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 61 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. 

 

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

  1. Wolgy

    What about Costco’s Kirkland brand? Here is a list of ingredients:

    whole grain popcorn, palm oil, salt, natural flavor, ascorbic acid to preserve freshness.

    Do they use the same type of bag?

    Reply
    • Denise (to Wolgy)

      I am wondering the dame thing…

      Reply
    • Leah (to Wolgy)

      It sounds better in theory – however anytime there is palm oil in a product it shouldn’t be consumed. One of the most harmful things we are doing to our planet right now is unsustainably harvesting palm oils by clearcutting vast amounts of rain forest, the natural habitat for orangutans and tigers.

      Reply
      • Bob (to Leah)

        According to Nutiva’s website:

        “We’re excited to introduce our delicious organic Red Palm Oil grown on small organic family farms in NW Ecuador. By partnering with Natural Habitats in Ecuador we ensure that no deforestation or habitat destruction results from the growing or harvesting process. Nutiva is also promoting social programs in the area by building a small health clinic for the local doctor, and hiring a full-time soccer coach and providing uniforms for the local youth.”

        http://nutiva.com/nutiva-introduces-organic-red-palm-oil/

      • Leah (to Leah)

        Hi Bob,

        I was referring to the palm oil in the kirkland’s costco brand microwave popcorn. They have just plain old palm oil in it, so I would never buy that product.

        Red palm oil is such an awesome alternative!

    • Eric (to Wolgy)

      If it comes in a bag and has to be microwaved, it’s probably something any human should not be eating.

      Reply
  2. Sam

    What’s the calories per serving and what is the serving size? Thanks food babe! Good looking out for us! Thank you!

    Reply
  3. Doctor

    In the Dean Ornish Program for Reversing Heart Disease, the say don’t eat anything with Palm Oil. It will give you heart disease.

    What’s your take on this “food”?

    Reply
    • Beth Donahue (to Doctor)

      I have been reading that coconut oil will raise both LDL and HDL because it is a saturated fat. Vani why do you endorse it for making popcorn over olive oil or canola oil which gives you good plant oil? If it is just for taste, you can cook the popcorn in olive oil or canola oil then sprinkle with parmesean cheese…yum

      Reply
      • Cristel (to Beth Donahue)

        Hi Beth, because coconut oil is mainly saturated fat, it is much more stable when heated to high temperature and will not go rancid or form free-radicals. Olive oil can tolerate moderate heat, but canola oil is definitely one you want to avoid heating as it is mainly composed of polyunsaturated fats which are very unstable. I personally never use canola oil for this reason (and the fact that it is highly refined and tasteless).
        If you are not a big fan of coconut oil, i would suggest you try popping corn in ghee (clarified butter) which has a delicious nutty flavour and is also very stable when heated.

      • Jason Venckus (to Beth Donahue)

        Coconut oil is a medium chain triglyceride and as opposed to a long chain triglyceride. MCTs are shown to reduce belly fat, cholesterol and heart disease. It also has a high smoking point as opposed to olive oil and canola (usually GMO). Olive oil and canola both become carcinogenic at high heats. I buy organic, virgin coconut oil by the gallon and use it to cook, shave, moisturize after getting out of the pool, heck I greased a door hinge the other day with it. I eat 2-3 T a day and my cholesterol is almost perfect! Hope this helps.

      • Regina (to Beth Donahue)

        I stopped using canola oil long time go. Toxic!
        I will try and find that article link and resend it to you.
        Research canola oil, you will not use it again in cooking or for consumption.

      • Regina (to Beth Donahue)

        http://www.shirleys-wellness-cafe.com/canola.htm#.T545IYy585M.email

        Here is the entire link about Canola Oil. Must Read Article.

      • Larry (to Beth Donahue)

        You can cook pop corn in olive oil, It turns bitter when ever y you get it hot dude. You cant fry nothing in pop corn oil, it will taste like $hit.

  4. Bobby

    The ingredients are the big thing, the bag chemicals yet another, and German and Russian scientists have found serious health issues with microwaves, whether for food, radar, communication, etc. Do things the old-fashioned way. Grandma knew best.

    Reply
  5. Jo brown

    I put my popcorn in brown lunch bag without any oils and pop in microwave and it come out just fine. Then I add real melted butter and a little salt. Delicious !!!

    Reply
    • Allie Knell (to Jo brown)

      That’s how we do it!! Oil is not all it’s cracked up to be. Once oil is exposed to air,
      It becomes a free radical which causes cancer. We cook everything in butter on low or med, watching that it doesn’t turn brown. So much better for you and yours!! Unfortunately, this is not a common belief yet but there’s lots of research
      on it! Have a great day!

      Reply
    • Pamela (to Jo brown)

      Me too! Love it!

      Reply
    • Jason Venckus (to Jo brown)

      The butter is fine. Someone suggest above using Ghee, a form of clarified butter. The issue is the microwave that leaks toxins into your food. German and Russian studies have shown that microwaves let out enough radiation to cause cancer from exposure.

      If going the butter route: melt it and pop the corn in a stainless steel pan.

      Reply
      • bill (to Jason Venckus)

        That’s absolutely not true. There has been no research showing any evidence of cancer by microwaves. You would have to sit inside of it for 43 years.

    • Lisa (to Jo brown)

      With the brown paper bag method, I’ve always wondered if there are any issues with chemicals used to make the bag getting on the popcorn–especially since it’s exposed to heat. Has anyone looked into this?

      Reply
    • DOC (to Jo brown)

      i do this all the time

      Reply
  6. Poppa Corn

    Eating microwave popcorn as I write this – if it’s bad then why does it taste so damn good? mmmmm

    Reply
    • simple (to Poppa Corn)

      This given recipe does not take just 5 mins, and gathering the ingredients is another matter, microwave popcorn is so much better and easier, and what has the bag got to do with it, it’s not like the chemicals from the bag just jump off the bag and onto the corn, no need for a load of nonsense!

      Reply
      • john galt (to simple)

        Those are 2 of the most ignorant responses ever. If the popcorn is cooked in the bag that contains that chemical, then YES it most certainly DOES seep into the food. People act like we are so enlightened just by the fact that laymen have the ability to read now but it is obvious that this does not include actual comprehension. The majority are just reading words and not really grasping the meaning. As for the comment about it TASTING good…really? A whopper probably tastes better than a cucumber, sprout and garbanzo bean sandwich. If taste is the only metric you’re using then you really are in trouble.

  7. Kaylee

    People strive to eat healthy, watch fats, court calories and carbohydrates so on and so forth. If people lose weight and get in shape, then they die too. When it is our time, no matter what size we are, we are all going to die. Stop being so full of self esteem and health issues and get a life.

    Reply
    • MYOB (to Kaylee)

      Some of us don’t want to spend the end of our days in a hospital bed with painful, debilitating diseases. You can go enjoy your cancer though :)

      Reply
  8. Wendy

    It’s very misinforming to say that red palm oil comes from Ecuador and palm kernel oil from South East Asia. Palm kernel oil is just the oil taken from the seed of palm oil while red palm oil is the flesh. So both comes from the same fruit. But you’re right to say that red palm oil is healthier than palm kernel oil.

    Also, please don’t believe everything that you read. I’m from Malaysia and we have been eating palm oil for a long time. Have the western world not cleared up all their land for development and agriculture? Although yes there are some small farmers who practice illegal deforestation, our government is trying to control that and 95% of our palm oil comes from sustainable sources. When you buy Red palm oil, look for sustainable certified palm oil and it would be safe.

    Reply
  9. PC Richards

    It might help to give folks alternatives. Like how easy it is to pop corn in a pan on the stove…or even just in a brown paper bag in the microwave, etc.

    Reply
  10. Kevin

    Try Tiny But Mighty popcorn. It’s one of the best to pop on the stove top.

    Reply
  11. Shelly

    Check out quinnpopcorn.com — nonGMO, organic, paperbag with no chemicals, no diacetyl, no PFOAs, no bad oils, no preservatives, real butter (rBGH-free). While homemade is great, I send this with my college student who doesn’t have ability to make homemade in her dorm room, and will buy the gross microwave popcorn for convenience. So, I send her care packages with this product — they even have a popped version that has kale in it. I have only seen this product at Super Target, which has quickly been expanding it’s organic and nonGMO offerings (yay!). Yes, it still uses a microwave, but a healthy alternative.

    Reply
    • Mary (to Shelly)

      Quinn Popcorn is the best! Nothing in the bag, other than the popcorn. The popcorn is organic and the taste is awesome!!!

      Reply
  12. chef

    Obsessed plus inspired by you, the website, and the show. Thank you for sharing!

    Reply
  13. stove

    Welcome to the blogosphere, Talia! Now I may stalk you her and also about Pinterest ; )

    Reply
  14. popcorn vending machines

    Americans consume 16 billion quarts of popped popcorn annually or 52 quarts per man, woman and child. It is one of the most wholesome and economical foods available.Approximately 70 percent is eaten in the home (home popped and pre-popped) and about 30 percent outside the home (theaters, stadiums, schools, etc.). Unpopped popcorn accounts for approximately 90 percent of sales for home consumption.
    Major popcorn producing states are Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska and Ohio.
    The peak period for popcorn sales for home consumption is the fall. Sales remain fairly high throughout the winter months then taper off during the spring and summer. Popcorn is a popular snack with all age groups.

    Reply
  15. Julie @ Making Mindfulness

    Thanks for creating and posting this post! My mom never liked the taste of microwave, so I grew up eating it popped on the stove, and some people don’t understand how much better it is for you as well as how much better it tastes. I included the link in my post today about a Happy & Healthy Movie night as a smart snack option. Thanks, again! If you can, please check out the post: http://makingmindfulness.blogspot.com/2014/09/host-happy-healthy-movie-night.html

    Reply
  16. Kristen

    Hey FoodBabe,
    Do you know anything about the bags the Whole Foods 365 Brand Organic microwave popcorn comes in?
    Thanks!

    Reply
  17. Gabrielle

    I use a hot air popper, a Hello Kitty hot air popper, to be exact! :)

    Reply
  18. Robin

    I have used this recipe for my 4-year-old since the last time you posted on your website about 4 months ago. He loves it and thinks it is (because I told him that it is) the movie theater popcorn he likes to eat buckets of. It looks and tastes just like it. LOVE!

    Reply
  19. Leslie Campbell

    I would suggest non GMO organic popcorn (Whole foods and Trader Joe’s carries them)

    Reply
  20. Mary

    I was with you until you referenced Dr. Oz at the end! I feel like everything out of his mouth came with a huge paycheck to him! What a hack

    Reply
  21. This article is dumb

    Beavers anus. LMFAO

    Reply
  22. Fred

    Any comments on Microwave Popcorn brand “O” Organics (sold at Vons)? It is USDA Organic certified, Looking at the ingredients list:
    - Organic Popcorn
    - Organic Palm Oil
    - Salt
    - May contain milk
    That’s it.
    Comments? Safe to eat?
    Thanks -

    Reply
  23. Anne

    I’ve been doing it this way for years…brown lunch bag, organic popcorn, and I even add the organic butter right to the bag, then sprinkle with sea salt!

    Reply
  24. Kris

    I tried to find a credible source stating the material that popcorn bags were made out of and did not find any luck. Could you please provide a link or a citation to an appropriate, reliable source?

    Also, which lab animals did this cause cancer, infertility, etc. within?

    Just curious as a DVM.

    Reply
  25. Nanwithaplan

    The USDA website on food safety says “Do not use brown paper bags from the grocery or other stores for cooking. They are not sanitary, may cause a fire, and may emit toxic fumes…The ink, glue, and recycled materials in paper bags may emit toxic fumes when they are exposed to heat.” If we are worried about popcorn bags commercially intended for cooking, probably brown paper never intended for cooking is going to be at least equally bad. I guess we’ll be buying the plain stuff from our Cub Scout, and cook it on the stove.

    Reply
  26. Sara

    Vani, the recipe is delicious, but the kernels arent popping all the way, so we’re struggling to chew them. Any idea why thats happening?

    Reply
  27. Nick M

    Is there really anything that is ok for human consumption?

    We’re being told some “organic” is actually not safe, and some “natural” products.

    As far as I’m concerned the only real thing would be going out and hunting and gathering in the wild. Turns out paying for education was a waste haha. I should have learned how to become a better hunter and fisherman. Of course I’m being sarcastic, however this is all going way too far. Everything in moderation people, and live to be happy!

    Reply
  28. johnny

    You don’t even have to cook the popcorn kernels on a stove, but can do so just the same in a microwave, which is now what I do (discovering that the stove always burnt my popcorn!). I just add some golden syrup, and put it in the microwave with no added oil. You don’t actually need oil at all for the kernels if you cook them in the microwave.

    Reply
  29. Kenny

    We use the Presto Power Pop. Pops corn in the microwave without oil. Add seasoning after poping. Must be good, it’s endorsed by Orville Redenbacher!

    Reply
  30. Emily

    I was told never to put a cover on you lid with the hot oil alone, If you forget about the oil or it over heats when you take the lid off, it could catch on fire. It’s best to heat the oil with the lid off and then throw in a kernel and wait till it pops (who cares where it lands). Be safe.

    Reply
  31. Regina

    http://www.shirleys-wellness-cafe.com/canola.htm#.T545IYy585M.email

    sharing link why you shouldn’t consume or cook with Canola Oil. I stopped using canola oil years ago.

    Reply
  32. regina

    Beware of Canola Oil – Toxicity of Canola and Soy
    “Canola oil comes from the rape seed, which is part of the mustard family of plants. Rape is the most toxic of all food-oil plants. Like soy, rape is a weed. Insects will not eat it; it is deadly poisonous! The oil from the rape seed is a hundred times more toxic than soy oil.” – John Thomas

    “There is considerable controversy with regard to canola oil and the rape seed plant. One aim of my website is to present views which do not necessarily conform to the views of the establishment. It is very easy to find views which conform to the establishment’s views. It is very often difficult to find opposing views. Therefore, you can read the views presented on my website and then visit other websites which present opposing views,
    and then you can make up your own mind.”- Shirley

    Reply
  33. Ted

    Try putting a teaspoon of curry powder, paprika and a pinch of cayenne pepper in the oil just before you add the popcorn! Keep your face away from the pot when you first open it though, breathing in the spicy steam can sting a little…

    Reply
  34. abe

    this is what Orville Redenbacher says about their Microwave Popcorn:
    (May 13, 2014) You might have recently seen news stories about microwave popcorn. We want to reassure you that Orville Redenbacher’s microwave popcorn is safe and can be part of a healthful diet. Orville Redenbacher’s contains 0 grams of trans fats per serving, has no added diacetyl, and does not use PFOAs in the packaging. We began removing trans fats from our microwave popcorn nearly a decade ago, and we were among the first popcorn makers to remove added diacetyl from all microwave popcorn products in 2007. Additionally, Orville Redenbacher’s transitioned to non-PFOA materials in microwave popcorn packaging six years ago.

    Reply
    • Jenna (to abe)

      They may say there are no more trans fats in their food but that is before the microwave process. In chemistry, there is cis-bonding and trans-bonding. The buttery fat in certain microwave popcorn brands are made with cis-bonds. Therefore, the companies can say there is no trans fat in their product. But the minute the popcorn is hit with the radiation in the mircowave, the cis-bonds change to trans-bonds and boom, trans fat. Make your own. Its sooooo much better.

      Reply
  35. charlie

    Any oils are bad for you. theres a big write up on alive oil being very bad for the body. olive oil will keep the pounds on and keep you fat. butter is worse margarine even worse. just use plain water when cooking popcorn or steam.try to stay away from any oils like olive oils canola oil vegetable oils you will be digging an early grave. if you don’t believe me about olive oil check it out on youtube. its an eye opener.

    Reply

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