No, Popcorn Isn’t Paleo – And Here’s Why

Go to any movie theater in the US, and you’ll be greeted by a sea of popcorn buckets sitting everywhere. There’s no doubt that popcorn is a delicious treat that goes well with watching a …

Glass bowl with popcorn

Go to any movie theater in the US, and you’ll be greeted by a sea of popcorn buckets sitting everywhere. There’s no doubt that popcorn is a delicious treat that goes well with watching a movie on the big screen. It comes from a vegetable, so it should be Paleo, right?

Popcorn isn’t Paleo because it comes from corn, which is a grain. All grains are banned on the Paleo diet because pre-agricultural people didn’t have fields of corn at their disposal. Popcorn is high in carbohydrates, trans fats, and other unhealthy ingredients.

While you might find this discouraging, especially if you love popcorn, stick around. You’ll discover some great Paleo popcorn alternatives and learn more about popcorn in the process.

Is Popcorn Paleo?

Popcorn is not Paleo because it’s considered a grain. Paleo diets don’t allow cereal grains because they weren’t available to our ancestors. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t have it once in a while, especially if it’s popped in butter or coconut oil.

The Paleo diet guidelines suggest that you follow a diet similar to that of our ancestors in the Paleolithic era before humans began farming. This diet consists primarily of meat, fish, fruit, vegetables, and nuts. (source: Mayo Clinic)

So, cereal grains are a big no-no because our Paleo ancestors had no access to them.

Popcorn is made from corn kernel, a type of grain, so it’s definitely not part of the Paleo diet. There’s no way humans in the Paleolithic era had any popcorn. However, movies also weren’t around back then either, otherwise, they’d be definitely missing out!

homemade popcorn in a bowl

Additionally, popcorn is not digested very well by humans, which makes it unsuitable for the Paleo diet. The Paleo diet consists of foods easily digestible and tolerable by the human organism. 

Corn can be hard to digest, so it makes sense that Paleo doesn’t include it. (source: Medical News Today).

Even though popcorn is not Paleo-approved, you can choose to include it as a snack sometimes if you’re not following a strict Paleo diet. You can put a little butter or coconut oil on it for a tasty snack. 

Even better, you can use clarified butter (ghee), which is entirely Paleo-approved. 

popcorn in a bowl

What About Organic or Unprocessed Popcorn?

Organic or unprocessed popcorn is not Paleo. Unprocessed popcorn is popcorn that hasn’t popped and is a whole-grain food, and since grains are not allowed on the Paleo diet, unprocessed popcorn is not allowed. Organic popcorn is still a grain, so it’s also not allowed.

It all comes down to the origin of the food, and if it wasn’t around before humans started farming, it’s out. 

Organic or unprocessed popcorn is still corn, and corn is a grain. It’s still relatively healthier compared to regular popcorn, so if you still want to eat popcorn despite it not being Paleo, organic would be a good choice. (source: EcoParent)

Reasons Why Some Think Popcorn IS Paleo

If you first assumed popcorn was actually Paleo, you’re not alone. There are plenty of reasons why some believe that the Paleo diet includes popcorn:

  • Corn is a vegetable. You may recall having read somewhere that corn is a vegetable, and you might be right. Interestingly, corn is considered both a vegetable and a grain. (source: Healthline)

    Given that vegetables are included in the Paleo diet, some might think popcorn falls within the category. However, while sweet corn is thought of as a vegetable, popcorn is definitely a grain. 
  • Popcorn is plant-based. Some people mistakenly assume that anything plant-based or just healthy and simplistic enough can be part of the Paleo diet. As explained above, it’s a bit more complicated than that.
  • Popcorn is gluten-free. Since the Paleo diet is both gluten-free and lactose-free, some might think that any type of food that fulfills these conditions is automatically Paleo. This is definitely not true, as we’ve seen above.
woman eating a handful of almonds

Great Popcorn Paleo Alternatives

If you want to follow a strict Paleo diet, you’ll have to give up popcorn, but don’t worry, as you can still enjoy movies at home with these delicious Paleo-friendly alternatives:

  • Cauliflower “popcorn”: Just pop some cauliflower florets in the oven with coconut oil and salt, leave it on low heat for a couple of hours to dry out, and you’re good to go.
  • Almonds: You can eat them as they are, roast or smoke them, or just buy those delicious salted almonds as a great snack food.
  • Meat jerky: This is an excellent Paleo option that provides a good portion of protein. Plus, it’s really tasty.
  • Kale chips: Kale is an excellent substitute for potato chips or popcorn and is just as delicious.
  • Trail mix: It can be any combination of dried berries and nuts, but you may want to make your own trail mix to ensure it’s Paleo-friendly.
  • Pumpkin seeds: Just like almonds, you can eat them salted or unsalted, raw or roasted.
  • Fresh fruit or vegetables: The possibilities are endless, make a platter of your favorite fruits and veggies and enjoy.
Kale chips in a ceramic bowl

Even though it’s a gluten-free, plant-based snack, popcorn isn’t Paleo food. If you’d still like to enjoy popcorn once in a while, you can, but if you want to stay loyal to a strict diet, there are plenty of alternatives that are just as delicious.