Microwave Popcorn And Its Hidden Health Dangers

Popcorn is usually thought of as one of the healthier snacks. Aside from offering a satisfying way to get your daily fill of whole grain goodness, plain, air-popped popcorn is also rich in antioxidants and low in calories. According to LiveScience.com, microwave popcorn is anything but healthy, thanks in part to some dangerous hidden chemicals.

The Damage You Don’t See

Popcorn with a creamy buttery flavor is often imbued with diacetyl, a common food additive. Diacetyl is made by extracting hydrogen from 2,3-butanediol which is an occurring substance and by-product of sugarcane molasses fermentation. It gives a delicious taste when added to popcorn. However, due to the dire effects to the health of factory workers, diacetyl was all but phased out of popcorn production by the early 2000s.

There was a report in 2005 wherein it points out diacetyl being the reason of severe obstructive lung disease in eight former workers of an unnamed microwave popcorn packaging plant. The researchers from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) conducted a research and have noted how workers were exposed to different volatile organic compounds wherein one of the most prominent is diacetyl. Further studies support these findings and found that heating up diacetyl could result in damage to the cells covering the trachea and lungs.

Due to this, many popcorn companies swore to remove diacetyl from their products. It was then replaced with 2,3-hexanedione and 2,3-pentanedione. But according to a 2016 rat study, these two organic compounds, just like diacetyl, caused the test rats to develop bronchial fibrosis, which is a respiratory disease wherein scars form in lung tissue and lead to a more severe breathing problem. The effects of 2,3-pentanedione, in particular, were similar to that of diacetyl.

NIOSH researcher Ann Hubbs while speaking on LiveScience.com explained that:

“These compounds harm the respiratory system by damaging the proteins in the lining. The chemicals react especially readily with an amino acid called arginine. The reaction that occurs from the contact between the compounds and arginine weakens and scars the alveoli or the tiny air sacs of the lungs.”

How To Have Your Popcorn And Eat It Too

For you to avoid these chemicals, you must steer clear of prepacked microwave popcorn. Opt for unpopped popcorn kernels and make your own at home. You can cook it on the stove top using your oil of choice. However, heating up fats, in the long run, could cause health problems. Air popping your popcorn would be better since you basically stem it without the need for oils.

Here is how to air pop a popcorn on the stove. For this, you’ll need a two-quart, nonstick pot with a lid:

Preheat your pot over medium-high heat for about two minutes. Make sure that the lid is on. Remove the lid and pour in a bit of water. Reduce the heat if the water sizzles and add three tablespoons of popcorn kernels and close the pot. Within one to two minutes, the popcorn kernels should begin to pop. Gently and carefully shake the pot in two-second intervals. Your popcorn is done if you start to hear three-second lapses between pops. Remove the pot from the stove and pour the popcorn into a large bowl. Lightly season with salt if desired.