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Is popcorn a keto-friendly snack?

Popcorn is a popular low-calorie snack. And yes, it does qualify as a low-carbohydrate food that can fit into a keto diet.

Crunchy and satisfying, popcorn is one of the most popular snacks for people of all ages.

The average American munches on 43 quarts of popcorn per year. With a relatively low-calorie count (31 calories per cup of air-popped popcorn), it’s been a favorite of folks who are looking to lose weight. In fact, air-popped popcorn actually ranks as a zero point food on WeightWatchers.

As a dietitian, I’ve always promoted popcorn as a healthy snack thanks to its status as a whole grain. As long as it’s not coated in chocolate, caramel or rivers of butter, it’s generally considered to be a low-calorie snack that fits into most everyone’s diet. But popcorn is gaining popularity for one thing I never considered it to be: a keto-friendly snack.

Popcorn nutrition facts

Let’s take a deep dive into popcorn nutrition. As a whole grain, popcorn would be categorized as a carbohydrate food. It certainly is, but when you analyze it more closely, it’s lower in carbohydrate than you might guess. (Note that the calories and carbs will be higher for kettle corn or popcorn with any kind of drizzle.)

According to the USDA’s Nutrient Database, here’s the breakdown for 1 cup of air-popped popcorn:

  • Calories: 31
  • Carbohydrates: 6 grams
  • Fiber: 1.2 grams
  • Protein: 1 grams
  • Fat: 0.36 grams

Is popcorn keto?

The goal of a keto diet is to put the body into a state of ketosis so that it burns fat instead of carbohydrates as fuel. To get to this state, carbohydrates, which usually make up 40 to 60 percent of the American diet, need to be severely restricted. People who follow a keto-style diet generally need to limit carbohydrate intake to 5 percent or less of their total calories.

For example, on a 2000-calorie diet, only 25 grams can come from carbohydrate. The remaining calories would come from fat (60 to 80 percent) and protein (15 to 25 percent). So, in theory you could enjoy a substantial 4 cups of popcorn (half a bag of microwave popcorn) a day while keeping to a keto lifestyle.

According to the Keto Project, an organization that verifies keto foods, a food must have 5 or less grams of net carbohydrate per serving to qualify as keto. Net carbs are calculated by taking the total grams of carbohydrate in a food and subtracting the amount of fiber. In this case, popcorn contains 6 grams of carbs per 1 cup serving and 1.2 grams of fiber, bringing the net carbs per serving to 4.8 grams. Yes friends, popcorn is indeed a keto food.

Other keto-friendly snacks

The market for keto foods is huge and expected to grow to 15 billion by 2027. There is no shortage of packaged keto diet products on the market, ranging from granola bars to pancake mix to tortillas. Other smart snack picks that work with a keto diet include the following: 

Keep in mind that while all the foods above fit into a low-carb, high-fat keto diet, you won’t see results on this diet unless you stick with it overall. And for the best outcome, it’s smart to pair any eating plan with regular exercise. If you’re not sure if a keto diet is right for you, talk to your physician or registered dietitian.