May 16, 2012: Is Microwave Popcorn Toxic?
watching a movie without popcorn. Most
of us can’t — in fact, annual consumption of popcorn in the US exceeds 1
billion pounds per year. Besides, what satisfies hunger faster than microwave
popcorn? Ready in three minutes or less, it’s a go-to snack everywhere from offices
to home kitchens — including yours, most likely!
popcorn became a common food about 25 years ago. The first version of
microwaveable popcorn had to be stored in the refrigerator, but in 1984, a
shelf-stable version was launched and became the first mass-marketed microwave
popcorn. It’s made by pumping salt, soybean oil, flavoring, and corn kernels into
specially processed air tight microwave bags. But a closer look at the ingredients label of a leading brand
of popcorn reveals some things you might
not have known about your favorite snack.
For starters, some brands
contain partially hydrogenated oil — yikes! That’s a source of trans fat, the
most toxic fat of all.
A second potential
danger in microwave popcorn is diacetyl, the ingredient found in the fake
butter flavoring. There’s even a debilitating respiratory disease known as
“popcorn worker’s lung,” (the medical name of the condition is bronchiolitis
obliterans) suffered by microwave popcorn factory workers and believed to be caused
by prolonged inhalation of the chemical’s fumes. In response to the concerns
regarding the risks of diacetyl exposure, a number of microwave popcorn
manufacturers have discontinued using it in their products, but many experts
argue that the replacement compounds are no safer. Adding insult
to injury, most microwave bags are coated with PFCs (perfluorinated compounds),
chemicals that have been shown to suppress immune function in children and
cause cancer in animals. In response to safety concerns, most manufacturers are
working on phasing out use of this chemical, too.
Avoid the Hazards: Eat Popcorn the Healthy Way
But cheer up, popcorn
lovers. There’s an easy way to avoid the potential hazards of the microwave
popcorn bag. The first step: Get rid of it! It’s much easier than you think (and
cheaper, too!) to pop natural kernels the old-fashioned way in a pot on the
stove. You can also pick up a hot air popper for around $20 and make air-popped
popcorn without any added oil — just 30 calories per cup. If you’d rather not buy a new appliance, you can
actually pop corn in a microwave using a plain ol’ brown paper lunch bag.
Simply add a 1/4 cup scoop of bulk popcorn kernels to your brown paper bag,
fold the top of the bag over twice, and microwave until the popping slows to
one to two pops per second (about 2 minutes on High).
Another way to keep it
healthy? I love jazzing up my popcorn with flavorful, low-cal alternatives to
butter! Give yours a kick by adding chili
powder and hot sauce, or get a zesty, ranch-like taste with onion powder and
garlic powder. You can even make yummy dessert
popcorn with a dash of cinnamon and a light drizzle of
Now that you know what
the heck you’re eating, dive in
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