Plain popcorn is a healthy snack that usually doesn’t cause any symptoms. However, some people can experience stomach pain, chest pain, or other symptoms after eating popcorn. The most common causes are:
- IBS (irritable bowel syndrome)
- eating too much popcorn
- using unhealthy toppings
Let’s take a closer look at each of these causes and the symptoms popcorn might trigger.
Types of popcorn flavors
Popcorn is a product of corn and one of the most popular snacks in the world. It is full of nutrients and provides you with plenty of health benefits.
These are some of the most popular popcorn flavors:
- classic butter and salt
- caramel corn
- plain popcorn
- white cheddar
- and a lot more
Unfortunately, there are some flavors of popcorn that make use of ingredients that can drive overeating and are not considered healthy.
Flavors that contain too much sugar, salt, or fat are the most likely to trigger symptoms.
Why does popcorn make your stomach hurt?
Eating too much popcorn is probably the most common cause of stomach aches or cramps. The pain n should go away in a few hours.
However, some people regularly experience stomach pain after eating popcorn. In such cases, there is an underlying health condition that should be diagnosed by a doctor.
Irritable bowel syndrome is a very common cause of popcorn-triggered gastrointestinal symptoms. Allergy or intolerance to corn or the toppings is also a possible, albeit less common, cause.
While plain popcorn is considered to be good for the stomach, it might worsen symptoms of already existing abdominal problems.
Can you eat popcorn with IBS?
Popcorn contains mostly insoluble fiber, which means: popcorn can trigger IBS symptoms.
Foods with high insoluble fiber content seem to trigger IBS symptoms like abdominal pain, diarrhea, or bloating.
Both diarrhea and constipation after eating popcorn might be because of IBS. Does popcorn make you nauseous? Does it upset your stomach? Does it feel like popcorn hurts your intestines? It might be IBS!
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a fairly common gastrointestinal disorder that usually affects the large and small intestines.
The exact causes are not known, and there is no cure for it. With the proper diet and medicines, it is possible to manage IBS symptoms.
IBS symptoms are usually not severe, but very unpleasant:
IBS has several triggers, like stress or drugs, but probably the most common triggers are certain foods.
Why does popcorn cause chest pain after eating?
There might be a few reasons why popcorn causes chest discomfort, but more often than not the culprit is not the popcorn itself, but either the toppings used or the amount you eat.
Some of the common health issues why popcorn might trigger chest or stomach pain:
- acid reflux, heartburn
- inflammation in the stomach, gastroenteritis
- irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- corn allergy or intolerance
While plain popcorn is unlikely to cause indigestion or other problems, it’s very easy to eat too much salted or sweetened popcorns.
Does popcorn cause heartburn and acid reflux?
These are the most likely reasons for having heartburn after eating popcorn:
- eating too much or too fast
- using toppings rich in fat, sugar, or salt
Acid reflux is caused when food and acid from the stomach move backward into the esophagus. It can cause heartburn and other symptoms like a sore throat, cough and phlegm, sour taste in the mouth, and a burning sensation in the breastbone.
Popcorn contains a lot of insoluble fiber. Insoluble fiber helps digestion, foods pass more quickly through the stomach and intestines. This is good news if you have acid reflux (and bad news if you have IBS), as slow digestion is what tends to trigger symptoms like heartburn.
Too much popcorn will also cause a backflow of acid into the esophagus hence causing acid reflux.
Is microwave popcorn bad for acid reflux?
Microwave popcorn is more likely to trigger heartburn symptoms as it usually contains a lot more fat and salt than homemade popcorn. Both of these ingredients in microwave popcorn are risk factors for acid reflux.
Popcorn with high-fat content will stay longer in the stomach, which causes an increase in the stomach acid levels and might lead to reflux.
A word of warning on microwave popcorns
While microwave popcorns are really convenient, there are two problems with them:
These popcorns usually contain too many unhealthy toppings, like salt, sugar, or fat.
Such ingredients are not only bad for your health, but they make it easy to overeat, making the problem worse.
Several studies pointed out that microwave popcorn bags contain compounds like perfluorinated compounds (PFCs), and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).
These are linked to cancer, lung damage, low birth rate, thyroid problems, etc. (Please check out the studies linked above!)
Albeit not common, people can be intolerant to popcorn or any other form of corn.
Popcorn intolerance is a digestive problem, its typical symptoms are:
- gas, bloating
- stomach ache, cramps
- abnormal flatulence
People allergic to corn will develop from mild to very severe reactions to its presence or after ingesting it.
Unlike popcorn intolerance, allergy is not a digestive problem but an abnormal reaction of the immune system.
However, corn allergy is not as common as allergies to other types of food.
Reactions can be as mild as sneezing or itching. However, in rare cases food allergies might cause severe breathing problems that require immediate help.
Beware that some products have corn, such as corn oil, baking powder, vegetable oil, corn syrup, and corn bran. You should use alternatives for these foods to avoid these incidences of corn intolerance.
Alternatives in case of popcorn intolerance & allergy
Yes, corn-free popcorn sounds like an oxymoron, but some other foods can also be popped.
Amaranth, barley, buckwheat, quinoa, and sorghum can all be popped and might be a good alternative.
Talk to your allergist about the possible substitutes you can eat instead of popcorn.
Feeling sick after too much popcorn
Stomach ache and other symptoms after too much popcorn is usually caused either by the high fiber content or the too much salt and fat.
Too much popcorn can be bad for your stomach as too much fiber can cause:
- stomach ache
- both diarrhea and constipation
- nausea, vomiting
Movie popcorns or microwave popcorns are more likely to trigger symptoms as they not only contain a lot of fiber but high amounts of salt and fat.
Microwave popcorn might contain other chemicals, that can cause symptoms like shortness of breath or wheezing, even though most of these chemicals have been removed from microwave popcorn in the recent years.
While popcorn is considered to be a healthy snack, most of the popcorns you can buy are not that healthy.
This is because a lot of unhealthy ingredients are added to them in large amounts: salt, sugar, far are all detrimental to your health and can trigger chest and stomach problems.
However, homemade popcorn with healthy toppings, like olive oil, almond, or vanilla, can be a healthy and gut-friendly snack.
Those who have IBS might have symptoms after eating popcorn, and people with corn allergies should stay away from it.
Frequently asked questions
You can, just avoid adding too much sugar and fat, use salt sparingly.
Most types of popcorn you can buy in food stores are not recommended for people with reflux. Make sure you check the list of ingredients before buying them (and read the studies linked above about the packaging).
It’s quite possible that you simply ate too much popcorn. This is especially common for children.
However, it could be a sign of allergy or stomach pain. If vomiting is accompanied by other symptoms, like nausea, dizziness, breathing problems you should contact your doctor.
Otherwise, you need to limit the amount of popcorn you eat and see if a smaller amount triggers symptoms or not.
Healthy people should not experience indigestion or gas after eating popcorn. However, people suffering from IBS might have either or both.
Is popcorn ok to eat when you have diarrhea?
No. In case of diarrhea, a diet low in insoluble fiber is recommended, and popcorn is full of insoluble fibers.
Try white rice, peas, oatmeal, or pasta instead.
Normally it shouldn’t, but people with IBS might experience constipation (or diarrhea…) when eating popcorn.
A popcorn shell stuck in the throat might cause coughing. However, there are less obvious ways popcorn might cause cough: it might be an allergic reaction or silent reflux.