Popcorn? Can I Eat It on a Low Carb Diet?

Popcorn? Can I Eat It on a Low Carb Diet?

Video | Pros | Cons | Microwave Popcorn 

Popcorn is light and airy and seemingly an ideal snack when you’re on a diet. But, is it a low-carb snack that can help you reach your weight loss goal? In this post, we’ll look at the pros and cons of eating popcorn while on a low-carb diet. 

Popcorn on a Low Carb Diet Summary


  • Popcorn is a low-calorie snack that contains vitamins, minerals, and polyphenols, which act as antioxidants.
  • Popcorn is a whole grain, so it contains a substantial amount of carbs with about 6 grams of carbs and 1 gram of fiber per cup.
  • Popcorn is easy to overeat, which could push your daily carb count higher than you’d like.
  • Adding butter and salt makes popcorn more addictive.
  • Non-caloric butter sprays are composed of unhealthy vegetable oils and chemicals.
  • The chemicals used in microwave popcorn packaging and flavoring have been linked to thyroid problems, cancer, ADHD, and other conditions.

Popcorn? Can I Eat It on a Low Carb Diet? [Video]

https://youtu.be/H3-847nVw0c

In this video, you’ll learn…

  • The benefits of popcorn!
  • The cons of popcorn on a low-carb diet.
  • The health value (or lack thereof) of various popcorn add-ins.

Pros of Popcorn as a Low Carb Snack

High Volume but Low Calorie

It’s easy to see why popcorn is appealing as a snack. Because it’s popped, it has a lot of volume, which makes it feel like a substantial snack.

If you eat it one kernel at a time, it can take a long time to eat, which also feels satisfying. Another perk is that it is a low-calorie snack with about 30 calories in a cup of popped popcorn.

Popcorn Contains Nutrients 

Popcorn also has some nutritional benefits. It is a reasonably good source of B vitamins and other vitamins and minerals. It also contains something called polyphenols, which are antioxidants that protect your cells from damage caused by free radicals.

In fact, at least one study found that popcorn contains more polyphenols than fruits and vegetables (1).

benefits of popcorn snack

Cons of Popcorn as a Low Carb Snack

Popcorn Contains Carbs

The nutrient advantages that come with popcorn are because it is an unprocessed whole grain. However, because of that, it also contains carbohydrates.

A cup of air-popped popcorn might only have 31 calories, but most of those calories come from carbohydrates with more than 6 grams of carbs per cup and around one gram of fiber. 

That’s not too bad if you are a low-carb dieter who allows a moderate amount of carbs into your daily diet. However, if you are on a keto diet and need to keep your carbs very low, snacking on popcorn could push your daily carb count higher than you’d like. 

This brings us to some consideration to take into account when debating whether or not to have popcorn as a snack on your low-carb or keto diet

Overeating is Easy

The first consideration is that overeating popcorn is easy to do. It takes a lot of discipline to stop at one cup of popcorn. Especially because we don’t prepare popcorn by the cup, we make it by the bowl.

If there are leftovers, the temptation to finish off the bowl may be challenging to resist. 

downside of popcorn on low carb diet

Popcorn Add-Ins Change the Health Value

Fat and Salt

Another consideration is how the popcorn is made and served. Plain, air-popped popcorn is the way to go. But, that is not typically the way popcorn is prepared. Often, it is popped in oil, or we season it with butter and salt. 

Separately, popcorn, butter, and salt are fine to consume. However, when combined, it creates that lethal combination of addictive foods, which is carbohydrate mixed with fat and salt.

This mixture of ingredients makes it hard to stop eating, so those carefree six grams of carbs that you get from a one-cup serving can quickly balloon into 12 grams or 18 grams before you know it. Add sugar to the mix as we get with kettle corn or caramel corn, and the health value is out the window. 

popcorn is easy to overeat

Non-Calorie Butter Sprays

There are butter sprays that are marketed as low or no-calorie butter alternatives. These sprays will help the salt stick to the popcorn, but they are not healthy choices.

Spray butter is typically made up of unhealthy vegetable oils and chemicals that act as preservatives and flavorings (2).

Olive Oil Sprayer to Avoid Chemicals

Plain popcorn will give you the most control over your diet, but if you need something, you may want to consider using an olive oil sprayer. You pour oil into the sprayer, pump it up to get pressure, and it sprays a fine mist of oil over the popcorn.

These oil misters are available at local home supply stores or online and provide a much healthier option than using packaged microwave popcorn. 

Health Risks of Microwave Popcorn 

There are concerns about the chemicals used in microwave popcorn packaging and flavoring. The packaging is specially designed to repel oil, so the oil doesn’t leak out of the bag.

To make this happen, the microwavable bags are lined with chemical compounds known as PFCs (perfluorinated compounds).

These chemicals have been linked to thyroid problems, cancer, ADHD, and even problems with children producing antibodies after receiving vaccines. (3) (4)

The artificial butter flavoring of microwave popcorn comes from a chemical called diacetyl, which has been linked to breathing issues and lung disease. (5)

On top of that, the oils used in the bags are often hydrogenated or partially-hydrogenated oils, which are trans fats. 

microwave popcorn packaging

Easy Air-Popped Popcorn Microwave Trick

Fortunately, there is a simple way to air-pop popcorn without investing in an air popper. I’ve taught this trick to kindergarteners in the past, and they thought it was pretty cool.

There is not a lot to master. All it takes is a bag, a couple of pieces of tape, and some dry popcorn kernels. If you want to print out the simple instructions, you’ll find them on my blog post, “Healthy Microwave Popcorn Trick.”

Thanks for reading and have a wonderful week!

References:

(1) Vinson, Joe. “Popcorn: The snack with even higher antioxidants levels than fruits and vegetables.” a Meeting of the American Chemical Society, USA. 2012.

(2) Erin Carter, Michigan State University Extension. “Is Spray Butter a Healthier Option?” MSU Extension, 25 Sept. 2018, www.canr.msu.edu/news/is_spray_butter_a_healthier_option.

(3) Melzer, David, et al. “Association between serum perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and thyroid disease in the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.” Environmental health perspectives 118.5 (2010): 686-692.

(4) Hoffman, Kate, et al. “Exposure to polyfluoroalkyl chemicals and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder in US children 12–15 years of age.” Environmental health perspectives 118.12 (2010): 1762-1767.

(5) Hubbs, Ann F., et al. “Respiratory toxicologic pathology of inhaled diacetyl in Sprague-Dawley rats.” Toxicologic pathology 36.2 (2008): 330-344.

About the Author

Becky Gillaspy, DC graduated Summa Cum Laude with research honors from Palmer College of Chiropractic in 1991.

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