Popcorn is such a popular snack and has been for centuries. It is also a very healthy snack when prepared correctly. Many people love to make popcorn at home as a salty snack, but, in order to be a healthy snack, it needs to be made in a healthy way.
There are lots of ways to make popcorn at home but microwavable popcorn is the least healthy method of preparation. Microwaving popcorn can actually turn the simple, nutritious snack into something bad for you. There may be harmful additives in the microwave popcorn bag that can cause health problems.
Today’s microwave popcorn standards are a little more strict than they used to be. So, we were wondering if microwave popcorn is still considered to be bad for your health. Or, can we make popcorn at home in the microwave and still consider it to be a healthy snack? It is time to find out.
Popcorn’s Troubled Past
Early in the 2000s, a chemical additive called diacetyl was used as a flavoring by many microwave popcorn brands. Diacetyl gave the microwave popcorn kernels their butter flavor.
However, it was soon discovered that diacetyl became toxic when it was heated to high temperatures. When consumed in large doses, it could cause severe lung damage called bronchiolitis obliterans. This health complication came to be known as “popcorn lung” and would cause symptoms like wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath.
All this just from eating too much microwave popcorn. Something had to be done.
When diacetyl was found to have such a serious health impact, most popcorn manufacturers immediately removed the flavoring from the popcorn bags. The additive was later banned by the FDA which is why you won’t find diacetyl in popcorn bags today.
But the damage has been done and many people now associate microwavable popcorn with serious health complications.
Chemicals Found in Popcorn Today
While microwavable popcorn bags no longer contain diacetyl, there are still other potentially harmful chemicals in some popcorn packages today. Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (Also called PFAS) and perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) are sometimes used to coat the inside of the popcorn bag. The same chemicals can be found in other fast food packaging and also in nonstick household products like Teflon pans. PFAs and PCFs have been linked to testicular cancer and kidney cancer.
These chemicals are no longer produced in the United States under direction from the EPA which is great news for popcorn manufactured in the US. However, other countries do still use PFAs and PCFs and imported products may still contain these compounds, including some microwavable popcorn bags.
Other Health Risks in Microwavable Popcorn
When you put a bag of popcorn into the microwave, you are already at the mercy of the manufacturer. They are completely in control of what goes into the bag and, therefore, what goes into your mouth. You get whatever ingredients are in the popcorn bag. Some of these ingredients may be ones you would rather skip.
The type of fat used to make microwave popcorn is one thing you may want to consider. While trans fats are no longer used in microwavable popcorn, other saturated fats are. It takes a lot of vegetable oil or palm oil to pop popcorn in a bag. These unhealthy fats that lurk in every bag of microwave popcorn can raise your cholesterol and lead to a who array of health issues.
The amount of sodium in microwavable popcorn also tends to be extremely high. Too much sodium can cause health issues like hypertension. Low-sodium popcorns do exist, but even those can have more than you may want to consume. The bottom line is that when you buy microwavable popcorn, you really don’t have much control over your snack.
Popcorn Can Still Be a Healthy Snack
All this talk about chemicals and additives inside the popcorn bag may have you reconsidering your favorite snack. But, before you stop eating popcorn forever, you should know that it can still be a very healthy snack.
When properly prepared, popcorn can be low calorie, low in sodium, and low in cholesterol. The best way to make popcorn at home is to use an air popper or simply make it on the stovetop. This way, you know exactly what ingredients you are using.
Popcorn is a whole grain and can provide lots of health benefits. It is a heart-healthy snack when prepared in a simple, additive-free way. Popcorn is also a low-calorie snack when made correctly. Skip the excessive seasonings, butter, and salt and you will have tasty, diet-friendly food.
When making your own popcorn, it is also a good idea to use olive oil or coconut oil. Both of these have lots of health benefits and are much more nutritious than butter or vegetable oil. Easy changes like this are what make popcorn healthy while still tasting good.
Final Thoughts on Microwavable Popcorn
When you choose to eat microwavable popcorn, you are at the mercy of the manufacturer. You may end up consuming ingredients that are bad for your health, unnecessary, and may have long-term side effects. Yes, there have been improvements to reduce and eliminate harmful chemicals from microwavable popcorn but there are still bags with additives out there that you should avoid.
The best way to make a healthy popcorn snack for your next movie night is to use the stove or an air popper. Get creative with your seasonings, don’t use too much, and be mindful of the ingredients you use. We have lots of popcorn information to help you create a tasty, healthy, popcorn snack that is way better than anything you can get in a bag.
Be sure to check back and learn more about the world of popcorn. We are constantly researching, writing, and posting about our favorite snack and hope you find popcorn as fascinating and delicious as we do.