but still lousy.
Although there are higher-fat versions for microwave use, they are not recommended because they contain primarily industrial vegetable oils, often chemically hydrogenated (*).
As a result, you get fats that oxidize in the microwave or are already trans fats that no one should consume.
Is Popcorn OK for the Keto Diet?
The facts about nutritional values make it easy for us to judge. Since popcorn is a cereal mainly consisting of starch, it is not well suited for keto.
In the end, the carbohydrate content is too high. While it is possible to eat small amounts of popcorn without being kicked out of ketosis immediately, there are better alternatives that we’ll look at shortly.
A single cup of popcorn at movie theaters has about 8 grams, of which 5 grams will end up as blood sugar (*):
With a limit of 20-50 grams of net carbohydrates per day for ketosis, you can eat a maximum of 4 cups of popcorn, provided you avoid carbohydrates otherwise.
Popcorn, Carbs, and Diabetes
After numerous online resources refer to popcorn as a food that doesn’t necessarily harm blood sugar levels, the question arises as to whether it suits people with diabetes.
Cornstarch is a polysaccharide. That’s complex sugar. For this reason, many people talk about complex carbohydrates in connection with popcorn as being healthy.
Although popcorn does not cause enormously high blood sugar spikes, its glycemic index is not precisely low at 55.
It may be true that our liver first has to convert the multiple sugars into simple sugars (glucose), but that doesn’t make it any less sugar.
Feeding diabetic people foods that keep blood sugar high sounds as controversial as it is.
Permanently high blood sugar causes continuously high insulin levels, promoting insulin resistance, the root of type 2 diabetes (Corkey 20122).
So if you feel like developing diabetes or making it worse, you should regularly reach for popcorn and other foods that are predominantly complex sugars.
Low-Carb Popcorn Substitutes
There are better alternatives if you don’t want to use up your carb limit with three handfuls of popcorn, which isn’t filling.
When you’re already on a ketogenic diet, you should be fuller longer and less prone to snacking anyway because of the healthy fats (Hu et al. 20153).
Keto Alternatives for Popcorn at the Grocery Store
If you still want a snack for TV night, here are five ketogenic popcorn alternatives you can buy ready-to-eat:
You can now get a range of nuts in grocery stores that are incredibly keto-friendly. These include, first and foremost:
- Macadamia nuts
- Brazil nuts
All these nuts have a first-class fat-to-net carbohydrate ratio. They also provide valuable minerals like selenium, potassium, or magnesium.
These help prevent muscle cramps, lower blood pressure, and reduce the risk of stroke (Griel et al. 20084).
2. Dark Chocolate
Although it may be hard to believe, chocolate can make an excellent keto snack.
Accordingly, a 100-gram bar of dark chocolate can have a fantastic macronutrient composition even with only 90% cocoa content (*):
- Fat: 55 grams
- Protein: 10 grams
- Net carbs: 14 grams
With that low net carbohydrate content, you can even devour an entire bar in one sitting while watching TV without being thrown out of ketosis.
Also, if you’ve been on a ketogenic diet for a while, 90% cocoa chocolate will taste far sweet enough to constitute snacking. To my taste, it shouldn’t be any sweeter.
3. Pork Rinds
Nowadays, you can buy ready-to-eat pork rind chips that live up to a high standard.
- Fat: 33 grams
- Protein: 62 grams
- Net carbohydrates: 0.1 grams
Consequently, pork rinds are virtually carbohydrate-free. When buying, you must check the ingredients, as some manufacturers make pork crust chips with industrial vegetable oils.
If you don’t mind the smell, you can easily make pork crusts at home in the oven.
An authentic pepperoni is an entirely carb-free keto snack (*):
- Fat: 44.0 grams
- Protein: 22.7 grams
- Net carbs: 0 grams
Ketogenic popcorn substitutes from the fridge can be this easy.
5. Cheese Cubes
Full-fat cheese is an easy snack for TV night if you cut it into cubes. The more fat and less protein, the more keto-friendly the cheese.
For example, regular Emmental already contains more fat than protein (*):
- Fat: 32.1 grams
- Protein: 28.6 grams
- Net carbs: 0 grams
Due to the ripening process, Emmental is already carbohydrate-free.
Popcorn Substitute Recipes for Keto
However, if you want to serve a ketogenic highlight when friends come over for movie night, you can make keto chips with cheese dip with little effort.
The advantage of these recipes over ready-to-eat low-carb products is that they are not only 100% keto-friendly but also additive-free:
Nori Seaweed Chips (Low-Carb Keto Snacks)
- Baking paper
- 4 sheets Nori
- Olive Oil extra virgin
- Pink Himalayan Salt
- Cut nori leaves with scissors into desired chip size. I cut the chips into about 8 pieces.
- Thinly coat nori pieces with olive oil and place smooth side down on a baking sheet with parchment paper. Then season chips with freshly ground Himalayan salt.
- Bake at 150°C for about 3-4 minutes in a preheated oven on medium heat. Watch the progress so that the seaweed chips do not burn.
Best Cheese Dip for Keto
- 1 pcs Heavy Cream
- 6 oz Cream Cheese
- 9 oz Cheddar coarsely grated
- 1 tsp Pink Himalayan Salt
- Melt whipping cream and cream cheese in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir occasionally.
- Once the mixture is well melted, remove the saucepan from the heat and add the grated cheddar and salt. Then stir until the cheese is completely melted.
- Enjoy the dip with celery sticks or pork rinds.
Carbs in Popcorn Exceed Keto Targets
Even though we love the smell of fresh popcorn at movie theaters, we must face the facts. Popcorn is a grain and therefore consists mainly of carbohydrates.
For this reason, it is not suitable for low-carb diets like the keto diet.
Although a handful of popcorn won’t knock you out of ketosis, there are better snack alternatives for an evening of movies.
Unlike popcorn, you can snack on considerable amounts of nuts, keto chips with cheese sauce, pork crusts, or even chocolate with 90% cocoa content without quickly exceeding your carb limit.
Carbs in Popcorn: Keto FAQ
Can you eat popcorn on a low-carb diet?
Popcorn is unsuitable for a low-carb diet since it is mostly starch, which is a carbohydrate.
Why is popcorn not keto?
Popcorn is not keto since it contains a vast amount of carbohydrates.
Can I eat skinny popcorn on keto?
Since there are more net carbs than fat in SkinnyPop popcorn, you should avoid it on keto.
How many net carbs are in 1 cup of popcorn?
There are 5 grams of net carbs in a single cup of popcorn.
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3Hu T, Yao L, Reynolds K, Niu T, Li S, Whelton P, He J, Bazzano L. The effects of a low-carbohydrate diet on appetite: A randomized controlled trial. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2016 Jun;26(6):476-88. doi: 10.1016/j.numecd.2015.11.011. Epub 2015 Dec 12. PubMed PMID: 26803589; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4873405.
4Griel AE, Cao Y, Bagshaw DD, Cifelli AM, Holub B, Kris-Etherton PM. A macadamia nut-rich diet reduces total and LDL-cholesterol in mildly hypercholesterolemic men and women. J Nutr. 2008 Apr;138(4):761-7. doi: 10.1093/jn/138.4.761. PubMed PMID: 18356332.
Stephan is a writer and a true man of science, holding multiple diplomas and master's degrees in different research areas. His greatest passion is closing the gap between the conventional perception of health and the latest scientific evidence – always following the data.