Would you eat something if the chef had to wear a gas mask to make it?

If you think your microwave butter-flavored popcorn makes you happy, and you want it to stay that way, read no further.

What is it about buttered popcorn? It ranks right up there with warm chocolate chip cookies and home-made apple pie on the happiness meter.  Maybe we associate it with snuggling up with someone to watch a great movie.  I know for me it was the excitement of watching that Jiffy Pop “foil dome” rise above the flames!  (Definitely “as much to make as it was to eat”!)

Hold your breath when you smell the heavenly butter....

Hold your breath when you smell the heavenly butter….
photo by JE Gubelman

With the convenience of microwaves, we’ve seen the microwave popcorn industry “pop” with popcorn products in 36 different flavors.  The section in the grocery aisle for microwave popcorn has taken over the other less exciting foods like boring-ass pretzels.  But lately there’s been some news about the almighty microwave popcorn that you may be choosing to ignore.

Aside from the unhealthy hydrogenated oils and palm oils that are used in the popcorn mixture inside the bag, the popcorn bag itself can pose the biggest risk of all.

Plastics that line the inside of the microwave popcorn bag contain perfluorated carbons or PFC’s.  This group of chemicals and its cousins, perfluoroctanoic acids (PFOA’s) act as the water and oil repellent on the inside surface of the bag.  Exposure to PFOA’s is known to cause cancer as well as liver and hormone disruption, and has recently been associated with lowering the effectiveness of childhood immunizations by affecting the immune system to the point where it inhibits the production of antibodies.  (The purpose of the immunization is to increase antibody production.)  Anything that weakens the immune system opens the door for illnesses of all kinds…including cancer.

Exposure to PFC’s is not limited to popcorn as it is present in many food containers (such as fast food french fry boxes) and is even present on stain-resistant carpets and clothing and recent testing shows that PFC’s exist in high levels in the air supply many office buildings.  We all are exposed to it, and you probably have it in your body right now, as a random blood sampling of the general population showed that 90% of us have an ample amount of PFC’s pulsing through our veins.

Because PFC’s accumulate in our body and can take decades to excrete, and because of the rising concern over recent research, the US EPA has been devising a “PFC action plan” to deal with the increasing evidence that PFC exposure is dangerous and harmful.

OK, I can tell that a little toxic plastic probably won’t be enough to keep you from those light fluffy pieces of buttery heaven. So…let’s talk about what makes those pieces so butter-y.


Say “hi” to the guy (or gal…I can’t tell with all that gear on) making your butter popcorn flavoring! Toxic chemicals never tasted so good!

The main chemical used to make artificial butter flavor is diacetyl.  The EPA initially approved diacetyl for flavoring because it appeared that it was safe when used in foods. But when it is high heated, like in manufacturing, or when making microwave popcorn, it emits a toxic gas that causes bronchiolitis obliterans, a potentially fatal, non-reversible lung disease that caused the death of a handful of “popcorn addicts” and has sickened hundreds of factory workers.  Bronchiolitis obliterans has become known as “popcorn lung”.

After an investigation in 2007, most manufacturers removed diacetyl from their popcorn products.  But don’t push the “start” button on that microwave yet.  The chemicals used to replace diacetyl are just as bad and it is believed that the lung problems will continue to exist; especially for the one who first opens the bag and inhales that heavenly but toxic vapor.  But you will never really know what’s in that stuff listed as “artificial butter flavor” on the label.

Sorry to be such a Debbie Downer (wah-wah), but there is hope!

You can pop your own corn using organic ingredients (of course!).  You can use an air popper, or do it the old fashioned way. (my personal choice) Here’s how it’s done:

  1. Place a 3-quart or larger pot with a lid on the stove.
  2. Pour 2 TBS oil (cold pressed and/or organic oil if possible) in the pot with 4 kernels of organic non-GMO popcorn and cover.
  3. Turn heat to medium high and watch the pot.  When he first kernels pop, pour in ½  cup of kernels and cover.
  4. Shake pan over the heat keeping it moving and venting the steam ever so slightly.  When popping slows down to 2-3 seconds apart, turn heat off and leave pot covered until popping stops.  Pour into a bowl and season with toppings.  While butter certainly is an option, a healthier choice would be seasonings like sea salt, cinnamon, or garlic powder.  You can always use Earth Balance plant-based butter or a similar non-hydrogenated butter product to keep your snack plant-based, healthy and delicious.

While the intake of corn products in general should be limited because of many health factors (corn is an inflammatory producing food containing high Omega 6 fatty acids) and the fact that most corn in the USA is GMO, the happiness factor may win this one over in the end.

Pop it like it’s hot!

Categories: cancer prevention, health, healthy living blogs

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18 replies

  1. You know the funny things is, I don’t think the microwave popcorn is tasting as good as it once did for some reason. It’s either way too dry or way too buttery. Last year we received a hot air popper for xmas, so using that has been fun. Used to pop corn like that all the time years ago. Your on-top-of-the-stove recipe sounds great. I’ll keep it in mind. I do love a good bowl of popcorn! Thanks for the post about it! It’s pretty eye opening.

  2. Can’t remember the last time I ate popcorn, but I certainly won’t be eating any microwave popcorn again – yuck!!

  3. Egads, that’s hideous! I am perhaps one of the few people who has never had microwave popcorn. At least knowingly. My vaguely hippy and paranoid parents never had one (yes, we were the neighbourhood weirdos), and neither do I. And now I never will. Who would have ever thought you could die from popcorn? Btw, have you clicked on to my friend Conner’s site, Nourish? She blogs for Psychology Today on cancer nutrition issues, and covers similar topics. You would like her. And she you.

  4. Yuck! That’s no popcorn in the microwave – Geez!

  5. I need to start making popcorn in a pot rather than using a microwave!

  6. And I had been so happy with the bogo deal I got. Off to the produce aisle I guess. Why are apples never bogo?

  7. Shocking! Particularly as I recently read somewhere how good popcorn is for us.

    • Hmmm Was the author of that piece of literature named O. Reddenbocker?
      Corn, in general is not that healthy because of two reasons. One is the fact that most of the corn in the US is GMO (genetically modified) and secondly is that corn is loaded with omega 6 fatty acids which promote inflammation in the body. Inflammation is the root cause of many chronic illnesses (heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, cancer MS, etc)

      But it does make people happy, and I think there’s something to be said for that. As a snack, it’s certainly better than potato chips, but not as good as kale chips. Are you diggin me?
      Thanks for commenting!

  8. You have thoroughly grossed me out. This is a post I’ll keep in mind for the future. ~Catherine

  9. I love my Whirley-Pop (made in the USA in Wabash Valley, Indiana) popcorn maker. You need so little oil, and with organic popcorn — MMMMM!

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