Are you a fan of popcorn? Corn itself is quite healthy since it’s a whole grain, and popcorn is one of the ways to enjoy it. The problem is during the day, we sometimes don’t have the time, energy, or equipment to prepare homemade popcorn. This can result in settling for options like store-bought popcorn products. Unlike low carb popcorn substitutes, they tend to include lots of unhealthy ingredients like salt, oils, and “bad” fat. If you’re following a particular diet like the keto diet, then you’ll want to keep your good fats high and your carbs low. That makes most commercial popcorn a bad choice due to all the additives.
What’s a snacker to do? The good news is you have many healthy low-carb options. These are tasty and easy-to-make options that provide the same crunch of popcorn without containing all the carbs in “butter” that’s often not even a dairy product. There are many low-carbohydrate substitutes you can pick from. Some are quite similar to the crunch of popcorn, like veggie chips. Others like cauliflower popcorn even have the whole grain’s name in them. It’s just a matter of trying some options out there and picking one to be your next go-to snack.
Is Popcorn Healthy?
In theory, it would seem that popcorn is healthy. It’s a whole grain like oatmeal, whole wheat, and brown rice. Plain popcorn is actually quite healthy.
It’s low-calorie, low-fat, and full of fiber and antioxidants. Those are good things, right? Fun Fact: A cup of plain popcorn has about 30 calories. In fact, a regular bag of potato chips has over 4x more calories, which can definitely be a problem if you’re trying to cut calories.
The problem is the many extra ingredients that can be added to popcorn. Lightly salted popcorn normally isn’t a major problem since your body needs a little salt. The problem is when you buy store-bought popcorn it’s usually loaded with salt.
Then there’s the butter or oils that store-bought popcorn is often smothered in. They’re high in calories, carbs, and “bad” fats. This ingredient along with salt can easily offset any potential health benefits you’d get from the plain whole grain.
Then there are the sugary coatings that are sometimes added like caramel popcorn. There’s no question Cracker Jack popcorn tastes great, but it’s not the healthiest thing you could eat even with the added peanuts.
Microwave popcorn made up almost 80% of all popcorn consumed in the US by the late 90s. The bags usually are lined with something called PFOA. This is a chemical that’s used for non-stick cookware. The problem is when it’s heated it can boost the risk of infertility and cancer. It also tends to stay in the human body for a long time.
Then there are the ingredients of the popcorn. They include issues like a type of flavoring that seems to boost the risk of a certain lung condition that makes it tough to breathe.
There are problems with other ingredients. They include certain oils with “bad” fat, and preservatives like TBHO that have been linked to things like skin allergies, breathing problems, and stomach cancer.
Low Carb Popcorn Substitutes
If you’re looking for low carb popcorn substitutes for store-bought popcorn here are some of them:
1. Pork Rinds
This might be a surprising low carb popcorn substitute. Believe it or not, this food actually contains healthy fat despite that it is made from pig’s-skin. This doesn’t mean it’s OK to eat tons of pork rinds every day. However, if you’re looking for a low-carb/high-fat snack that’s keto-friendly this is a good one.
These snacks are loaded with protein and have zero carbs. You can find these snacks in many flavors like barbecue, salt/vinegar, and buffalo. You can even make your own flavor by adding some spices.
2. Keto Chips
If you’re looking for a healthier alternative to commercial popcorn then consider these chips, which are sometimes known as “keto chips.” You can make different kinds.
Try pepperoni chips that are made by baking pepperoni chips in the oven. This is a tasty snack that’s zero carbs/sugar.
If you want to eat more veggies then consider vegetable chips. You can make them from cabbage, radishes, kale, or cucumbers. They’re really easy to make. You can add a wide range of spices like:
- Onion powder
A third variety is cheese chips. You can make crisp snacks that are topped with spices like onion/garlic/chili powder, paprika, and salt.
3. Cauliflower Popcorn
This is an interesting option because we don’t expect to see a snack with these two words in it. Cauliflower is actually very versatile and you can substitute it for different foods like rice.
Cauliflower and broccoli are often known as “superfoods” since they’re chock-full of nutrients. Cauliflower is loaded with vitamins like C and K (potassium), which can help you to stay healthy.
You can make these snacks using an oven or dehydrator based on the recipe you use. You can also add pizzazz with salt, or chili/garlic powder.
Tips to Make Healthy Popcorn
If you have a snack attack that must include popcorn then make sure you’re making it as healthy as possible. Here are some helpful tips:
1. Don’t eat microwave popcorn
This type of snack can cause tons of problems. There’s the fake butter, salt, flavorings, and even the bag’s lining that can be unhealthy. Yet another issue is these bags tend to be large, so you’ll be eating lots of the bad stuff.
2. Pick a healthy cooking oil
Some healthy options include olive, canola, and avocado. Avoid options like coconut and palm oils due to the high content of saturated fat.
3. Limit butter
If you must add butter to your popcorn, use the real stuff, and use a small amount.
4. Use stove-top or air-pop methods
If you make stove-top popcorn make sure to go easy on the oil. Even if you don’t add butter you can make the snack unhealthier if you load the pot with oil before you start making the popcorn.
Air-popped corn is a good option in terms of cutting calories since no oil will be required. This will help to reduce calories and fat. On the other hand, the results will be somewhat dry so you might want to consider stove-top popcorn if you absolutely, positively must have more flavor.
4. Minimize kettle corn
This type of popcorn is combined with salt, oil, and sugar. This can be somewhat healthy but it’s less so due to the extra toppings. It’s hard to stay within 2,300 mg of daily sodium when you buy pre-packaged kettle corn. If you buy some look for low-salt versions.
6. Keep portion sizes small
Remember that one cup of PLAIN popcorn is about 30 calories. However, the calories/fat/sodium can add up quickly if you start piling on the toppings instead of eating substitutes for low carb popcorn.