Is Popcorn Paleo? Here's What You Need to Know
So you’re at the movie theater, (maybe even right now!) and trying to figure out whether or not your favorite movie sidekick in all its sweet, buttery goodness is friendly to your paleo diet.
So can you eat popcorn on paleo?
The general consensus is that popcorn is technically not considered paleo since it’s a whole grain and can be difficult to digest; however, most paleo experts agree that it's not a horrible snack to have in moderation—especially when optimally prepared.
Here’s what paleo-celeb Mark Sisson says about it:
(Popcorn is) not primal, but it's not the worst cheat snack you can have. If you're buying at a movie theater, make sure they pop it in coconut oil and add real butter (not butter-flavored soy oil). If you’re doing it at home, use a good pot with ghee or coconut oil.
But wait? Isn’t corn a vegetable? Wouldn’t that be considered primal?
That’s actually an interesting bit of trivia.
Is corn a vegetable or a grain?
What if we told you corn is a vegetable, grain, and a fruit?
Fresh corn is considered a starchy vegetable, and dried corn or popped corn is considered a whole grain.
Corn can also be classified as a fruit since it is technically the product of a plant that contains seed and can be eaten as food. The labels change depending on when you harvest the corn and how strict you want to be on definitions, but it’s more practical to think of corn as either a vegetable or grain depending on when you harvest it.
Corn is technically a whole grain if the bran, germ, and endosperm are left intact, and this is typical of dried corn.
Here’s the full explanation if any of you want to nerd out on semantics.
What makes popcorn… popcorn?
Even though corn was first domesticated in Mexico 10,000 years ago and evidence of popcorn dates back to 3600 BC, that still doesn’t make it primal or paleo-friendly.
Popcorn comes from well… corn (or maize) — but a specific type known as popping corn. Most of this is grown in the good ol’ corn belt (if you’ve ever driven through Kansas or Nebraska, you know what we’re talking about).
A popping corn kernel contains a starchy tissue known as endosperm that has moisture inside of it. When you heat kernels, that moisture turns to steam, increasing the pressure inside of the kernel until POP! The kernel ruptures and turns into that fluffy goodness we all know and love.
As mentioned, corn isn’t considered a paleo-friendly food. While it is pretty low in calories and is technically plant-based, it’s a whole grain and the phytic acid found within corn can cause inflammation in the gut and mess with your blood sugar. It’s also difficult to digest, and in the world of paleo, if you eat anything that doesn’t digest entirely it’s not really ideal.
Note: Some studies contest the relationship between popcorn and digestive inflammation, but it’s still a whole grain and should be treated as such.
But I heard that popcorn is good for you... right?
Recent studies have shown that popcorn has high levels of antioxidants via polyphenols, but these are only found in the hull (the brown part that always gets stuck in your teeth), which doesn’t get ingested as much and is harder to eat. It’s definitely better for you than other snacks when it isn’t drowned in salt and butter, but it’s far from an ideal paleo food.
Whatever you do, do not eat microwave popcorn!
We know it’s easy, but holy cow is that stuff so bad for you! Not only is microwave popcorn often accompanied with harmful artificial flavorings like diacetyl that have been linked to the progress of Alzheimer’s disease and may contribute to respiratory abnormalities in popcorn manufacturing workers, the bags themselves can often contain carcinogenic PFOA.
It’s easy to remember how to make good paleo choices by following these central tenants:
- Eat primal (real) foods
- Say no to toxins in food and in your environment.
- Eat foods that give you the maximum and most balanced nutrient intake.
- Cut the stress and always get enough sleep.
How to make healthy popcorn at home:
Sometimes you just gotta give in, right? Believe me, we get it. When you can’t resist your popcorn fix, how do you do it in a way that doesn’t completely derail all your paleo diet?
Here’s a fun and easy paleo diet popcorn recipe via The Coconut Mama:
- ½ Cup Organic Popping Corn (the fresher the better!)
- 1½ Tablespoons coconut oil
- Natural butter (optional)
- Heat up a large bottom pot over medium high heat. Be careful not to go too hot — that messes up the kernels and makes them too chewy.
- Add the oil and let it melt entirely. Once it’s melted, throw a few test kernels in to see if your pan is hot enough to pop them.
- If all goes well, throw the rest of the kernels in.
- Once the kernels start doing their thing, start shaking the pot every 10 seconds until the popping slows down. Once the popcorn is only popping every 2-3 seconds, you can go ahead and take it off the heat to avoid burning the ones on the bottom. Keep doing this for another 20-30 seconds.
- After the popping stops, pour your homemade popcorn in a bowl and toss it with your favorite salt and seasonings!
Easy peasy, right?
Remember the 80-20 Rule.
Look. Indulging every once in a while isn’t going to ruin everything.
It’s better to cheat every once in a while than hold yourself to an impossible standard and inevitably break your habit for good. Just because you follow paleo doesn’t mean you have to give up everything forever! Just be smart and diligent, and you’ll be okay.
Remember that the 80-20 Rule (a.k.a. the Pareto Principle) states that:
80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.
As long as you have the big habits down (cutting out processed sugars & sweets, consistently avoiding whole grains, etc.), you’ll be fine! Give into simple pleasures from time to time, it’s good for you.
Just remember: do NOT EAT MICROWAVE POPCORN.
Please. For us.
Don’t feel like making popcorn? Grab a CHOMPS and have a convenient snack for any movie night!