For many people trying to lose weight, popcorn can be a healthy snack BFF, since you can eat a large volume while consuming relatively few calories. Of course, that’s assuming you don’t go overboard with the toppings! But for popcorn lovers who have adopted the ketogenic diet, things get a little more complicated. For those of you wistfully wondering “Does popcorn have carbs?” here’s what you need to know about carbs in popcorn so you can still enjoy this salty, delicious, oh-so-satisfying snack.
Is Popcorn Low-Carb?
Is popcorn low-calorie? Yes! But is popcorn low-carb? Not so much. In fact, most of the calories in popcorn come from carbohydrates. But that doesn’t mean that eating a keto diet requires you to bid adieu to popcorn. One reason for that is how many carbs in popcorn come from from dietary fiber—20% of the total carb content. That means the net popcorn carbs are a bit lower than the total carbs.
A standard serving of popcorn—which is 2 tablespoons of unpopped kernels or about 4 to 5 cups popped—contains between 120 and 150 calories and around 20 grams of carbohydrates.
Popcorn also contains trace amounts of essential vitamins and minerals, including vitamin A, folate, choline, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, and magnesium. Plus, popcorn kernels contain tons of antioxidants. According to a study conducted by two researchers at the University of Scranton, Dr. Joe Vinson and Michael G. Coco, an undergraduate chemistry major, popcorn contains a higher concentration of polyphenol antioxidants than most fruits and vegetables!
How to Make Popcorn a Keto-Friendly Snack
There’s no need to completely cut popcorn out of your diet in order to enter or stay in ketosis. The key is to indulge in moderation and be strategic about when you eat it and what you put on it.
One cup of popcorn, whether air-popped or oil popped, contains around 5 net carbs. So to figure out how much popcorn you can eat without exiting ketosis, you need to know your macros.
The upper limit for most individuals adhering to a keto diet is 50 grams of carbs per day, and depending on your activity level and other factors, you may be better off staying at or under 20 grams daily. If your macros and meal plan leave room for a snack with 20 grams of carbs, you could have a 5-cup serving of popcorn!
If you’re someone who tends to crave late night-snacks, popcorn could be a wonderful option for you. It’s definitely not going to undermine your keto goals the way, say, a bowl of ice cream would. Although if you’re more into sweet treats than salty ones, you should definitely look into the many delicious keto dessert recipes out there.
How to Make Healthy Popcorn
If you’re going to eat popcorn on keto, you’ll want to make it yourself. Movie theater and microwave popcorns are loaded with unhealthy additives. Your best for making the healthiest, most keto-friendly popcorn is air-popping or making popcorn on the stovetop.
You can purchase an air-popper for around $10, or make healthy, DIY microwave popcorn by putting plain kernels in a paper bag and microwaving on high for about two minutes. This method ensures that, until you add toppings, the only carbs you have to contend with are the ones in the kernels themselves.
It’s also quick and easy to make popcorn on the stovetop, and you get a chance to incorporate a healthy cooking fat, which, depending on where you’re at with your macros, could be helpful. Make sure to heat the kernels in a cooking base with a high concentration of saturated fats, which remain stable at high temperatures. Good picks include grass-fed ghee, avocado oil, coconut oil, and rendered animal fats like tallow.
Once you have a bowl of fresh-popped kernels in front of you, it’s time for toppings. To stay on track with your health goals while adding tons of flavor, consider using spices like chili powder, oregano, dill, or cayenne. There’s a whole fandom around nutritional yeast, which can be a healthy way to mimic the taste of cheesy yet additive-laden commercial popcorn. Plus, salt and butter are a classic choice for a reason—just don’t go crazy with either. For more tips on healthy ways to get your popcorn fix, check out this article (there are seven recipes at the end, including one inspired by a margarita!).