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You’re living that keto life: Loading up on salmon and avocado, topping everything with cheese, butter, and maybe a fried egg. But when the craving for a crunchy snack hits, nothing satisfies like popcorn. But can popcorn fit into your keto diet? Let’s look closer for a kernel of keto truth.
Can you eat popcorn on keto?
Is popcorn keto-friendly? Depending on what version of a ketogenic diet you’re following, some percentage of your daily energy consumption will come from carbohydrates. You can pop popcorn into that carb slot, and there are even good reasons to do it.
First, let’s break popcorn down into its delicious and nutritious macro- and micronutrients.
Here’s the nutrition in one cup of plain, air-popped popcorn:
- Calories: 31
- Protein: 1 gram
- Carbs: 6.22 grams
- Fiber: 1.16 grams
- Magnesium: 11.5 milligrams
- Phosphorus: 28.6 milligrams
Popcorn is full of plenty of beneficial compounds, including antioxidants. Antioxidants clean up free radicals produced in your body by normal life processes. Why’s that so great? Unchecked, free radicals cause cell damage and lead to disease.
Popcorn contains polyphenol antioxidants, and according to one study, your body is able to “access” those antioxidants through digestion. Popcorn may have higher polyphenol levels than other corn because of its thick hull. That’s what allows pressure to build in the kernel, and then POP! You get a fluffy, high fiber, treat.
Chances are, popcorn will fit into your keto diet. But you’ll have to do math. A big part of a ketogenic diet is hitting precise targets for the ratio of fat to protein to carbs.
Do you even keto?
A ketogenic diet is high in fat and low in carbs (most stick to less than 50 grams per day). The goal is to get your body into a state of something called “ketosis.”
Ketosis happens when you drastically reduce the carbs your body has to use for energy. (Like closely restricting the amount of carbs you eat.) This makes your body transition from glucose metabolism to fatty acid metabolism. So your body will use dietary and body fat to power your nervous system with ketone bodies.
This switch might help you lose weight more quickly. But the keto diet has also been investigated as a treatment for several medical conditions, including:
- Epilepsy. Doctors may recommend a keto diet if epilepsy isn’t well managed by medication alone. But scientists aren’t totally sure it works. Studies of keto and epilepsy have been small, and focused mainly on children.
- Brain health. The ketone bodies a keto diet promotes may protect aging brain cells from degeneration and prevent inflammation. Scientists are interested in whether there’s an application for the keto diet in treating Alzheimer’s disease, but research is limited.
- Diabetes. Studies have shown an association between a keto diet and some beneficial effects for people with type 2 diabetes, including lowered blood glucose and insulin and a reduced need for medication.
- Cancer. The ketogenic diet may make your body inhospitable to growing cancer cells, and has the potential to support or enhance other cancer treatments like chemotherapy. As usual, more research is needed.
Versions of keto differ, but carbs and protein will typically make up less than 10 percent of the calories you consume, and the rest will come from fat.
Following a ketogenic diet can have side effects like headache, bad breath, diarrhea, constipation, and vomiting. Another downside of keto is the same downside that all restrictive diets have: It’s very hard to maintain over time. (Like when you’re craving a giant tub of popcorn.)
How to calculate net carbs
The only carbs in popcorn that King Keto cares about are net carbs (they’re the ones your body can convert into energy). But a “net carb” isn’t a nutrient itself. There’s some math involved.
To calculate net carbs, take the total grams of carbs in a serving (about 6 grams per cup of popped popcorn) and subtract the grams of fiber (about 1 gram per cup). That leaves about 5 net grams of carbohydrate in one cup of popcorn. So if your target is 50 grams per day, you can easily enjoy a few handfuls.
How to tell if popcorn fits into your keto diet
If you’re following a medically prescribed ketogenic diet to treat epilepsy or another condition, talk with your doctor about how popcorn can fit into it. But if you’re free-styling your own keto plan, grab a scratch pad and calculate how much popcorn fits into your carb budget.
Generally, popcorn is a dang good option for snacking. A 2016 meta-analysis of 45 studies supports the idea that eating more whole grains is linked to lower risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, respiratory illness, infectious disease, and death from all causes. And guess what? Popcorn is a whole grain!
If you’re attempting to follow a keto diet to change the size or shape of your body, but find yourself obsessing about good and bad foods, calculating macros, and whether you’re allowed to have a particular food like popcorn, consider whether your diet may be causing a disordered relationship with food.
Check in with a dietician or therapist who is experienced with treating disordered eating if your diet is stressing you out instead of making you feel better.
Need something crunchy and savory to satisfy that popcorn craving, but can’t spare the carbs today? Here are a few alternative snacks.
- pork rinds (0 grams net carbs)
- nacho cheese protein puffs (2 grams of net carbs per 1-cup serving)
- low carb chips (4 grams net carbs per serving)
- keto “popcorn” (0 grams net carbs)
- salted coconut chips (5 grams net carbs per serving)
Ketogenic diets have been around for 100 years and may help with a number of medical conditions. The main idea is to load your plate with fat, and limit protein and carbs. Popcorn contains carbs and lots of other good stuff like fiber and antioxidants. It can totally fit in most keto plans.