What’s a healthy alternative to popcorn? Learn the best popcorn substitute ideas to fit a variety of needs. Do you need a keto popcorn substitute, substitute for popcorn due to corn allergy, toddler popcorn alternatives, popcorn alternatives for braces, or popcorn substitutes for diverticulitis? Find a popcorn alternative for all these issues, plus get info on a butter substitute for popcorn and more!
What can you use instead of popcorn? It’s typical to eat popcorn on movie night, but what if you need an alternative popcorn? I’ve got you!
Popcorn kernels are cheap, easy to prepare, and naturally gluten free. However, there are lots of reasons someone may need a corn-free crunchy snack instead.
Today, I’ve got lots of healthy alternatives for popcorn for you. Some of these are popcorn substitutes you can buy from a store, and others are homemade. No matter your time and budget, you’ll love these ideas for savory and crunchy snacks!
- 🌽 Best Popcorn Alternatives
- ⭐ Corn Free Popcorn Alternative
- 💡 Low Carb Popcorn Substitute
- 🍿 Popcorn Alternatives for Braces
- 😋 Popcorn Alternative for Toddlers
- ❤️ Popcorn Substitute Diverticulitis
- 🧈 Butter Substitute for Popcorn
- 💭 Expert Tips from a Dietitian
- 👩🏻🍳 Popcorn Alternative Recipes
- The Disclaimer…
- 📖 Recipe
- 💬 Comments
🌽 Best Popcorn Alternatives
The best popcorn substitutes are the ones that fit your medical needs, budget, and taste and dietary preferences. Popcorn is a whole grain, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with it. However, sometimes we might want something else, and that is OK too.
If you’re looking for more variety in your crunchy snacks, here are some grain-free popcorn alternatives to try:
Fruit and Veggie Chips
Like popcorn, fruit and veggie chips are a rich source of fiber. Unlike popcorn, many fruits and veggies offer the antioxidants vitamin A and vitamin C as well.
In general, Americans overeat grains and undereat fruits and vegetables. Swapping your popcorn for veggie and fruit chips may help you come closer to Dietary Guideline recommendations.
Freeze Dried Fruit
If you enjoyed crunchy astronaut ice cream as a kid, you might also enjoy freeze-dried fruit. An advantage of freeze-dried fruit over fruit chips and regular dried fruit is that it’s low calorie in comparison.
You can find an assortment of freeze-dried fruits at regular grocery stores and health food stores. Freeze dried strawberries and freeze dried raspberries are two options that are low carb as well. These are much crunchier than regular dried fruits, making them a better substitute for popcorn.
Water Lily Seeds
If you want to try something new, water lily seeds are a fun and unusual popcorn alternative. These seeds are popped to have a texture similar to popcorn. You can find them in a variety of flavors (just like popcorn), such as cheddar or salt and pepper.
Unfortunately, some consider water lily seeds to be an acquired taste. The only way you know if you’ll like them is to try them out!
I have mixed feelings on this one, because cauliflower tends to get used as a substitute for everything. That said, flavored cauliflower bites are another popcorn alternative idea. This is another way to add more veggies to your diet, along with more vitamin C and vitamin K.
The bagged cauliflower bites I linked to above contain only cauliflower, oil, and seasonings. If you’d rather make your own instead, the New York Times has a cauliflower popcorn recipe to try. It’s more work, but will likely save money compared to buying premade snacks in the store.
Crispy roasted chickpeas are a great choice if you want a crunchy, savory or sweet alternative to popcorn. You get tons of fiber and plant-based protein from chickpeas, and there are so many ways to flavor them.
The recipe card below has a chickpea popcorn substitute with healthy monounsaturated fat from avocado oil, and B vitamins from nutritional yeast. Nutritional yeast is often fortified to provide a vegan source of vitamin B12.
⭐ Corn Free Popcorn Alternative
If you have a corn allergy, your healthy alternative to popcorn must be corn free. Luckily, there are lots of other popped grains that work wonderfully as a stand in for popcorn. Some of the suggestions in the other categories are corn free popcorn substitutes as well.
You might be able to fool guests, because some of these non-popcorn popped grains look like popcorn! Especially this first one...
Popped sorghum is the best popcorn substitute if you want an alternative that looks and tastes like popcorn. As you can see, this popcorn alternative looks just like baby popped popcorn. It would be perfect in a dollhouse display.
You can buy sorghum kernels and pop them in the microwave in a paper bag for 1½-2½ minutes. However, I recommend buying pre-popped sorghum instead. I recommend Nature Nate’s Better than Popcorn! Popped Sorghum.
The problem with popping grains other than popcorn kernels is they might not have a moisture content that’s ideal for popping. The result is that you’ll end up with lots of wasted unpopped kernels or seeds. I think it’s best to get your money’s worth and buy the already popped sorghum instead.
Can you pop amaranth in the microwave? You can pop dry amaranth grains in the microwave or the stove. However, the yield tends to be low, and the results are more like puffed cereal than popcorn.
If you’d like to try popped amaranth, I recommend purchasing this ancient grain already popped. Amaranthy is one brand selling popped amaranth. Personally, I think puffed amaranth works better as a breakfast cereal than a snack.
Amaranth is a pseudograin that is high fiber and higher protein than most grains. It’s rich in various B vitamins, much like other foods in the grain group.
Can you pop rice like popcorn? You can puff rice, but it won’t completely pop like popcorn does. As with amaranth, puffed rice works better as a cereal than a snack food.
Puffed rice is widely available and cheap, so I’d stick to storebought versions rather than make your own. One creative rice substitute for popcorn I found is using broken up rice cakes with popcorn toppings. If you use brown rice cakes, you’ll even be getting some whole grains in there.
Sometimes rice cakes and rice cereal is made from a blend of corn and rice. To ensure you are making “corn free popcorn,” check the label to make sure the product is rice only.
U.S. food cuisine is wheat-heavy, so pretzels are an obvious crunchy snack alternative to popcorn. If you’re looking for something salty with crunch, pretzels are one of the cheapest and easiest to find options.
You can find pretzels in a variety of flavors. Look for pretzels made with whole wheat or other whole grains (like spelt) for more fiber. Most pretzels are rich in B complex vitamins, either naturally or due to enrichment.
Pretzels may also contain some non-heme iron. To reap the most benefits from this nutrient, serve your pretzels with a dip containing vitamin C. Fresh salsa is one excellent choice.
Popped quinoa is another ancient grain that can substitute for popcorn. It’s great as a breakfast cereal, or a way to add crunch to salads, soups, and casseroles. I prefer popped sorghum if I want a crispy snack.
Despite the name, buckwheat is not actually a type of wheat. Like many of the foods above, puffed buckwheat is a corn free and gluten free grain. It’s best as a cereal, but works as a stand in for popcorn if you butter and season it up.
💡 Low Carb Popcorn Substitute
If you’re using a low carb diet to help manage your blood sugar in diabetes, you’ll need a keto popcorn alternative. Because it’s popped and airy, popcorn is actually quite low carb compared to other grains. However, because it’s a grain, popcorn isn’t considered keto friendly.
Luckily, you have lots of crunchy snack options on keto. Here are a few ideas:
Keto Cheese Crisps
Did you know that you can cook Parmesan cheese into thin, salty crisps? Keto crisps give you that savory crispy snack sensation you get with popcorn, but without the carbs. Additionally, crispy cheese provides more protein and calcium than popcorn.
Keto crackers are another wonderful savory snack alternative to popcorn. You can find low carb crackers made with nuts, seeds, and/or cheese. This means you’ll get more protein and healthy fat with these foods than you do with popcorn.
Salted nuts are a super choice for a low carb and Paleo popcorn substitute. Since those on the Paleo diet largely avoid dairy and grains, nuts and seeds can stand in for snacks.
If you have a peanut or tree nut allergy, roasted seeds also work for a popcorn substitute. This is a convenient option if you don’t have time to cook, or need a quick snack while traveling.
Green Bean Fries
Most green bean fries are breaded or battered with high carb ingredients. Luckily, you can easily make your own crispy keto Air Fryer Green Bean Fries at home. This recipe uses pork rinds (another tasty popcorn substitute) and Parm cheese for the crispy breading.
Keto Trail Mix
Try this Keto Trail Mix when you need a sweet and salty popcorn alternative for the movies or hiking. You can also put together your own low carb trail mix using your favorite nuts, seeds, and freeze-dried berries.
Trail mix is a great way to get a wide variety of vitamins and minerals into your snack.
🍿 Popcorn Alternatives for Braces
The seeds and hulls of popcorn kernels can interfere with braces, so your dentist may recommend a popcorn substitute. Some good popcorn substitutes for braces include cheese puffs, potato chips, and soft pretzels.
Of course, if you’re not craving a crunchy snack, there are lots of other movie snacks you can enjoy. Ice cream, chocolate bars, and soft cookies may also be braces-friendly. Steer clear of sticky snacks like gummy worms and caramels that can adhere to braces.
😋 Popcorn Alternative for Toddlers
Popcorn is a choking hazard for toddlers, which means we need a safe toddler popcorn substitute. Luckily, there are lots of toddler-safe puffs on the market to fill this role.
Toddler cereal and veggie puffs dissolve easily in the mouth and are often in kid-friendly shapes. You can check out some popular options here, here, and here. (Personal testimonial- my kiddo loved these fun snacks when he was little!)
❤️ Popcorn Substitute Diverticulitis
In general, popcorn is not contraindicated from the diet of someone with diverticulosis (source). A 2008 Harvard study found that popcorn and nuts didn’t increase the risk of acute diverticulitis in those with diverticular disease.
That said, if popcorn is causing you GI discomfort, you may not want to eat it. Some with diverticular disease report that Chester’s Puffcorn is a good alternative to popcorn, because it doesn’t contain popcorn hulls or seeds.
If you are in the middle of a flare of diverticulitis, your doctor may recommend bowel rest with a low fiber diet until it subsides. After that, you may be able to slowly increase fiber intake. As always, consult with your physician or dietitian for nutrition advice that is individualized to you.
🧈 Butter Substitute for Popcorn
Just about any cooking oil can work well as a butter alternative for popcorn. IMHO, two of the best oils for popcorn are extra virgin olive oil and coconut oil. Both provide great flavor, and like butter, make it easier for your popcorn toppings to stick.
If you want to cut back on oil and calories, try using a short spritz of cooking oil spray. After lightly misting the hot popcorn, you can sprinkle with salt, Parm, and other toppings.
But what if you need an oil-free popcorn oil substitute? This may sound strange, but try stirring some peanut butter into your popcorn! The results can be a bit messy to eat, but it’s so good!
💭 Expert Tips from a Dietitian
This is a level 3 recipe (weight maintenance and active lifestyles). If you are looking for a high-energy snack, this popcorn substitute has got your number. On the other hand, at over 300 calories for ½ of the recipe, this snack isn’t the best choice for losing weight.
This snack is great for teens, athletes, and others with high energy needs. If you have a weight loss goal, try 1-2 tablespoons of this recipe over a salad (or another food that needs crunch). It’s a fun alternative to croutons!
If you need a low-calorie alternative to popcorn, I’ve provided a lot of ideas in this article. Other popped grains, freeze-dried fruits, and low carb veggie chips are some low-calorie popcorn substitutes. Puffed foods are often puffed with air, making the food bigger without increasing the calories.
High calorie popcorn substitutes include nuts, seeds, pork rinds, and unpopped grains (such as pretzels). These foods pack a lot of calories into smaller portions of food. Often, these foods are packed with fat, refined carbs (or both), without much filling protein.
As the name implies, authentic popcorn is made of popped corn. However, there are lots of corn free snacks that give a sensory experience that’s similar to popcorn. I’ve covered many of these options (like popped sorghum) above.
What else can you pop besides popcorn? Popped sorghum is my top pick for a grain that pops like popcorn. Many other grains, including amaranth, buckwheat, quinoa, and rice, will puff with heat. However, I wouldn’t say they pop quite like popcorn.
Both popcorn and popped sorghum count as whole grains, and each is “healthy” depending on your needs. For example, sorghum is healthier than popcorn for you if you have a corn allergy. On the other hand, choosing inexpensive popcorn over pricey sorghum might help you afford an overall healthier diet if you’re on a tight budget.
The answer to whether popcorn or chips is healthier is “it depends.” Popcorn will generally give you a larger volume of food for lower carbs and calories than chips. However, popcorn is not a good choice for those with corn allergy or people with braces.
The amount of fat or oil added to popcorn has a significant impact on its overall nutritional profile. Popcorn can be considered a healthy whole grain snack. However, when we drown it in butter (or movie theaters douse it in oil), we make popcorn high calorie.
No. You put on belly fat due to the consistent intake of excess calories relative to your needs, not specific foods. It’s possible to enjoy popcorn both during weight loss and weight gain.
👩🏻🍳 Popcorn Alternative Recipes
Looking for more homemade healthy popcorn alternatives? You might enjoy these:
While you’re here, don’t miss my other Snack Recipes!
All recipes on this website may or may not be appropriate for you, depending on your medical needs and personal preferences. Consult with a registered dietitian or your physician if you need help determining the dietary pattern that may be best for you.
The nutrition information is an estimate provided as a courtesy. It will differ depending on the specific brands and ingredients that you use. Calorie information on food labels may be wildly inaccurate, so please don't sweat the numbers too much.
For more information on how the three recipe levels may help with a weight management goal, refer to my overnight oats no sugar post. Let's get cooking!
Best Popcorn Alternatives (Popcorn Substitute Ideas!)
- Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Drain and rinse the chickpeas. Dry them well with paper towels.
- Mix all of the ingredients together in a medium bowl.
- Line a dark baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread the chickpeas out in a single layer on the lined sheet (touching is fine).
- Bake for 45 minutes at 400°F (200°C) on a rack ⅓ down from the top of the oven. Give them a stir about every 20 minutes. Try to move the ones on the edges of the baking sheet to the middle when you stir. This will help them cook more evenly.
- Let them cool to room temperature before serving. I hope you love this easy popcorn alternative!