Is Popcorn Carbs or Keto? (Low-Carb Nutrition Facts)

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Popcorn | Carbs | Keto | Diabetes | Low-Carb Substitutes | Recipe | Conclusion | FAQ | Studies

Of all the available snacks, popcorn takes the first place for a TV night. Finally, its scent is already tempting.

However, mainly since it contains carbohydrates, whether popcorn can 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?

Popcorn is nothing more than a grain – corn. In short, it is a type of corn kernel that has 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 essentially 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, where it 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 today, 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 in the 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 find out if it is suitable for a low-carb diet like the keto diet, we need to look deeper into the nutrient distribution.

Popcorn is rich in carbohydrates

Popcorn Carbs: Keto Nutrition Facts

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 obviously 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 as a result.

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 already trans fats that no one should consume anyway.

Is Popcorn OK for the Keto Diet?

The facts about nutritional values make it easy for us to judge. After popcorn is a cereal that is mostly starch, it is not well suited for keto.

In the end, the carbohydrate content is simply too high. While it is possible to eat small amounts of popcorn without being kicked out of ketosis right away, 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, this means 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 is suitable for 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 with foods that keep blood sugar at a continuously high level 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.

Popcorn is not suitable for low carb and keto

Low-Carb Popcorn Substitutes for Keto

There are better alternatives if you don’t want to use up your carb limit with three handfuls of popcorn, which isn’t filling anyway.

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 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:

1. Nuts

You can now get a range of natural nuts in grocery stores that are incredibly keto-friendly. These include first and foremost:

  • Macadamia nuts
  • Pecans
  • Walnuts
  • Brazil nuts

All these nuts have a first-class fat-to-net carbohydrate ratio. They also provide valuable minerals, such as 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 right off the bat, 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. Nonetheless, you must check the ingredients when buying, as some manufacturers make pork crust chips with industrial vegetable oils.

If you don’t mind the smell, you can easily make your pork crusts at home in the oven.

4. Pepperoni

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 Keto Recipes

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)

Servings 12

Equipment

  • Scissors
  • Baking paper

Ingredients

  • 4 sheets Nori
  • Olive Oil extra virgin
  • Pink Himalayan Salt

Instructions

  • 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.

Low-Carb Keto Cheese Dip

Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 5 minutes
Servings 3 cups

Ingredients

  • 1 pcs Heavy Cream
  • 6 oz Cream Cheese
  • 9 oz Cheddar coarsely grated
  • 1 tsp Pink Himalayan Salt

Instructions

  • 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 the movie theaters, we have to 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 right 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 going over your carb limit quickly.

Is Popcorn Carbs or Keto FAQ

Can you eat popcorn on a low-carb diet?

No, corn is not suitable for a low-carb diet. Corn is mostly starch and, therefore, carbohydrates.

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 it is too high in carbohydrates, regular hummus is not allowed on the keto diet.

What snacks can I eat on keto?

You can eat pork rinds, macadamia nuts, pepperoni, or cheese cubes as a keto snack.

Studies

1Grobman A, Bonavia D, Dillehay TD, Piperno DR, Iriarte J, Holst I. Preceramic maize from Paredones and Huaca Prieta, Peru. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 Jan 31;109(5):1755-9. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1120270109. Epub 2012 Jan 17. PubMed PMID: 22307642; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3277113.

2Corkey BE. Banting lecture 2011: hyperinsulinemia: cause or consequence?. Diabetes. 2012 Jan;61(1):4-13. doi: 10.2337/db11-1483. PubMed PMID: 22187369; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3237642.

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.

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