This Is The Best Type of Popcorn To Eat On The Keto Diet

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So, you love popcorn, but you’re also committed to doing the keto diet. You’re probably wondering: Is popcorn keto? The short answer is yes, popcorn can definitely fit into your keto meal plan—but you have to pay attention to what kind of popcorn and how much of it you’re eating.

To start, you should get a couple of things straight about the keto diet: The keto diet is a low-carb, high-fat meal plan that was initially designed to treat symptoms of epilepsy, explains New Jersey-based dietitian and diabetes expert Erin Palinski-Wade, RDN. Because the diet can also result in bodily changes like fat reduction, it’s marketed and sold as a weight loss method in the wellness industry, says Erica Zellner, LDN, a health coach at Parsley Health in California.

“Since following a very low carb-diet can be restrictive, people on this plan are often looking for ways to incorporate more variety and snack options,” Palinski-Wade says. And, if you love popcorn, you’re probably wondering how you can do just that with this salty, savory (and sometimes sweet!) lil’ snack—including ways to mix it up. (Hi, peanut butter-drizzled popcorn!) Keep reading for everything you want to know about popcorn as it relates to keto.

So, can I eat popcorn on a keto diet?

When doing the keto diet, your food consumption consists of eating 5 to 10 percent of your calories from carbohydrates, 10 to 20 percent from proteins, and 70 to 80 percent from fat—all of which makes the diet “highly restrictive,” says Keri Gans, RD, author of The Small Change Diet.

Because popcorn is a carbohydrate-based food, it might not be the most ideal snack to eat when doing the keto diet, as it’ll quickly contribute to your daily carb goals. That said, if you’re craving popcorn, don’t restrict yourself—go ahead and have some, says Palinski-Wade. Just know that it’ll add up to about 5 grams of net carbs per single cup.

And what are net carbs, exactly? “Net carbs are essentially any carbs that are digestible,” Palinski-Wade says. Some carbs, such as those containing fibers and sugars, cannot be digested into the body, so they’re not counted when measuring net carbs. “We subtract these carbs from total carbs to get the ‘net carbs,’ or the total digestible carbs in a food,” Palinski-Wade notes. (Yep, this equation is the same for everyone.)

Is popcorn a low-carb snack?

In moderation, popcorn can be a low-carb snack. Experts recommend consuming about one cup at a time, which has 6 grams of total carbs. Keep in mind that this may be different depending on what kind you buy. (But more on that later!)

Because popcorn is typically pretty fibrous, this means it’s got lower net carbs than other carbohydrate-based foods, Zellner says. And while you might think that it’s pointless to count net carbs instead of regular carbs on keto, you should know that tracking net carbs is actually how you max out on your nutrient intake.

Eating more fiber-heavy foods (like vegetables and fruits, primarily) with lower net carbs will allow you to eat more of those foods, which in turn increases the nutrients you take in and, hopefully, your overall satiety, Zellner says. “It is important to make sure that you're using your carb allowance for as many nutrient-rich veggies and lower sugar fruit as possible. That’s why, sometimes, popcorn may not be the best thing to put into your diet every single day if you’re doing keto,” she adds. But if you’re really craving it, don’t hold back, as that may lead to even more restrictive and bingeing behaviors.

Overall, even if you’re not doing the keto diet, popcorn is a great snack for regular and weight loss-related diets alike, Zellner says. It has nutrients like magnesium (which supports muscle function), phosphorus (which aids bone health), and zinc (good for your metabolism), she explains. It’s also a food you can eat a lot of while still not taking in tons of calories.

That said, you’ll generally want to add some protein or fiber to your popcorn when you eat it. “We always want to emphasize a fiber, fat, and protein balance for snacks and meals to make sure you’re not spiking the blood sugar and then letting it crash,” Zellner says, which can happen if you eat a carb-dense food with no other nutritional benefits.

Try it: You can add more nutrition to your popcorn by sprinkling shredded cheese on top, drizzling some nut butter over it, and mixing in nuts or dried fruits. Whatever makes it more fun for you!

What kind of popcorn is the most keto-friendly?

Air-popped popcorn would be the best choice, as it is lower in carbohydrates as well as calories, Palinski-Wade says. “However, since grams of fat are not a concern on a keto diet, added oil or butter would still allow this snack to be keto-friendly,” she adds. That said, Palinski-Wade recommends limiting your saturated fats (such as the fats found in butters or oils) to less than 10 percent of your total daily caloric intake.

You might also want to focus on making your popcorn from scratch with unpopped kernels, Zellner says, as it gives you complete control over the serving size and ingredients. “It’s easy, it’s quick, it doesn’t take any additional time as you just make it on the stove top,” Zellner says. Regardless of what kind of popcorn you eat, remember to limit your serving to a cup or two.

“And for keto specifically, we want to avoid popcorn with any added sugar ingredients like caramel, chocolate drizzle, and the like,” says Zellner. Instead, Zellner recommends adding flavors to your popcorn at home with light butter, ghee, chili lime seasoning, pumpkin spice seasoning, and more. “It’s really easy to change up the flavor profile,” she notes, if you’re getting bored with one particular taste.

Lastly, when it comes to bagged, microwave popcorn, you might want to steer clear, Zellner says. Why? Well, most microwaveable bags are lined with PFCs (perfluorinated compounds), which prevent grease from leaking out during storage. Recent research has associated PFC with a bunch of negative health risks, such as hormonal disruption, low birth rate, bladder cancer, and more. “We also know that it bioaccumulates, which means that the more you’re exposed to it, the more it will accumulate in your body and cause potential problems,” Zellner explains.

Stick to air-popped and homemade popcorn, and you should be good to go. Now go pop some kernels and enjoy a lil’ keto-friendly snack. You deserve it.

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