Popcorn is often mentioned as a healthy, low-calorie snack option. But it really comes down to the details. We all know that movie theater popcorn with extra butter isn’t healthy. So where does kettle corn fit into the picture? Is kettle corn healthy?
Kettle corn contains whole grain popcorn with some fiber. However, all the other ingredients are processed. Kettle corn typically has added sugar, vegetable oil, and salt. In some cases, it has artificial sweeteners instead of sugar. In either case, kettle corn is less healthy than regular popcorn.
Below, I’ll look at 7 popular brands of kettle corn (four pre-popped and three microwave). We’ll look at the ingredients, sugar content, sodium content, whether it’s good for weight loss, and more! Then I’ll share the healthiest kind of popcorn—and two tips to make it still taste amazing.
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Is Kettle Corn Good for You?
Here are the 9 questions I’m going to answer about kettle corn nutrition. Click any to jump ahead to that section:
- What Is Kettle Corn Made Of?
- Is There a Lot of Sugar in Kettle Corn?
- Is Kettle Corn Popcorn a Carb?
- How Much Sodium Is in Kettle Corn?
- Is Kettle Corn Good for Weight Loss?
- Is Kettle Corn Vegan?
- Is Microwave Kettle Corn Healthy?
- Can You Eat Too Much Kettle Corn?
- What Is the Healthiest Kind of Popcorn?
1. What Is Kettle Corn Made Of?
Let’s start by looking at actual kettle corn ingredients. Then we can analyze those ingredients in more depth.
I checked the ingredients for four popular brands of pre-popped kettle corn. If you’re wondering about microwave kettle corn, I cover those below. But we’ll start with the pre-popped bags.
As you can see, all four brands have almost exactly the same ingredients:
|Kettle Corn Brand||Ingredients|
|Skinny Pop||Popcorn, Sugar, Sunflower Oil, Salt.|
|Boom Chicka Pop||Popcorn, Sunflower Oil, Dried Cane Sugar, Sea Salt.|
|Popcorn Indiana||Popcorn, Cane Sugar, Sunflower Oil, Salt.|
|Trader Joe’s||Popcorn, Sunflower Oil, Sugar, Sea Salt.|
Here’s what I notice from these ingredients:
- Kettle corn typically has added sugar. Most of these brands use cane sugar. However, as covered below, microwave kettle corn often has the artificial sweetener sucralose instead of sugar.
- Kettle corn is typically made with sunflower oil. Sunflower is not actually the worst kind of oil… However, it is a processed ingredient, for sure. It’s high in calories, and it’s high in omega-6 fats, which can be inflammatory if eaten out of balance with omega-3s.
- Kettle corn has added salt. Most people today eat too much sodium. High salt intake can raise blood pressure, which can raise your heart disease risk. So this isn’t a great ingredient, either. More on sodium below.
- Kettle corn has whole grain popcorn. It’s worth recognizing here that popcorn is a whole grain. This results in more fiber than other snacks made of processed flour. So, this is a plus for all popcorn—including kettle corn.
- Kettle corn typically has only 4 ingredients. Kettle corn has simple ingredients. Generally there are no crazy chemical names, and no artificial colors or sweeteners (see the exceptions for microwave popcorn below).
As you can see, besides the corn itself, kettle corn is clearly processed food. Overall, it tends to be one of the less healthy kinds of popcorn. This is because it has added sugar that most popcorn doesn’t.
But how much added sugar does kettle corn have? Let’s cover that next.
2. Is There a Lot of Sugar in Kettle Corn?
Kettle corn has around 7 to 8 grams of added sugar per 28-gram serving. This is about the same sugar as one half banana in 2 cups of kettle corn. However, microwave kettle corn is often sugar-free, as it is sweetened with sucralose.
Let’s see exactly how much sugar is in each brand of pre-popped kettle corn:
|Kettle Corn Brand||Serving Size||Added Sugar|
|Skinny Pop||28g (2.5 cups)||7g|
|Boom Chicka Pop||28g (2 cups)||8g|
|Popcorn Indiana||28g (1.5 cups)||8g|
|Trader Joe’s||28g (2 cups)||8g|
From my perspective, there is no meaningful difference here in sugar content between brands. They all have about 7 or 8g of sugar per 28g serving. And all of that is added sugar, as popcorn is naturally sugar-free.
Again, for a kettle corn option without sugar, look at microwave kettle corn. It’s often sweetened with sucralose instead, making it sugar-free.
3. Is Kettle Corn Popcorn a Carb?
Kettle corn is rich in carbohydrates. Some kettle corn brands have about half of the calories coming from fat (from sunflower oil). But most of the other calories are from carbs. Kettle corn is not a low-carb or keto-friendly food.
The explanation for this is simple: Popcorn is a grain, which is mostly made of complex carbohydrates. And then, with kettle corn, sugar is added for even more carbs.
I’m not sure if kettle corn has ever been tested for glycemic index—I couldn’t find any data directly testing it. But I would consider kettle corn a medium-GI or high-GI food until there’s data showing otherwise.
Air-popped popcorn has a glycemic index of 55, which is considered “at the upper end of low-GI foods.” But with kettle corn, you’re typically adding around 8g of sugar per serving. So we should be able to assume that the GI for kettle corn is higher.
4. How Much Sodium Is in Kettle Corn?
Kettle corn has about 100 to 150 milligrams of sodium in each 2 cup serving. This is about the same sodium content as a handful of salted nuts. It would take about 10 servings of kettle corn to approach the AHA’s ideal limit of 1,500mg sodium per day.
Here is the sodium content for each of brands of pre-popped kettle corn I checked:
|Kettle Corn Brand||Serving Size||Sodium|
|Skinny Pop||28g (2.5 cups)||110mg|
|Boom Chicka Pop||28g (2 cups)||110mg|
|Popcorn Indiana||28g (1.5 cups)||150mg|
|Trader Joe’s||28g (2 cups)||135mg|
If you want a low-sodium kettle corn option, you may want to look at Pop Secret’s microwave kettle corn. It only has 75mg of sodium per serving. More about microwave kettle corn below.
5. Is Kettle Corn Good for Weight Loss?
Kettle corn has more calories per cup than regular popcorn, due to added sugar. This means kettle corn is not as good for weight loss compared to regular popcorn. However, you can still eat kettle corn on a diet if you’re mindful of portion sizes.
Let’s take a closer look at the issue of calories. We’ll use Skinny Pop as an example. You can eat 3 and 3/4 cup of their regular popcorn for 150 calories. But with their kettle corn, you only get 2 and 1/2 cups for a similar amount of calories (140 calories).
This means if you eat regular popcorn, you can eat many more handfuls for the same amount of calories.
Another way to look at the issue is with fiber content per serving. Let’s use Skinny Pop as an example again. They have 3g of fiber per serving in their regular popcorn, but only 2g per serving in their kettle corn.
The extra fiber in regular popcorn will help you feel satisfied with fewer calories. For these reasons, regular popcorn is better than kettle corn for weight loss.
That said, kettle corn is not necessarily “fattening.” It’s okay to eat some kettle corn on a diet. Just be mindful of your portion sizes. Personally, I’d recommend the 100-calorie bags of Smartpop! Kettle Corn as a good diet option.
6. Is Kettle Corn Vegan?
Kettle corn is typically vegan. Out of all 7 popular brands of kettle corn I checked, all seven were vegan. They contain no dairy, egg, honey, or other animal products.
Just to be clear, below are the 7 kettle corn products I confirmed to be vegan.
Vegan kettle corn brands:
- Angie’s Boom Chicka Pop Kettle Corn (Pre-Popped)
- Skinny Pop Kettle Corn (Pre-Popped)
- Popcorn Indiana Kettle Corn (Pre-Popped)
- Trader Joe’s Kettle Corn (Pre-Popped)
- Orville Redenbacher’s Kettle Corn (Microwave)
- Orville Redenbacher’s Smartpop! Kettle Corn (Microwave)
- Pop Secret Kettle Corn (Microwave)
7. Is Microwave Kettle Corn Healthy?
Microwave kettle corn is often sugar free, but unfortunately, it contains the controversial artificial sweetener sucralose instead. Microwave kettle corn is usually made with palm oil instead of sunflower oil, which adds saturated fat, too. Overall, microwave kettle corn is not very healthy.
I looked at 3 different popular microwave kettle corn products by Pop Secret and Orville Redenbacher. Based on my findings, here are the key ways they differ from pre-popped kettle corn:
- Ingredients: Microwave kettle corn typically has palm oil instead of the sunflower oil used in pre-popped bags. It also often has the artificial sweetener sucralose instead of sugar. And then it’ll often have a preservative like rosemary or mixed tocopherols, too.
- Saturated Fat: One of the big consequences of using palm oil is that some brands of microwave kettle corn have 8x as much saturated fat as pre-popped kettle corn per serving.
- Sodium: The sodium levels in microwave kettle corn vary a lot. Pop Secret only has 75mg per serving. But Orville Redenbacher’s has 160mg in their normal Kettle Corn, and 190mg in their Smartpop! Kettle Corn.
Whether to choose pre-popped or microwave kettle corn depends on your priorities. If you want low sugar and you’re okay with artificial sweeteners, then microwave kettle corn could be a good choice.
But if you want to limit your unhealthy fats, then you may want to stay away from the palm oil in microwave kettle corn.
Personally, I’d choose the 100-calorie bags of Orville Redenbacher’s Smartpop! Kettle Corn. Why? It has 0g sugar and low fat, too—it must have less oil than the other options. The downsides are that it has sucralose and the most salt of any brand I checked.
8. Can You Eat Too Much Kettle Corn?
If you eat too much kettle corn, you’ll be getting a lot of processed ingredients in your diet. Every serving of kettle corn typically has around 8 grams of sugar. It also has a lot of sunflower oil, plus salt.
The more you eat of these processed ingredients, the less room you will have left in your diet for healthy whole foods (like veggies, fruits, beans, nuts, and seeds).
So yes, in that sense, it is possible to eat too much kettle corn. But what counts as “too much”?
Honestly, it depends on your own standards for your diet and nutrition. But the sugar and oil in kettle corn are empty calories that are really not good for you. So if you want the healthiest diet possible, you wouldn’t eat any kettle corn.
For me personally, I would limit my kettle corn consumption to a couple hundred calories per day. So that would be about 3 cups per day.
9. What Is the Healthiest Kind of Popcorn?
The healthiest kind of popcorn is air-popped popcorn without oil. By not using oil, air-popped popcorn only has about 30 calories and less than 1 gram of fat per cup.
Basically, when you add oil to popcorn, you are “diluting” the healthiness of the whole grain (popcorn) with processed fat. And when you add sugar to make kettle corn, you’re “diluting” the healthiness even more with processed carbs.
So the healthiest popcorn is just the pure whole grain by itself: Air-popped, with no added oil or butter. I recommend using an air popper like this one to make oil-free popcorn at home.
Plain air-popped popcorn might sound pretty bland, though. But in reality I’ve found the crispy texture to be quite delicious. It’s amazing how light you feel after eating it, too.
Here are two of my best tips for eating healthy air-popped popcorn and enjoying it:
- Use a finely ground salt. It will stick to the dry, air-popped popcorn much better than coarse salt.
- Try adding garlic powder and other seasonings. Get creative with your popcorn toppings! It doesn’t have to just be salt. Try various sweet or savory seasonings you have around your kitchen. Garlic powder is a great one that sticks pretty well to even air-popped popcorn.
More Popcorn Nutrition Guides
Popcorn is one of my favorite foods, so I’ve actually covered quite a few popcorn nutrition topics on this blog. Check them out:
- Popcorn and Bodybuilding: All Your Questions Answered
- Can You Pop Microwave Popcorn on the Stove?
- Vegan Microwave Popcorn: The Ultimate Guide
- Is Boom Chicka Pop Healthy?
- Is Skinny Pop Healthy?
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