Is Popcorn Paleo? (No, Here’s Why)

Is Popcorn Paleo

When you think of going to the movie theater, a baseball game, or family movie night at home, you probably think of popcorn. Popcorn can be a nutritious snack when it’s air-popped since it’s rich in fiber and contains some beneficial nutrients. On the other hand, popcorn can be loaded with added fat, salt, and even sugar, making it less-than-ideal nutrition-wise.

Popcorn is not paleo. Popcorn considered a grain, which is avoided on the Paleo diet. There aren’t many similar alternatives to popcorn as far as texture since other popped grains like popped amaranth aren’t Paleo either. For crunchy, savory Paleo-friendly snacks, consider Thrive Market Sweet Potato Chips, Epic Sea Salt & Pepper Pork Rinds, and LesserEvil Veggie Sticks.

To learn why popcorn pops, its nutritional value, and Paleo-friendly snack alternatives, keep reading.

Refresher course: what’s a Paleo diet?

The Paleolithic diet is otherwise known as “Paleo” or “the caveman diet. The primary goal of the Paleo diet is to eat foods that our caveman ancestors ate thousands of years ago through hunting and gathering. The Paleo diet includes foods like meat, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. It avoids foods that became popular once farming began, such as dairy, legumes, grains, and refined sugars.

Potential Benefits of the Paleo Diet

Low in refined sugars

The Paleo diet is low in refined sugars compared to the typical Western diet. The majority of sugar-sweetened foods are sweetened with refined sugars like cane sugar and corn syrup. This means that your added sugar intake would likely decrease if you adopted a Paleo diet.

Avoids refined carbohydrates

Many of the grains consumed in a Western diet are refined grains such as white bread, white pasta, and others. Refined grains are lower in fiber and other nutrients. Because the Paleo diet is free of these grains, there is more room for more nutrient-dense foods like sweet potatoes, nuts, seeds, and vegetables.

Might help symptoms of certain autoimmune disorders

Some people find some relief from symptoms of their autoimmune disorders while following a paleo diet, such as those suffering from Crohn’s disease. The “Autoimmune Protocol”, an extension of the Paleo diet, has been scientifically proven to reduce symptoms in inflammatory bowel diseases like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.

What is popcorn?

Popcorn is one type of corn originating from a type of wild grass. It’s considered a cereal grain. The scientific name for the type of corn used to make popcorn is called Zea mays everta, and it’s the only kind that pops when heated.

Popcorn kernels have three layers. The outermost layer is called the pericarp, the middle layer is the endosperm and the innermost part is the germ.

Popcorn kernels pop when they’re heated to 400-460 degrees Fahrenheit. The middle layer contains moisture that turns to steam when heated. That steam builds pressure and ruptures the pericarp (outer layer) as the starch from the germ puffs outward.

What are the different types of popcorn?

1. White popcorn

White popcorn kernels tend to result in smaller, more delicate pieces of popcorn.

2. Yellow popcorn

Yellow popcorn kernels make larger, sturdier pieces of popcorn. They’re light yellow when popped. Movie theaters tend to use yellow popcorn kernels because they look slightly buttered, are more sturdy, and are less flaky.

3. Microwave popcorn

There are several types of microwavable popcorn available. They’re packaged with oil, salt, and flavorings and are ready to eat after heating. There are flavor varieties like “movie theater butter”, kettle corn, and “healthy pop” which is usually lower in fat than buttered types.

How do you cook popcorn?


You can cook popcorn by heating oil in a pot over the stove. Once the oil is hot enough to pop a kernel, you can cook the amount of popcorn you want to make – just be sure to not cook too many kernels at once or they won’t all pop.

Cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid and shake it to distribute the heat and keep the popcorn from burning. Once the rate of popping slows down, it’s usually a sign that it’s done.


You can make air-popped popcorn following the steps similar to the stovetop method above. Instead of oil, simply heat popcorn kernels in a non-stick pot. Be sure to put a few drops of water in the pot to test the heat – if it sizzles, turn the heat on low and add your popcorn kernels.

You can also buy a popcorn air popper to make air-popped popcorn.


Besides microwaveable bags of popcorn, you can also cook popcorn in a microwave with a plain brown lunch bag. Simply add a few tablespoons of popcorn to the lunch sack and fold the top over. Cook it on high until the rate of popping slows down. This method doesn’t require any oil, so it’s as healthy as air-popping.

What are the nutritional benefits of popcorn?

High in fiber

Popcorn is a good source of fiber. Fiber is a nutrient that is beneficial for heart and digestive health. High-fiber carbohydrates like popcorn raise blood sugar less than low-fiber carbohydrates.

One cup of popped popcorn contains 1.2 grams of fiber. Most people eat several cups of popcorn at once, making it a good source of fiber.

Fiber-rich diets can reduce your risk of heart disease, digestive disorders, and certain cancers.


Your bowl of popcorn is a source of polyphenols, which are antioxidants associated with better blood circulation and digestive health. Polyphenols might also reduce your risk of certain cancers.


Given its large volume, popcorn is fairly low in calories. It takes a while to eat popcorn, which can make you feel more satiated compared to snacks like chips that you can eat more quickly.


If you’re following a gluten-free diet, popcorn is a good choice since it’s naturally free of gluten.

What are the downsides of popcorn?

It can be hard on your teeth.

Popcorn kernels can get stuck in between your teeth and even lacerate your gums. If a popcorn kernel gets wedged in your gums, an abscess may develop.

Biting down on an unpopped popcorn kernel can also crack teeth and fillings.

It can be high in fat.

Packaged microwave popcorn can be very high in fat thanks to the oils used to make it pop and add flavor. One serving of Act II Movie Theater Butter Microwave Popcorn (4.5 cups) contains eight grams of fat, four of which are saturated.

It can be high in sodium.

Microwave popcorn is typically high in sodium. Salt adds flavor to popcorn which is otherwise a little bland. One serving of the popcorn mentioned above (Act II Movie Theater Butter) contains 380 milligrams of sodium which is 17% of the daily value.

Bottom line – can you eat popcorn on a Paleo diet?

Corn is a grain and isn’t considered Paleo-friendly, so you should avoid eating popcorn on a Paleo diet.

Popcorn Nutritional Information

Orville Redenbacher’s Original Gourmet Yellow Popcorn Kernels

These popcorn kernels are ideal for cooking at home using a microwave, air-popper, or on the stovetop.


  • Whole Grain Popping Corn

Nutrition Facts (per 3 tbsp – makes around 7.5 cups popped):

  • Calories: 120
  • Total Fat: 1.5 g
  • Saturated Fat: 0 g
  • Sodium: 0 mg
  • Total Carbohydrate: 29 g
  • Dietary Fiber: 6 g
  • Total Sugars: o g
  • Protein: 4 g
  • Iron: 4% DV

Orville Redenbacher’s Smart Pop! Butter Microwave Popcorn (Snack-Sized Bags)

This is a lighter version of butter-flavored microwave popcorn.


  • Whole Grain Popping Corn
  • Palm Oil
  • Salt
  • Natural Flavor
  • Color Added (Annatto, Turmeric, Paprika)
  • Butter
  • Mixed Tocopherols (Vitamin E For Freshness

Nutrition Facts (per 33 g snack-size bag):

  • Calories: 100
  • Total Fat: 2 g
  • Saturated Fat: 0.5 g
  • Sodium: 310 mg (13% DV)
  • Total Carbohydrate: 22 g
  • Dietary Fiber: 4 g
  • Total Sugars: o g
  • Protein: 3 g
  • Iron: 4% DV

Act II Butter Lover’s Microwave Popcorn

This popcorn isn’t one of the healthier choices, but it’s good to be aware of how different types of popcorn compare nutritionally.


  • Popping Corn
  • Palm Oil
  • Salt
  • Less Than 2% Of: Natural Flavor, Color Added (Annatto)
  • TBHQ And Citric Acid (For Freshness)

Nutrition Facts (per 2 tbsp. unpopped – makes about 4.5 cups popped):

  • Calories: 140
  • Total Fat: 7 g
  • Saturated Fat: 3 g
  • Sodium: 310 mg (13% DV)
  • Total Carbohydrate: 23 g
  • Dietary Fiber: 3 g
  • Total Sugars: o g
  • Protein: 2 g
  • Iron: 2% DV

Paleo-Friendly Alternatives to Popcorn

If you want a crunchy/savory snack that’s Paleo-friendly, here are some ideas.

Thrive Market Sweet Potato Chips


  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Organic Coconut Oil
  • Sea Salt

Nutrition Facts (per 1 oz.):

  • Calories: 160
  • Total Fat: 11 g
  • Saturated Fat: 10 g
  • Sodium: 125 mg (5% DV)
  • Total Carbohydrate: 13 g
  • Dietary Fiber: 2 g
  • Total Sugars: 5 g
  • Protein: 2 g
  • Iron: 6% DV

Epic Sea Salt & Pepper Pork Rinds

Epic Artisanal Oven Baked Pork Rinds, Variety Pack, Chili Lime, BBQ, Crackling Maple Bacon, Pink Himalayan Sea Salt, Sea Salt & Pepper, 2.5 oz. ( 5 Count ) Ingredients:

  • Fried Pork Skins
  • Salt
  • Black Pepper
  • Sea Salt
  • Onion Powder
  • Garlic Powder

Nutrition Facts (per 0.5 oz.):

  • Calories: 80
  • Total Fat: 5 g
  • Saturated Fat: 1.5 g
  • Sodium: 270 mg
  • Total Carbohydrate: 0 g
  • Dietary Fiber: 0 g
  • Total Sugars: 0 g
  • Protein: 8 g

LesserEvil Veggie Sticks

Lesserevil, Veggie Stick Ranch Organic, 4.5 Ounce These veggie sticks are grain- and gluten-free, Paleo, and vegan.


  • Organic Vegetable Blend (Organic Cassava Flour, Organic Tapioca Starch, Organic Red Vegetable Blend [Organic Tomato Powder, Organic Sweet Potato Powder, Organic Pumpkin Powder, Organic Carrot Powder], Organic Green Vegetable Blend [Organic Spinach Powder, Organic Broccoli Powder]
  • Organic Olive Oil
  • Organic Vegan Ranch Seasoning (Organic Tapioca Solids, Sea Salt, Organic Onion Powder, Organic Vinegar Powder [Organic Tapioca Maltodextrin, Organic White Distilled Vinegar], Organic Flavor, Organic Baker’s Yeast Extract, Organic Garlic Powder, Organic Spices, Organic Tomato Powder, Citric Acid, Organic Sunflower Oil Added As A Processing Aid)

Nutrition Facts (per 28 g – about 12 sticks):

  • Calories: 120
  • Total Fat: 5 g
  • Saturated Fat: 0.5 g
  • Sodium: 220 mg (10% DV)
  • Total Carbohydrate: 19 g
  • Dietary Fiber: 1 g
  • Total Sugars: <1 g
  • Added Sugar: 0 g
  • Protein: <1 g

Are all gluten-free flours Paleo?

It’s important to know that not all gluten-free grains are Paleo-friendly. Flours made from non-Paleo ingredients like quinoa and legumes aren’t Paleo-friendly.

Related Questions

Is popcorn a healthy snack?

Yes, popcorn is a healthy snack when it doesn’t contain excessive amounts of added salt and fat.

Is popcorn a complex carb?

Popcorn is a whole grain with a good amount of fiber, which makes it a complex carb.

Is popcorn a vegetable?

Corn kernels are considered a grain, while whole corn (like corn on the cob) is considered a vegetable.

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Diana Gariglio-Clelland

Diana Gariglio-Clelland is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist. She obtained her Bachelor's in Nutrition from the University of Idaho in 2012 and has worked in clinical, community, and primary care nutrition settings. She currently works as a freelancer on various health- and nutrition-related projects.

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