Popcorn made in those microwave bags with the shiny silver insides are a very popular snack but recent health concerns have come to light that have health experts worried.
Here’s three microwavable popcorn health risks and three good reasons to switch to healthier alternatives such as nuts, or at the very least make your own popcorn to avoid some surprisingly toxic chemicals.
1. Diacetyl Butter Flavoring
Diacetyl is an artificially created chemical that has been used in the ‘butter’ flavorings that are common in microwave popcorn. So many people who worked manufacturing this product became sick with scarring of the lungs that the condition was termed ‘popcorn lung’.
American popcorn manufacturers promised to come up with safer alternatives to this chemical, but regulators have recently found that the diacetyl substitutes they chose may be just as toxic. Butter starter distillates and trimmers, the most common replacements, themselves contain diacetyl or release it when heated and are not considered any healthier than the original toxic chemical they are meant to supersede.
In Europe diacetyl is still approved for use and is a common additive in snack foods. This is despite studies that have linked diacetyl directly to Alzheimer’s. It easily crosses the blood brain barrier, has been demonstrated to cause damage to important proteins in the brain and may be a trigger for this terrible disease.
Clearly diacetyl and its chemically similar replacements are not substances you want to be regularly putting in your body if you value your health. If you really want some butter flavored popcorn then it’s far better to get some organic corn and make your own with the real thing. Artificial butter flavoring is a very suspect ingredient and well worth avoiding.
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2. TBHQ – Lighter Fluid with Your Popcorn?
Tertiary butylhydroquinone or TBHQ is a chemical preservative used in microwave popcorn and many other snack foods. It is also a form of butane. Yes the same stuff that you find in lighter fluid.
Why anyone thought it was a good idea to allow lighter fluid in microwave popcorn is beyond me. While the amounts are small, all of these different chemicals add up and create an extra burden on your body to eliminate them.
Side effects of high doses of TBHQ include nausea, vomiting, tinnitus and delirium. Animal studies on it suggest an increased risk of stomach cancer and DNA damage and there are reports linking it to skin problems like dermetitis and attention deficit disorder in children.
TBHQ may also appear on your food packaging labels as preservative E319. The FDA allows .02% of the oils in your snack foods to be TBHQ, but do you really want any of this chemical in your diet?
3. PFOA in Microwave Popcorn Bags
The third of these microwave popcorn health risks isn’t actually an ingredient. It’s a gas that is given off by the bags that your popcorn comes in when heated in the microwave.
Perflurooctanoic acid or PFOA is a toxic chemical that has been labeled a likely human carcinogen. It is strongly implicated in a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and thyroid problems and just inhaling enough of it can make you feel sick. That’s a real problem when the first thing most people do when they removed a bag of popcorn from the microwave is open it and to take a deep breath.
Wayne Watson ate 2-3 bags of microwave popcorn a day until he developed a rare condition.