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Can People with Type 2 Diabetes Eat Popcorn?

Diet and Nutrition

June 01, 2023

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Photography by CWP, LLC/Stocksy United

Photography by CWP, LLC/Stocksy United

by Jenna Fletcher


Medically Reviewed by:

Kathy W. Warwick, RDN, CDCES


by Jenna Fletcher


Medically Reviewed by:

Kathy W. Warwick, RDN, CDCES


Popcorn won’t typically raise your blood sugar, but it’s important to be mindful of the toppings you add to this tasty, filling snack.

Popcorn is a great snack option for people with diabetes. It’s high in fiber, low in calories, and depending on the portion size you eat, it won’t cause your blood sugar levels to spike.

It can also be quite filling, making it a good option to help you feel more full between meals.

Still, you’ll need to be mindful of the toppings and ingredients you use.

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Popcorn nutrition facts

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), a cup of popcorn contains about 31 calories. This makes 3 cups of air-popped popcorn — a typical serving size — about 15–18 grams (g) of carbohydrates and 100 calories.

Preparing 3 cups of popcorn on the stovetop with oil increases this amount to about 120–160 calories and about 18 g of carbs.

A regular size bag of microwave popcorn contains 2.5–3 servings. Eating a snack-size, 100-calorie bag of popcorn will give you one serving that has 100–140 calories and 18–22 g of carbohydrates.

Movie theater popcorn can pack a ton of calories and sodium, though. A tub can contain over 1000 calories and over 2500 mg of sodium.

Popcorn is also a 100% whole grain food that provides about a third of your total daily whole grain needs in one serving. A single serving also provides about 15% of your daily fiber needs, which can help reduce the risk of heart disease. Plus, fiber helps to keep your blood sugar levels under control.

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What is the glycemic index of popcorn and why is it important?

The glycemic index (GI) is a scale from 1–100. Doctors, nutritionists, and other professionals use it to help describe how quickly the sugars from the food you eat will enter your bloodstream.

The higher GI score of a food, the faster the sugar will get into your blood. Higher GI scores can lead to spikes in blood sugar levels for people living with diabetes.

Popcorn actually has a medium GI score of about 50–60. But the GI of popcorn only tells part of the story here.

Another measurement to consider is known as glycemic load (GL). This factors in both the GI score of the food and the portion size you eat. Scores less than 10 are low, while scores above 20 are considered high.

Popcorn has a low number of carbohydrates per serving — about 18 g per 3 cups. As a result, the calculated GL score for 3 cups is about 10, giving it a low to medium GL score. This means it will have less overall impact on your blood sugar levels compared to other high GI foods.

Still, it’s important to remember that GI and GL are numbers that have been assigned to a single food eaten, and don’t take into account other foods and beverages you may consume. In addition, these numbers can change depending on several factors: portion size, preparation methods, and whether you’ve eaten popcorn on its own or along with protein or fat sources.

The American Heart Association also points out that popcorn is a filling food. It takes more popcorn to reach 200 calories compared to eating a candy bar or other sugary snack. This means that a single serving of popcorn will help you to feel fuller and avoid spikes in blood sugar.

How much popcorn should a person with diabetes eat?

Like most snacks, you can enjoy popcorn in moderation, which actually ends up being quite a bit of air-popped corn. A single serving of about 3 cups of air-popped popcorn contains about 100 calories.

Of course, this doesn’t take into account added toppings. Butter, sugar, or other toppings can quickly make the calorie total much higher, so make sure you choose wisely.

If you’re in doubt, you may want to try following the serving suggestion on the popcorn packaging. You may also find that a doctor or nutritionist can provide guidance on how much you can safely consume.

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Ingredients to limit

Popcorn can be a good snack choice for people with diabetes, but remember that not all popcorn is made equally.

In general, limit adding butter, sugar, and other candies to your popcorn. It’s best if you can use an air popper to prepare your popcorn at home, but if not, look for light versions of microwave popcorn that contain less added fats, salt, and sugar.

When adding toppings, try to use salt and butter sparingly. You can also try the following:

  • mix in dark chocolate chips
  • use cinnamon
  • use a small amount of oil instead of butter
  • try some herbs or spices with a light sprinkle of olive oil
  • mix in a bit of parmesan cheese

Excessive sodium is a leading risk factor for high blood pressure (hypertension) and stroke. People with diabetes are already at an elevated risk of stroke and high blood pressure, so avoiding large doses of sodium may help keep you healthy.

Other snacks for people with type 2 diabetes

Popcorn is full of fiber, low in calories, and won’t cause your blood sugar levels to spike — making it a good snack choice if you’re living with type 2 diabetes.

But if you’re looking for other snacking options, you may also want to consider some of the following low carb options:

  • 3 celery sticks and 1 tablespoon of peanut butter
  • 1 cup of sugar-free gelatin
  • 1 string cheese stick
  • 1 frozen sugar-free popsicle
  • 5 cherry tomatoes and 1 tablespoon ranch dressing
  • 1 hard-boiled egg
  • 1 cup of cucumber slices and 1 tablespoon of ranch dressing
  • 5 baby carrots
  • 1 cup of salad greens, 1/2 cup of diced cucumber, and a drizzle of vinegar and oil
  • 10 goldfish crackers
  • 1/4 cup of unsalted nuts
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The takeaway

Popcorn is a good choice if you’re looking for a low calorie snack that won’t drastically spike your blood sugar levels. The key is preparing it with minimal butter, salt, and sugary treats. Instead, choose other ingredients that won’t add large amounts of sugar, salt, or fat.

If you’re not feeling popcorn, several other options can provide you with a low carb snack, such as celery and peanut butter, a cheese stick, or sugar-free gelatin.

Medically reviewed on June 01, 2023

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About the author

Jenna Fletcher

Jenna Fletcher is a freelance writer and content creator. She writes extensively about health and wellness. As a mother of one stillborn twin, she has a personal interest in writing about overcoming grief and postpartum depression and anxiety, and reducing the stigma surrounding child loss and mental healthcare. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Muhlenberg College.

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