- Popcorn is naturally low in calories and fat and is a good source of fiber, whole grains, and antioxidants.
- Plain popcorn is a low glycemic index food that won’t cause dramatic blood sugar spikes.
- The best popcorn for diabetes is one prepared with minimal added fat, sugar, and salt.
Popcorn can be a blood-sugar friendly option for people with diabetes because of its high fiber content. Fiber slows down the digestion of glucose and delays the absorption into the bloodstream, which helps keep blood sugars stable.
Eating homemade popcorn with low-sugar toppings can be a great snack to promote blood sugar control between meals. Keep reading to learn more about the nutritional value of popcorn and how to add flavor without affecting your blood sugar levels!
Is Popcorn Good for Diabetes?
Unprocessed popcorn is a whole-grain snack that is naturally low in fat and calories.
It is rich in fiber, which helps prevent blood sugar spikes and increases satiety (or fullness) at meals. When prepared with minimal added sugar, fat, and salt, popcorn is a healthy option for people with diabetes.
However, not all popcorn products are created equally. Movie theater popcorn, bagged microwave popcorn, and pre-popped flavored popcorn often have high amounts of added ingredients like butter, sugar, and salt.
The nutritional profile of packaged popcorn varies per brand. For example, a small movie theater popcorn can have up to 25 grams of saturated fat and 670 milligrams of sodium.
In comparison, a bag of buttered microwave popcorn has 6 grams of saturated fat and 665 milligrams of sodium.
Research shows that a balanced diet for diabetes includes whole-grain carbohydrates, lean proteins and unsaturated fats, as well as limiting sodium and added sugars. People with diabetes are at an increased risk of developing heart disease, and dietary choices need to support blood sugar control and cardiovascular health.
Read the ingredient list and nutrition facts to help determine if a product would be a good fit for your diet. When reading labels, look for popcorn options with minimal saturated fat, salt, and sugar.
Saturated fat and added sugars should each make up less than 10% of your total daily calorie needs. For a 2000-calorie diet, this means less than 22 grams of saturated fat and 50 grams of added sugars per day.
Ideally, sodium should be less than 2400 milligrams per day, however, everyone’s needs vary depending on activity level and medical history. Think of these numbers like a daily budget while deciding which foods to eat.
Learn about what to eat with diabetes and book a virtual appointment with a Registered Dietitian.
Make Popcorn at Home
Making plain popcorn at home gives you full control over the ingredients, and you can moderate the sugar, fat, and salt levels.You can pop the plain kernels in an air popper, the microwave, or on the stovetop. Here are ideas on how to flavor homemade popcorn that should not impact your blood sugar levels:
- Olive oil or avocado oil spray or drizzle.
- Spices like onion powder, garlic powder, chili powder, or cinnamon.
- Nutritional yeast.
- Grated parmesan cheese.
- A light sprinkle of salt.
Pairing your popcorn with a protein-rich food should tighten blood sugar control and help stabilize your levels. Add unsalted nuts or a cheese stick to balance a popcorn snack.
Popcorn and Glycemic Index
You can use the glycemic index (GI) to identify foods that will help manage diabetes. The GI is a rating tool that assigns scores to carbohydrates based on how rapidly they raise your blood sugar after eating.
Foods are rated on a scale of 1 to 100. A low GI score is a value of 55 or less, a medium score is 56 to 60, and anything above 70 is high.
A diet rich in low-GI foods can be beneficial for blood sugar management in people with prediabetes, type 1 diabetes, and type 2 diabetes.
Research from 2019 shows that following this type of diet can result in lower fasting blood sugar and hemoglobin A1c levels (the three-month average of blood sugar levels). It can also result in lower body weight and cholesterol levels.
The glycemic index (GI) of popcorn varies depending on the brand.
Plain, air-popped popcorn has a glycemic index of 55, making it a low-GI food that should not spike blood sugar levels.
Some microwave popcorn brands have a GI index as high as 72, which is a high glycemic load.
This variation is due to the different ingredients used across processed products, and you should always read nutrition labels for added sugars.
What’s the Serving Size of Popcorn?
A small popcorn at a movie theater typically contains 8-11 cups of popcorn, while a large one has up to 20 cups. This can alter your perception of what a serving size should look like.
Based on the American Dietetic Association food exchange list, a serving of air-popped or light microwave popcorn is three cups.
This counts as one carbohydrate choice, which contains approximately 15 grams of carbohydrates and 80 calories.
A registered dietitian can give you further guidance on the number of carbohydrate choices you should aim for in a snack.
Nourish offers individualized nutrition counseling to help you meet your goals. If you need guidance choosing foods that support healthy blood sugars, consider booking a virtual appointment with a Registered Dietitian.
Nutritional Value of Popcorn
Plain popcorn has many nutritional benefits, including being a source of whole grains and antioxidants.
On its own, popcorn is a low-calorie, low-fat, high-fiber food. A three-cup serving of air-popped popcorn with no added ingredients contains:
- 93 calories.
- 18.5 grams of carbohydrates.
- 3 grams of protein.
- 1 gram of fat.
- 3.5 grams of fiber.
- Small amounts of micronutrients, including magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, iron, and B vitamins.
A diet rich in whole grains is associated with a lower risk of chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends whole grains should make up at least half of your total grain intake, but many people struggle to meet this goal. Nationwide estimates suggest that less than eight percent of people in America eat the recommended amount of whole grains.
In addition to being a source of whole grains, popcorn is also rich in polyphenols, which are plant chemicals with antioxidant properties. Antioxidants help fight the negative effects of free radicals in the body and help reduce cell damage.
Corn has one of the highest antioxidant contents compared to other grains like oats, wheat, and rice.
The antioxidant properties of corn are primarily found in the hull (or outer shell) and are not destroyed in the popping process.
The polyphenols found in popcorn are easily digested and have been shown to play a role in reducing the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure.
Similar to whole grains, studies show that Americans don’t get enough polyphenols from their diets.
Based on the amount of popcorn the average person eats, popcorn provides around 12% of the total polyphenols consumed by Americans.
Other Snacks for Diabetes
Research from 2016 shows that many people consume up to one-third of their daily calories from snack foods.
It’s important to include nutrient-dense foods in your snacks. If you have diabetes, the types of snacks you choose can have a significant impact on your blood sugar levels and satiety after eating.
One study from 2012 compared the satiety (or fullness) people felt after eating different snack foods.
It found that people felt more satisfied and had lower hunger levels after eating a snack of low-fat popcorn when compared to potato chips. This is thought to be due to the fiber content in the popcorn.
An ideal snack for people with diabetes is a combination of protein, healthy fats, and fiber-rich carbohydrates.
This helps you feel full and minimizes blood sugar spikes. In addition to popcorn paired with a protein like cheese or nuts, here are other examples of balanced snacks for people with diabetes.
- Nuts and fruit.
- Hummus and vegetables.
- Cheese and multigrain crackers.
- Peanut butter on whole-grain toast.
- Cottage cheese and fruit.
The recommended portion size for snacks will vary based on your nutrition and blood sugar goals. Nourish can connect you with a Registered Dietitian specializing in blood sugar management. You can book a virtual appointment and start your health journey today!
When prepared with minimal added fat, salt, and sugar, popcorn can be a healthy whole-grain snack option for people with diabetes. It has a low glycemic index, is rich in fiber and antioxidants, and is naturally low in fat and calories. Pair popcorn with a protein source for optimal blood sugar control and satiety.
Talk to a Registered Dietitian
To learn more about managing your blood sugar levels and to get personalized snack recommendations for diabetes, consider meeting with a registered dietitian.
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