Is Popcorn A Healthy Food?

· 13th March 2015

Almost everyone loves popcorn; it’s the perfect snack for munching at the cinema or while relaxing in front of a DVD at home. But is popcorn as harmless as it is often made out to be? Is it actually a healthy indulgence? We take a closer look at popcorn and discover that might not be everything it’s cracked up to be…

Natural corn

Corn in it’s natural state is actually very healthy, providing high levels of fibre, vitamin C, niacin (vitamin B3) and folic acid. The act of popping the corn doesn’t remove these intrinsic beneficial qualities; popping organic corn kernels is a great way to make an enjoyable snack which is healthy too.

However, there is a marked difference between this kind of natural and simple recipe and the commercially available microwave popcorns. Although the latter may be tasty, microwave popcorn contains a long list of toxins which have been linked with some serious health problems such as lung disease, Alzheimer’s and chronic kidney disease, amongst other things.

Commercially packaged popcorn is neither healthy nor natural, but because it’s easy to prepare, flavoursome and a familiar snack, it’s extremely popular. If you are one of those people that enjoys microwave popcorn, these three reasons might make you think twice next time you reach for the pack.

Butter flavouring is not good for you

Warm butter is one of the most distinctive and appealing of aromas, but in microwave popcorn, you might not be eating exactly what you think. Rather than containing real butter, microwave popcorn uses butter flavouring, a chemical which can contribute to a number of different diseases.

Diacetyl is one of the most common chemicals used to provide butter flavouring in microwave popcorn. This is bad news. The prestigious ACS of Chemical Studies in Toxicology magazine published a study in August 2012 which showed the effects of diacetyl on the brain. The research showed that diacetyl raised the number of beta-amyloid proteins in the brain cells; these are used as an indicator of Alzheimer’s Disease. Diacetyl has also been shown to damage nerve cells too.

The study warned that overexposure to this chemical could cause serious neurological effects in humans.

Some microwave popcorn products attempt to avoid using diacetyl directly, using different forms of chemical butter fragrances instead. Unfortunately these are simply derivatives of diacetyl and therefore carry exactly the same risks.

The bags are toxic

Natural popcorn

If the content of the popcorn itself wasn’t harmful enough, the non-stick lining of the bag is toxic too, damaging both the liver and the immune system.

Microwave popcorn bag linings are treated with a synthetic chemical known as perfluorooctanoic acid and it’s this that prevents the contents from sticking. But while it may be useful as a non-stick agent, it’s actually carcinogenic and toxic to both humans and animals. There’s a number of health problems associated with perfluorooctanoic acid including respiratory conditions such as asthma and pulmonary disease, chronic kidney disease and raised cholesterol, to name just a few.

Research has shown that 20% of the perfluorooctanoic acid in the blood comes from the consumption of microwave popcorn, a very significant proportion given the relatively small quantities most people eat. As soon as the bag is opened, 80% of these harmful gases are released, flooding the individual with toxic fumes. The longer the bag remains open, the lower the levels of perfluorooctanoic acid, but its presence never entirely vanishes.

Hidden hydrogenated oils

You may be under the impression that because your microwave popcorn clearly states “no trans fat” you have picked a healthier option. Unfortunately the labelling can be somewhat misleading.

FDA guidelines for labels permit manufacturers to round down the trans fat content to zero if there is less that 0.5 grams per portion. This means that your microwave popcorn labelled either “no trans fat” or “0g of trans fat” could be hiding up to 0.5g of fat – per portion.

Trans fats are a type of altered oil, usually derived from either natural soy or coconut oils. Trans fats are particularly unhealthy, and can contribute to heart disease and blocked arteries, as well as inflammation in the body.

Is there a healthier choice?

If you’re a fan of popcorn, the news that you could be seriously risking your health by eating microwave popcorn could be very disappointing. But all is not lost as there’s a natural and healthier alternative.

Home-made popcorn contains all the goodness of natural corn and none of the nasties found in microwave popcorn. It may sound like a daunting prospect but it’s very simple, quick and convenient to make.

Find a large pan that has a lid you can fit on top of it, and heat 2 tbsp of either butter or oil over a medium heat. Throw in half a cup of organic corn kernels, stirring well. Cover the pan with the lid and within one minute, you’ll hear the corn start to pop. Once the popping sound stops, your popcorn is ready. Remove from the heat and sprinkle with natural flavourings such as black pepper, sea salt or a spice mix.

Natural and delicious, home-made popcorn is a snack you can enjoy guilt-free without any risk to your health.

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