Popcorn is a favorite snack in the United States, with the average American eating almost 54 quarts every year. Although popcorn can be a healthy snack, it can also be dangerous to your health, even exposing you to cancer-causing chemicals. Consider the following five cautions before popping another bag of store-bought microwave popcorn:
1. PFOA. The manufacturers of microwave popcorn coat the bags with a chemical that, according to the FDA, breaks down during the cooking process and forms a chemical called perfluorooctanoic or PFOA. The Environmental Protection Agency classifies PFOA as a likely carcinogen.
2. Diacetyl. A chemical called diacetyl is used to give microwave popcorn a butter flavor — but it also gives rise to bronchiolitis obliterans or “popcorn workers lung.” There is disagreement over whether or not ordinary consumers who pop a bag or two a week are at risk, but one court awarded a consumer $7.2 million after developing popcorn lung. A Denver man said he developed the disease from eating two bags of microwave popcorn every day for 10 years. To avoid inhaling diacetyl, open freshly popped bags away from your face, and if you have an exhaust fan attached to your stove, turn it on.
3. Burns. The process of microwaving popcorn in bags causes steam, which can easily cause severe burns to your face and hands. Avoid getting burned when opening a bag of freshly popped corn by keeping your face and hands away from the opening.
4. Tooth damage. Most bags of popcorn have a few unpopped kernels, and those hard pieces can chip and crack teeth. In 2008, a man sued a movie theater after fracturing a tooth on an unpopped kernel. Kernels can also get stuck between teeth causing gum irritation. Eat small amounts at a time and avoid hard unpopped kernels.
5. Fat, salt, and calories. A bag of butter-flavored microwave popcorn can contain up to 24 grams of fat, 500 to 600 milligrams of salt, and about 600 calories. That beats a large popcorn at some movie theaters which can pack as many as 60 grams of fat, but it’s far from being healthy.
Even though prepackaged microwave popcorn has its dangers, popcorn can be a healthy snack, and may be the perfect snack food. A single serving of popcorn has twice the polyphenols of most fruits or vegetables, according to Joe Vinson, Ph.D. from Pennsylvania’s University of Scranton.
The key to healthy popcorn is popping it yourself — and you don’t even have to give up your microwave. One simple way is to put a couple of tablespoons of organic popcorn kernels in a paper bag, fold the top of the bag over, and microwave on high until the kernels stop popping. Or pop on your stove top by pouring a couple of tablespoons of oil in a large, heavy pan and placing on moderate heat. Put two kernels of popcorn in the pan: When the two kernels pop, add three tablespoons of popping corn and cover the pan. When the kernels start popping, shake the pan until the popping stops. Add a dash of salt (and other spices if you choose), and you have a healthy, low-calorie snack.