Can Popcorn be Eaten as Part of a Keto Diet?

Everyone knows about popcorn. Certainly, it is not a new snack. But in case you don’t know, popcorn is a snack produced from corn kernels. These kernels are heated to produce puffs that are edible.

Popcorn, especially the plain, air-popped variety can be especially nutritious. It is rich in minerals, carbs, fiber and vitamins.

Now, because popcorn has a high carb content, you may be wondering whether it fits well into the ketogenic diet, since a keto diet is defined as a diet with a high-fat content but low carb content.

Well, you will get to know about this in this article. This article will give you an overview of the nutritive aspects of popcorn, an overview of the ketogenic diet, and whether popcorn fits into the ketogenic diet menu or not.

Popcorn keto diet
Photo Credit: FOOD52

What really is popcorn?

The main ingredient used in the production of popcorn is heated corn kernels. Popcorn is formed when these corn kernels are heated to produce puffs. The heat applied to the corn kernels causes the water within it to expand, and then the kernels explode.

Popcorn is not a new snack. It has been around for thousands of years. Studies show that it may have originated from the Americas.

Some studies have shown that popcorn was eaten in Peru more than 6000 years ago (1).

Popcorn is eaten all over the world today. You can prepare it in an air popper, on a stove, or even in your microwave. The ones sold in the supermarkets have already been popped. Popcorn is garnished with salt and melted butter. It can also be flavored with spices, herbs, chocolate, cheese, and a host of seasonings.

Nutrition in popcorn

Although most people consider popcorn to be a vegetable, it is in the true sense, a whole grain.

Only the mature popcorn kernels are harvested. All parts of the grain are intact when during harvesting.

Research has shown that consumption of whole grains reduces the risk of cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and even overall mortality (2, 3, 4).

Why is this so? Why does popcorn have this load of benefits? Well, the simple answer is because it is made from whole grains. Whole grains have a high vitamin content. They are also loaded with fiber, minerals, and phytochemicals, and these provide the consumer with many health benefits (5, 6).

Popcorn has a high nutrient value like other grains in its category (whole grains). 24 grams or 3 cups of popcorn will give you the following benefits (7):

  • 1 gram of fat
  • 90 calories
  • 3 grams of protein
  • 4 grams of fiber
  • 18 grams of carbs
  • 6 percent of DRI of zinc
  • 12 percent of RDI of manganese
  • 9 percent of RDI of phosphorous
  • 9 percent of RDI of magnesium.

Because of its high fiber content, popcorns fills very quickly without loading you with calories.it also has a high mineral content including zinc, phosphorous, manganese and magnesium (7). As a plus, popcorn has very potent antioxidant effects. Antioxidants present in popcorn include polyphenols. Polyphenols stop free radicals from damaging the cells. As a matter of fact, research has shown that polyphenols protect against chronic diseases such as cancer (8, 9, 10).

An overview of the keto diet

What differentiates the ketogenic diet from other diets is that it lays emphasis on high fat intake while drastically reducing carb consumption.

The places the body in a state known as ketosis. Ketosis is a kind of metabolic state. When the body is in a ketotic state, it uses ketones for energy in the absence of carbs. Ketones are byproducts of fat metabolism (11, 12).

The ketogenic diet was originally designed for epileptic children, as it was believed to help in managing the seizures.

The ketogenic diet has other health benefits including weight loss, improved cholesterol levels, improved insulin sensitivity, and control of blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetic patients (13, 14, 15, 16).

To attain a state of ketosis, your daily carb intake must not exceed 50 grams. Some people even take lower than this (17).

Because of this, they key foods in a keto diet include those with a low-carb content like fatty fish, eggs, avocados, seeds, olive oil, nuts, and non-starchy veggies like broccoli, bell peppers, and cauliflower.

Keto experts define the carb limit as net carbs. Net carbs are derived by subtracting the grams of fiber from the total grams of carbs in a serving of food (18). If we are to adopt this logic then, whole grains and other carbs with high fiber content contain lesser carbs than foods that do not have much fiber, like refined grains for instance.

Can I eat popcorn on a keto diet?

Yes! This is the question of the day. Can I include popcorn as part of my keto diet meal plan?

Well, sure, you can fit popcorn into your keto diet meal plan. However, this depends on your carb limit per day.

A normal serving of air-popped corn is 24 grams, that is, 3 cups. This contains 18 grams of carbs and 4 grams of fiber (7).

You can easily fit popcorn into your keto diet meal plan, restricting your daily intake of carbs to 50 grams. You may even fit in the popcorn into more restrictive versions of the ketogenic diet.

And lest I forget, if the goal of your keto diet is weight reduction, or weight loss, then you are good to go because each serving of popcorn has just 90 calories.

But if you go with a 24-gram serving, then you would have used up a greater percentage of your daily carb allotment.

But here is the trick, if you really want to enjoy popcorn as a keto meal ingredient, then try reducing your intake of other foods that have a high carb content. This will help you to not exceed your daily carb limit.

Refined grains such as sweets, chips, and bread have a high carb content, with very little or no fiber. Conversely, popcorn is rich in fiber and has few net carbs (7).

In a nutshell, popcorn will do well on a keto diet because you get to satisfy your desire for carbs without exceeding the limit.

However, you must watch your portions while eating because popcorn can easily be overconsumed.

To check your portion size and feel more satisfied, you can lace your popcorn with fat from butter, coconut oil, and butter. Another way of controlling your intake is by preparing yours at home. It is better than purchasing the already made varieties. Also, you can be sure of the ingredients.

To prepare your popcorn at home, heat up one table spoon of butter or coconut oil in a pot. The heat must be medium-high. Then you add two table spoons of popcorn kernels.

Ensure that the pot is covered while popping the kernels. Once the popping ceases, you turn off the heat and then season the kernels with salt, butter or oil.

So, what’s the summary?

Popcorn is very nutritious and has a high fiber content.

It fills quickly but has a low calorie content. However, it is also rich in nutrients but with lesser net carbs compared to other snacks like crackers and chips. All in all, popcorn can be added to the keto diet, it will not compromise the quality of the diet, or defeat its purpose, especially if you cut down on the quantity of other carb-rich foods.

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