Popcorn and Diabetes


Popcorn was once labeled a “healthy snack” alternative. This may be the case for non-diabetics, but for diabetics, popcorn must be eaten with caution and purpose. Popcorn is a grain that contains carbohydrates. Carbohydrates cannot be broken down by diabetics without the help of taking insulin or other pills.

The accumulation of carbohydrates is what increases blood sugar levels. Diabetics need to be cautious when turning to popcorn as a healthy snack. 

Carbohydrates directly affect your blood sugar levels, so it is important to eat a consistent amount of carbohydrates daily and with each meal to help keep your blood sugar levels steady. Carbohydrate counting or “carb counting” is done by diabetics who want to keep tight control of their blood sugar levels.

Each meal’s total carbs are calculated so that diabetics can maintain daily carb goals. For example, if your total daily carb goal is 30 grams per day, then you can eat 10 grams of carbohydrates with breakfast, lunch, and dinner. If you are carb counting and go over a little too much at lunch, then you will know to adjust dinner accordingly, and so on. 

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Carb counting and popcorn

There is a lot of different research related to total carb requirements and diabetics.

One diet that has become very popular over the last few years is the “Keto” diet. The keto diet is popular and requires 20 grams of carbohydrates a day or less. This is considered a “very low” carb diet. The name keto comes from ketoacidosis, which some diabetics are familiar with in a negative context. Low carb diets are usually 40-70 grams of carbohydrates a day, while very-low-carb diets are 30 grams or less a day. According to the American Diabetes Association, the Mediterranean diet, vegetarian, vegan, low carb, and very low carb diets reduce A1C levels. Reducing A1C levels to target goals and maintaining them are the ultimate goals for diabetics.

So, what should diabetics, who cannot break down carbohydrates, eat a day? Interestingly, research tells us that the ideal amount of carbohydrate for diabetics is actually unknown. There is no “golden rule” for diabetics to follow. Everyone’s body responds differently to each diet, so there is no “magic” diet for diabetics to follow.

This does not mean you should not have some daily carb intake goal; it just means that experts do not know if 20, 40, or 70 grams is better for one person or another. Talk with your health care provider about your A1C goal and how to achieve this through your diet.

Health care providers will monitor diabetic’s A1C level to help make daily carb goals. Therefore, it is so difficult to give one solid daily carb number. If you eat 30 grams of carbohydrates a day and can keep your A1C level under 6, then that is the number of daily carbs you should stick to. If you can get away with eating 70 grams of carbohydrates a day and keep your A1C at the level you and your health care provider determined, then that is the number for you. 

Popcorn and diabetes

We know that eating lower amounts of carbohydrates per day is better, but the exact amount may differ from one person to the next. A general rule is to keep total carbohydrates under 40 grams a day. This is not a lot of carbohydrates. To give you a little perspective, one serving of popcorn is 30 grams of carbohydrates. An entire bag of popcorn is 150 grams of carbohydrates. One serving of popcorn is almost your entire days’ worth of carbohydrates!

So can popcorn be a staple in a diabetic’s diet, no, probably not. Can diabetics occasionally enjoy popcorn if they monitor other daily carb intake? Yes.

Is popcorn low carb? No, it is not. Are there other alternatives to popcorn? Yes!

Here are some popcorn alternatives, if you are carb-counting and do not have leftover carbs to eat some popcorn:

  • Keto popcorn made from cheese (click recipe here)
  • Cauliflower bacon popcorn (click recipe here)
  • Avocado crisps (click here)

Some diabetics will be able to allow themselves popcorn every once and awhile. If you need more tools to help you manage your nutrition, the American Diabetes Association has a “Diabetes Food Hub” which many people find useful.

Overall, diabetics should not eat popcorn on a regular basis, but may be appropriate now and then when combined with strict carb counting and glucose monitoring. You can try other low-carb snack options to bring to the movies next time that are just as delicious.

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  1. What are some low-carb snack alternatives for diabetics other than popcorn?

    • Some low-carb snack alternatives for diabetics include keto popcorn made from cheese, cauliflower bacon popcorn, and avocado crisps. These alternatives are suitable for carb counting and can be enjoyed as snacks while managing blood sugar levels.
  2. Is there a specific daily carb intake goal recommended for diabetics?

    • The ideal amount of carbohydrate intake for diabetics is not universally defined. Experts don't have a "golden rule" for daily carb intake as each person's body responds differently to diets. It's essential for diabetics to work with their healthcare provider to determine an A1C goal and create a personalized daily carb intake plan based on their individual needs and health goals.
  3. Can diabetics occasionally eat popcorn if they monitor their daily carb intake?

    • Yes, diabetics can occasionally enjoy popcorn if they monitor their daily carb intake and adjust other meals accordingly. However, popcorn should not be a staple in a diabetic's diet due to its relatively high carbohydrate content. It's important for diabetics to practice strict carb counting and glucose monitoring when considering popcorn or any higher-carb snack.