Why Microwave Popcorn Is An Absolute Health Nightmare

If you or someone you know is still eating microwave popcorn, listen up! I can’t tell you how many countless times I used to eat microwave popcorn when I worked in an office. My co-workers would buy one of those packs from the vending machine in the break room and pop that sucker right into the microwave and the whole floor would smell DELICIOUS! I just couldn’t help myself. It was the one thing in the vending machine that always had to be refilled week after week – way before the stale peanuts.

I’m so glad I stopped that habit, when I finally gave up my use of microwaves, because let me tell you, this stuff is horrible for your health and here’s why…

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. 

The Contents

Here’s a snapshot of several popular popcorn brands and the ingredients they contain. 

Popular Popcorn Brands

Even though there are no sources of genetically modified popcorn kernels being produced (that’s saved for other varieties of corn), there are several other GMO ingredients in the form of oil or emulsifiers to be found in these popcorn flavors. GMOs have never been tested long term on human beings and are linked to a slew of health issues that are rising in this country. All of these brands do not use organic corn either, so you can be sure they contain harmful pesticides. 

Brands like PopSecret and Jolly Time still use trans fat, which is considered one of the most deadly fats available because it is associated with 20,000 heart attacks a year and over 7,000 deaths according to the CDC. 

Proply Gallate that is found in PopSecret is one of those ingredients that’s being phased out in the rest of the world, but still being used here for a preservative in food, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. It’s linked to all sorts of health issues like skin rashes, stomach issues and breathing problems.

TBHQ that is found in Smart Balance, stands for “Tertiary Butylhydroquinone.” It’s a dead giveaway that you shouldn’t be eating this, if food companies have to use an acronym for a long chemical name on the ingredient label.

TBHQ is a chemical made from butane (a very toxic gas) and can only be used at a rate of 0.02 percent of the total oil in a product. Why is there a limit to this? Maybe because eating only 1 gram of this toxic preservative has been shown to cause all sorts of issues, from ADHD in children, to asthma, allergies and dermatitis to dizziness and even has caused stomach cancer in laboratory animals.

Limiting TBHQ to a certain percentage, is the same logic the FDA made when allowing a product to still contain 0.5 grams of transfat and be labeled “transfat free.” If you are consuming processed foods, eating at fast food restaurants or chains that use processed foods you are consuming an overload of preservatives and other chemicals. The accumulation of eating all these different preservatives and man-made chemicals at once has not been studied by the food companies or the FDA for safety. 

The Hidden Ingredients

Even though natural flavors and artificial flavors are listed on the ingredient label of microwave popcorn, we have no way of knowing what’s actually in these ingredients. Food manufacturers won’t tell you and they hide things in there like MSG, beaver’s anal glands and 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.1

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, if you see the words “artificial flavor” on the label of any processed food, back up far away! 

Make Your Own (It Takes 5 mins!)

Making your own popcorn from scratch is so EASY and you can avoid all of these health pitfalls. If you need to take some to the office or where ever you are going (like sneaking it into the movie theatre), I recommend making it in advance and throwing it in a reusable bag.

This recipe takes 5 mins. The extra 2 minutes (over microwave popcorn) is time definitely worth committing to. 

I call this recipe “Superfood Popcorn” because it contains three amazing ingredients:

  • Coconut oil that is great for your metabolism
  • Hemp seeds that are full of omega 3 fatty acids
  • Red palm oil that contains the highest amounts of vitamins A and E of any plant-based oil

I have to say, the red palm oil took this popcorn from about an 9 to an 11 on a scale from 1 to 10. It looks and tastes like yummy comforting butter (and the color matches that movie theatre popcorn without all the added chemical ingredients). Also, the added texture of the hemp seeds combined with sea salt is so good and crunchy. 

I made a bowl of this last week and it was heavenly! It’s seriously amazing – I can’t wait to hear your reports.

Please note red palm oil is different from palm kernel oil (that is grown in SouthEast Asia and killing orangutans). Red palm oil comes from Ecuador and harvested sustainably. Dr. Oz does a great job of explaining the difference between red palm fruit oil and palm kernel oil here if you’d like to learn more. 

4.0 from 63 reviews
Food Babe's Superfood Popcorn
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Serves: 2
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. In a pot, stir together coconut oil and popcorn kernels and heat pot on stove to high
  2. Cover pot with lid and let popcorn pop until you hear less popping per second
  3. Once popcorn is done popping, remove from pot into a bowl
  4. Using a blender or food processor, blend hempseed and salt until fine
  5. Top popcorn with melted red palm oil and hempseed salt mixture
Notes
***Please buy all organic ingredients if possible.***

 

RedPalmOil

IMG_9337

 

In advance of this post, I reached out to Nutiva (my favorite superfood company), to see if they could create a special crazy deal based on these ingredients and they did! If you’d like to get your hands on some hemp seeds, red palm oil and/or coconut oil at a discount check it out here. 

And by the way, it’s pretty amazing the CEO of Nutiva John Roulac, would say outright in a news interview that the end goal for his company is to see “Monsanto go bankrupt” – I love voting with my dollars to support him and his company.


If you know someone who is still consuming microwave popcorn, please do your part and share this post with them – especially if they are your co-workers :) Together we are changing the way our families and friends eat and I love that! 

Hooray to healthy popcorn! 

Food babe

P.S. Check out this hilarious interview I did on CNN last weekend about trans fats, popcorn and Funyuns. Being on the Don Lemon Show with Alexa Towersey was so fun! Don was a riot. When you watch it, you’ll see what I mean. 

 

407 Responses to “Why Microwave Popcorn Is An Absolute Health Nightmare”

  1. Janice

    Do they still make & sell microwave popcorn poppers? we had one, but was getting too hot, so we chunked it but now can’t seem to be able to find another

    Reply
    • Karen Hessel (to Janice)

      We use a Nordic ware microwave popper from target or order online. Use no oil or just a T and its great! We replace every few years but we use it several times a week. Not expensive.

      Reply
    • susan (to Janice)

      As a breast cancer survivor, I was concerned about heated plastics in the microwave, so I have invented a new glass lid that COOKS, STEAMS and REHEATS food safely in the microwave.
      And popcorn is easy and chemical free using my Cuchina Safe Lid!
      http://www.cuchinasafe.com

      Reply
  2. Bob Carter

    And do not forget that microwaves basically shred the nutrients in the process of heating the food!

    Reply
  3. Tom Tolen

    Why – once you’ve got the ingredients you’ve listed – can’t you use a pyrex bowl and just microwave the stuff? Since it no longer has the toxic or harmful ingredients used with the microwave popcorn, it should be fine, I would think!

    Reply
  4. Julian

    When anyone uses the word toxin or toxic you need to ask ‘At what level is it toxic?’, otherwise the term is meaningless. Water is toxic if you drink too much of it. We need oxygen to breath, but it is toxic at high levels. So too with other chemicals. There are no good or bad chemicals, it depends on the concentration. You need to test the microwave popcorn to show what chemicals are present in the food after microwaving and then relate this to the level at which it becomes harmful.

    Reply
  5. Sandy

    This recipe was awesome! The family loved it. You don’t experience the “after-taste” of microwave popcorn. I did not have hempseed, but I made it anyway. I put sea salt on the popcorn…. it turned out perfect! I will try it with hempseed next time.

    Reply
  6. Ruth Moorhead

    Vani, there’s a word spelling at the start of the 3rd paragraph below the chart under The Contents that needs to change……I figured out it was supposed to be Propyl, but it took a moment, because I hadn’t closely read the ingredients list above.

    I do have a question, too (which maybe I can find answers for by sifting through your site after I finish this), and that is, what should I be eating to make up for the fact that I’m eating grain-free (no barley, corn, einkorn, farro, kamut, millet, oats, rice, rye, sorghum, spelt, triticale, wheat…)?

    Reply
  7. Kathy

    I love stove-popped popcorn. (I don’t even touch the microwave stuff) I have always used cold-pressed peanut oil , but I will switch to coconut oil (coconut’s my new favorite health food, anyway.)

    Can’t wait to try it , ty :)

    Reply

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