Is popcorn good in pregnancy?

Popcorn is a popular snack food that many pregnant women wonder if they can still enjoy. The answer is not completely straightforward, as popcorn’s healthfulness during pregnancy depends on how it is prepared and consumed. Overall, air-popped popcorn can be a nutritious snack in moderation, while microwave popcorn and popcorn with lots of butter, salt, or flavorings should be limited.

The Nutritional Value of Popcorn

Plain air-popped popcorn is low in calories and high in fiber. One cup of air-popped popcorn contains:

  • 31 calories
  • 0.3 grams of fat
  • 5.4 grams of carbohydrates
  • 1.2 grams of fiber
  • 0.9 grams of protein

This nutrient profile makes plain popcorn a filling, whole grain snack. The fiber in popcorn may help relieve constipation, which is common during pregnancy. The low calorie count also makes it a smart snack when trying to limit pregnancy weight gain.

Popcorn’s main nutritional downside is that is fairly low in nutrients. It contains minimal vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other micronutrients. So while popcorn can contribute worthwhile fiber to your diet, it should not replace more nutrient-dense foods.

Concerns About Acrylamide in Popcorn

When starchy foods like popcorn are cooked at high temperatures, a compound called acrylamide can form. High levels of acrylamide are linked to increased cancer risk.

The acrylamide formed by popping corn may seem concerning. However, popcorn contains far lower levels of acrylamide compared to other cooked starchy foods like french fries and potato chips. The amount of acrylamide in a normal portion of popcorn is extremely small.

According to California’s Proposition 65, which requires warnings about acrylamide exposure, popcorn producers must warn consumers if a serving contains more than 225 micrograms of acrylamide. For air-popped popcorn from most brands, a few cups are below this threshold. Even movie theater popcorn rarely exceeds it.

While no amount of acrylamide exposure is ideal, popcorn’s low acrylamide levels mean this should not be a major concern during pregnancy.

Microwave Popcorn Concerns

Microwave popcorn contains more acrylamide than air-popped corn. The bags are also often lined with chemicals like perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which may be harmful.

Here’s how the acrylamide content of different types of popcorn compares:

Type of Popcorn Acrylamide Content
Air-popped 10-200 micrograms per serving
Microwave (popped bag) 210-470 micrograms per serving
Microwave (unpopped bag) 510-800 micrograms per serving

Pregnant women may want to avoid microwave popcorn and opt for air-popped or stove-top popped corn to limit acrylamide intake. If you do choose microwave popcorn, look for bags without PFOA.

Should Pregnant Women Avoid Popcorn Salt?

Popcorn salt may seem chemical-laden, but it is usually just regular table salt with added flavors and anti-caking agents. The ingredients are generally recognized as safe by the FDA.

However, popcorn salt is extremely high in sodium. Just 1/4 teaspoon of popcorn salt may contain 300-400 milligrams of sodium. Health experts recommend pregnant women limit sodium to less than 2,300 milligrams per day.

Excess sodium intake in pregnancy can increase blood pressure and lead to fluid retention in the body. Women with high blood pressure should be especially cautious about high sodium intake.

Enjoying popcorn from the movie theater once in a while is unlikely to cause issues. But adding copious popcorn salt to popcorn daily at home could result in excess sodium intake.

Is Movie Theater Popcorn OK During Pregnancy?

Movie theater popcorn is alright in moderation during pregnancy. While it contains more fat, salt, and acrylamide than air-popped corn, a single serving once or twice a month is fine.

Some precautions pregnant women may want to take with movie theater popcorn include:

  • Ask for a small or medium size.
  • Request no extra butter, or just a light butter topping.
  • Avoid free refills which can quickly add up in calories.
  • Drink plenty of water to help offset the sodium.
  • Share your popcorn with someone.

As long as you are not downing movie theater popcorn by the bucketful everyday, enjoying it in moderation is perfectly healthy during pregnancy.

Are Popcorn Flavorings Safe When Pregnant?

Most supermarket popcorn flavorings are considered safe during pregnancy, though some may be very high in sodium. Some flavors to look out for include:

  • Butter flavor – Contains artificial butter flavorings like diacetyl, which may be harmful to health.
  • Cheese flavor – Typically extremely high in sodium, often containing around 550mg per serving.
  • Pickle flavor – Also usually high in sodium, providing around 400mg per serving.
  • Caramel flavor – Flavored with artificial chemicals, some brands contain the potent sweetener sucralose.

Your best bet is to look for organic or natural flavorings without artificial chemicals, sodium, and sweeteners. Or stick to just a light sprinkle of sea salt.

Can You Eat Popcorn With Gestational Diabetes?

Popcorn that is air-popped or cooked with minimal fat can be a healthy snack choice for pregnant women with gestational diabetes. The high fiber and low glycemic index can help control blood sugar levels.

One study assigned 42 women with gestational diabetes to either a high-fiber or standard diet. The high-fiber group reported better glycemic control and other health parameters after consuming 25-35 grams of fiber daily from foods like popcorn.

When choosing popcorn with gestational diabetes, opt for air-popped or stovetop popped corn. Avoid microwave bags, heavy toppings like butter, and sweet flavorings to keep it a low glycemic food.

Can Popcorn Cause Heartburn During Pregnancy?

Many pregnant women experience heartburn, especially in the 3rd trimester as the growing baby puts pressure on the stomach. Fatty, spicy, and acidic foods commonly trigger heartburn.

Popcorn is high fiber and low fat, making it less likely to cause heartburn than many other snack foods. However, everyone has individual triggers.

Some tips for preventing popcorn-induced heartburn include:

  • Avoid adding heavy, greasy toppings.
  • Reduce or eliminate spicy seasonings.
  • Choose air-popped popcorn.
  • Pop your own stovetop popcorn to control ingredients.
  • Stop eating immediately if you feel heartburn coming on.
  • Avoid eating popcorn right before lying down.

Drinking plenty of fluids and taking antacids can also help when enjoying popcorn during pregnancy. Check with your doctor if popcorn frequently causes discomfort.

Tips for Healthy Popcorn in Pregnancy

Here are some tips for keeping popcorn a healthy snack during pregnancy:

  • Pop kernels on the stovetop in a pot with a small amount of olive or avocado oil.
  • Air pop kernels instead of using oil.
  • Top with a light sprinkle of sea salt instead ofbutter or popcorn salt.
  • Add herbs, spices, or nutritional yeast instead of salt for flavor.
  • Drizzle with a small amount of olive oil or melt a pat of grass-fed butter over the top.
  • Avoid microwave popcorn and artificial flavorings.
  • Stick to 1-2 servings and beware excessive portions.

Be creative and come up with your own healthy popcorn pregnancy recipes. Popcorn can be a great snack when prepared with care.

The Bottom Line

Popcorn made properly can be a healthy snack during pregnancy. Air-popped or stovetop popcorn is the best choice over microwave popcorn.

Limit butter, salt, oil, and other high calorie toppings. Also be cautious about excessive portion sizes. As long as you avoid microwave bags and overflowing buckets, popcorn is fine for most pregnant women.

Check with your doctor if you experience discomfort after eating popcorn. But for most women, 1 to 2 servings of plain popcorn per day can be safely enjoyed as part of balanced prenatal diet.

Leave a Comment