Can people with diabetes eat popcorn? Yes! One of my favorite snacks as a diabetes dietitian living with type 1 diabetes is popcorn. Unfortunately, those with diabetes are often told to avoid foods like popcorn because it contains carbs. In this article, we’ll take a look at the nutrition breakdown of popcorn, how it can impact blood sugars, and the best popcorn to eat when you have diabetes.
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What is popcorn?
Popcorn is the name used to describe whole grain corn kernels that puff up after heating. People often add salt and/or butter to popcorn to make it a delicious snack.
Nutrition facts on popcorn
Nutrition will look different for various types and flavors of popcorn. For example, caramel or kettle corn will contain more calories and carbs vs. regular buttered popcorn. Store bought vs. homemade popcorns can contain different amounts of fat and sodium. Below are the nutrition facts for a serving of air popped popcorn taken from the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) FoodData Central website.
Popcorn, air-popped, no butter added
|Serving size||3 cups, popped|
|Total Carbohydrates||19 g|
|Total Fat||1 g|
|Dietary Fiber||3.5 g|
What type of carb is popcorn?
You may have heard the terms, simple carbs and complex carbs, while learning about nutrition for diabetes. Complex carbs have fiber and many other nutrients. They take longer to digest, leading to a gradual rise in blood sugar. Simple carbs contain mostly sugar and have no fiber, so they digest quickly and rapidly spike blood sugar. Popcorn is considered a complex carb due to its fiber content.
When you have diabetes, the more often you can have stable blood sugars, the better. Eating more complex carbs and pairing them with protein and fat can increase satiety, help reduce dramatic spikes and dips in blood sugars, and prevent that dreaded blood sugar “rollercoaster”. This means you might pair your popcorn (carbs) with a handful of peanuts (protein/fat).
Can people with diabetes eat popcorn?
In short, popcorn is a great snack for people with diabetes. Unfortunately, those with diabetes are often told to avoid foods that contain carbs, such as popcorn.
As a diabetes dietitian, I will never tell my patients to avoid carbs because when you do that, you’re cutting out major food groups: whole grains, milk, fruits, starchy vegetables, and legumes. These foods contain fiber and important vitamins and minerals, all of which you’d be missing out on by avoiding carbs.
Instead of avoiding carbs, I recommend reducing the amount of simple carbs like sugary cereals, pop, juice, pastries, chips, etc. and increasing the amount of complex carbs such as whole grain breads, fruits, vegetables, beans, and…popcorn!
Will popcorn raise your blood sugar?
Popcorn contains carbs, so it will raise your blood sugar. As mentioned before, popcorn is a complex carb. It is a whole grain with a good balance of fiber, protein, and carbs which is essential for more stable blood sugars.
Is popcorn good for diabetes?
In general, plain or lightly buttered popcorn is best for diabetes in terms of blood sugar management as the carbs in this popcorn are complex and full of blood sugar friendly fiber. Making homemade popcorn vs. buying it premade in a store can also be good for those with diabetes needing to watch their sodium intake.
Is popcorn bad for diabetes?
In terms of keeping blood sugars stable, some popcorn would actually be “bad” for diabetes. Larger portions of sweet, flavored popcorn like caramel corn can dramatically spike blood sugar. Sweet popcorns also contain much more added sugar in comparison to total carbs. So, while gooey marshmallow flavored popcorn is delicious, be super mindful of portion sizes.
How much popcorn should you eat if you have diabetes?
Popcorn is generally eaten as a snack. When you have diabetes, it’s best to aim for snacks that have around 15-20 grams of carbs. A good portion of plain popped popcorn is 3 cups as it has about 20 grams of carbs. If you eat more than 3 cups, you’re eating more carbs and may need to take extra insulin (if you take insulin).
Best popcorn for diabetes
The best popcorn for diabetes will have around 15-20 grams of carbs and 3 grams of fiber per 3 cups serving. Here are a few of my top choices as a diabetes dietitian for buying the best popcorn for diabetes from the store:
LesserEvil Organic Popcorn: This popcorn is made using coconut oil which surprisingly gives it a mild, savory type flavor. My favorite flavor is No Cheese Cheesiness.
Angie’s BOOMCHICKAPOP Sweet & Salty Kettle Corn: When you want a little something sweet, check out this kettle corn. The individual bags help with portion control and contain 18 grams of carbs.
Smartfood White Cheddar Popcorn: This is easily one of my favorite white cheddar flavored popcorns. This brand also makes single serving bags and different flavors.
If you’re making your own popcorn at home, try this easy recipe from The Mediterranean Dish: Best Stovetop Popcorn Recipe (W/ 3 seasonings).
Being told to avoid foods that have carbs, like popcorn, is doing a disservice to those with diabetes. Popcorn is actually good for keeping blood sugars in check when you pay attention to portion sizes and pair it with a protein or fat source. Popcorn is also a great source of fiber and tastes delicious, making it the perfect snack for diabetes.
If you want more information about diabetes nutrition, check out my other resources:
- Carb Counting Cheat Sheet
- Free eBook: Eating With Diabetes: A Guide for Beginners
- 48 Best Packaged Snacks for Diabetes
Megan is a Registered Dietitian, Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist, and a Certified Insulin Pump Trainer. She has a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics from Iowa State University. She has had type 1 diabetes since she was 11 years old and has taught diabetes education for many years.