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Is popcorn a good snack for people with diabetes?
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Is popcorn a good snack for people with diabetes?

Popcorn, when prepared without excess butter, cheese or caramel, can be a healthy and satiating snack for people with diabetes

Popcorn, the must-have movie hall snack, is often considered a junk food. But experts say that if prepared the proper way, it could become one of the healthiest snacks, even for people with diabetes.

Bangalore-based diabetologist Dr Ashwitha Shruti Dass regularly recommends popcorn as a snack to her clients with diabetes. But she also tells them to prepare it at home and dissuades them from buying the packaged and seasoned ones.

Popcorn is low in calories. Hence, doctors and dietitians often recommend this as a snack. “Popcorn is fluffy and voluminous. So one may feel full after a cup of popcorn, which is about 25 grams of raw corn,” points out dietitian Nidhi Nigam.

According to Delhi-based dietitian Avni Kaul, popcorn could benefit people with diabetes due to its high fiber content and low glycemic index (GI). “Fiber slows digestion and assists blood sugar levels management by preventing rapid spikes,” she explains.

Stay away from unhealthy seasonings

According to an article published by the American Heart Association, in addition to fiber, popcorn also is a good source of polyphenols – antioxidants linked to better blood circulation, digestive health and potentially lowering the risk of certain cancers. 

However, munching on popcorn flavoured with ingredients like caramel, cheese or butter will not help. It will only add to the calories apart from increasing the glycemic index.

The best way to prepare popcorn 

When it comes to preparing this light-yet-filling snack, microwaving the popcorn with very little unsalted butter or olive oil is a good idea. “You can even use the conventional wok or an air fryer,” says Nigam.

According to Dr Dass, while it is best to have them plain, you may add a little salt and chilli powder to make them more flavourful.

“However, loading it with oil, butter or cheese powder will defeat the whole purpose and make it an unhealthy snack,” cautions Nigam.

According to Kaul, people with diabetes should go for unsalted popcorn to minimise excessive sodium consumption, which can affect blood pressure. “It [plain popcorn] helps promote stable blood sugar and there are no adverse effects on cardiovascular health,” explains Kaul.

For a slightly indulgent yet diabetes-friendly treat, popcorn can be seasoned with a sprinkle of cinnamon or cocoa powder. “These natural flavourings add a touch of sweetness without increasing sugar levels,” explains Kaul.

Nigam explains that unprocessed cheese is a healthy option for people with diabetes. But usually for making cheese popcorn, dehydrated cheese powder is used and this should be avoided.

“Instead, you can make it at home and add a small amount of finely grated parmesan cheese which lends it a savoury flavour without excess carbohydrates,” says Kaul.

People should also reduce carbohydrate consumption the day they are snacking on cheese popcorn, which is abundant in carbs and fats. “Go for whole, unprocessed carbs like vegetables and whole grains, and prioritise lean proteins and healthy fats to maintain balance,” says Kaul.

Popcorn: Quantifying the health risk

Individuals with diabetes can typically consume around one to two cups of plain, air-popped popcorn as a reasonable portion. “This amounts to almost 15 to 30 grams of carbohydrates,” says Kaul.

Monitoring the blood sugar levels and following portion control are crucial.

“Prioritise whole, unprocessed options [of popcorn] and consult a qualified dietitian for personalised guidance to enjoy popcorn as a guilt-free, occasional indulgence,” suggests Kaul.

Takeaways

Popcorn can be a healthy snack if prepared the right way. People with diabetes can have one to two cups of popcorn, made without excess salt or oil. For a slightly indulgent yet diabetes-friendly treat, popcorn can be seasoned with a sprinkle of cinnamon or cocoa powder

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