Popcorn is difficult to classify because, at different stages of its life cycle, corn is a vegetable, a fruit, and a whole grain.
However, even though it is a low-calorie plant-based snack, popcorn is not exactly paleo-friendly. Technically, popcorn is still a whole grain that contains phytic acids, which will irritate your gut and raise your blood sugar. You can not eat popcorn on the Paleo diet.
To learn more about the paleo diet check out my other article Complete Beginners Guide To The Paleo Diet – 7 Day Meal Plan.
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What Is Popcorn?
Popcorn comes from a variety of maize (or corn) known simply as “popping corn.” It is the only type of corn that ruptures its endosperm into the fluffy white tissue we love when exposed to intense heat.
On the cob, corn can be considered a fruit since you’re technically eating its seeds. However, when dried, it is a whole grain that contains some of the antinutrients you shouldn’t eat while on a paleo diet. It is also quite difficult to digest, which means we don’t typically get much out of its nutritional offerings.
If you’re wondering whether it’s okay to sneak in a little popcorn for movie nights, read on to determine whether it is a paleo-friendly food.
Is Popcorn A Paleo Food?
With popcorn, the bad outweighs the good, but only just. It contains as many polyphenols and antioxidants as you would find in a fruit or vegetable. Unfortunately, these useful compounds are found in the hull—the hard, indigestible part of popcorn that’s made of insoluble fiber. Likely, we don’t get any of those antioxidants and polyphenols since we can’t digest the hulls.
On the upside, popcorn is a plant-based snack. Plain popcorn contains about 106 calories per ounce. It also has very few calories and a fairly balanced nutritional composition, so in some ways, it is a healthy snack.
Unfortunately, none of these attributes matters much since popcorn still contains the toxins that you desperately try to avoid on a paleo diet. It includes enough phytates to become a problem when consumed. Remember, phytic acid is the same toxin that causes gut inflammation and irritation when ingested, so it has no place on the paleo diet.
Can You Eat Plain Popcorn On Paleo Diet?
Paleo celebrity Mark Sisson says yes. However, he specifies that while it is not the worst snack to cheat on your paleo diet with, it must be prepared a certain way to be a little more paleo-friendly. He suggests popping it in coconut oil and using real butter instead of butter-flavored soy sauce.
Although he’s not wrong, popcorn is ultimately still a cheat snack. If you MUST have it, don’t make it a habit. Let it be a rare accident rather than a weekly tradition because it is not a paleo-friendly food.
Diane Sanfilippo believes that you shouldn’t eat popcorn at all if you’re on a paleo diet. She explains that most people have trouble digesting corn, so they don’t get much from it in nutritional value.
Should You Eat Popcorn On The Paleo Diet?
While eating popcorn is not the worst accident that can happen to your paleo lifestyle, that doesn’t mean that it’s good either. In small amounts, you might not have a problem with it, especially if you’re not too sensitive.
That doesn’t apply to microwave popcorn, which you should avoid at all costs. It may be easy to prepare, but it contains some pretty harmful toxins. For starters, it has diacetyl flavoring, which has been linked to Alzheimer’s and respiratory abnormalities. Even the packaging is toxic as it contains carcinogenic PFOA.
Related Article: Can I Have Oatmeal on the Paleo Diet?
Generally speaking, and as long as it is not microwave popcorn, this is a good snack for you every so often. Still, don’t make it a habit. Popcorn is NOT paleo-friendly.