Microwave Popcorn: Is is bad?

There are very few individuals I have met that don’t like popcorn.  I remember as a kid my little Westie sitting at my feet, waiting for a kernel to be tossed his way so that he could catch it in the air.  Popcorn is so versatile – you can go with the traditional butter and salt, do the sweet and savory thing, add exotic flavors such as curry or sriracha or go totally sweet with a popcorn ball.  So the question lies – is it bad for us? or is it just the microwave popcorn that could be a bit suspicious?

Popcorn Nutritional info from Popcorn Board

First, here’s a few popcorn facts:

  • Popcorn is a whole grain. It is made up of three components: the germ, endosperm, and pericarp (also know as the hull).
  • Popcorn needs between 13.5-14% moisture to pop.
  • Popcorn differs from other types of maize/corn in that is has a thicker pericarp/hull. The hull allows pressure from the heated water to build and eventually bursts open. The inside starch becomes gelatinous while being heated; when the hull bursts, the gelatinized starch spills out and cools, giving it its familiar popcorn shape.
  • Most U.S. popcorn is grown in the Midwest, primarily in Indiana, Nebraska, Ohio, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky and Missouri.
  • Compared to most snack foods, popcorn is low in calories. Air-popped popcorn has only 31 calories per cup. Oil-popped is only 55 per cup.

Popcorn Kernel

Microwave popcorn

The Bag

The bag almost all microwave popcorn varieties come in is lined with perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). This chemical is the same toxic stuff found in teflon pots and pans. It can stay in the environment and in the human body for long periods of time. This chemical when heated has been linked to infertility, cancer and other diseases in lab animals. No long term studies have been conducted on humans, but the EPA lists this substance as a carcinogen.

Diacetyl Butter Flavoring

What’s so wrong with a little bit of artificial butter flavoring? Well a lot. This stuff is seriously toxic, which forced Conagra Foods to remove it from their Act branded Microwave popcorn recently because it causes lung issues in workers. This ingredient is also linked to brain issues which cause Alzheimer’s Disease too. Dr. Mercola reports:

“Researchers conducting test-tube studies revealed that diacetyl has several concerning properties for brain health. Not only can it pass through the blood-brain barrier, which is intended to help keep toxins out of your brain, but it can also cause brain proteins to misfold into the Alzheimer’s-linked form known as beta amyloid. It also inhibits mechanisms that help to naturally clear the dangerous beta amyloid from your brain”

It’s not known at this time whether eating diacetyl-containing foods (it’s used not only in microwave popcorn but also in other snack foods, baked goods, pet foods, some fast foods and other food products) increases your risk of Alzheimer’s, but the finding that it may contribute to brain plaques linked to Alzheimer’s at very low concentrations is concerning, to say the least.“

Orville Redenbacher’s label explicitly says they do not use this flavoring anymore, but there are popcorn varieties that still do, so watch out,  read the labels, and if you see the words “artificial flavor” on the label of any processed food choose another brand.

Go Organic

Organic popcorn

Perhaps the best alternative first purchase organic. That way you are sure you are not getting genetically modified corn. And second is it to get an electronic popcorn popper.


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