Is popcorn killing us?
Imagine watching a movie without popcorn. Most of us can’t — in fact, annual consumption of popcorn in the US exceeds 1 billion pounds per year. Besides, what satisfies hunger faster than microwave popcorn? Ready in three minutes or less, it’s a go-to snack everywhere from offices to home kitchens — including yours, most likely!
Microwave popcorn became a common food about 25 years ago. The first version of microwaveable popcorn had to be stored in the refrigerator, but in 1984, a shelf-stable version was launched and became the first mass-marketed microwave popcorn. It’s made by pumping salt, soybean oil, flavoring, and corn kernels into specially processed air tight microwave bags. But a closer look at the ingredients label of a leading brand of popcorn reveals some things you might not have known about your favorite snack.
The first ingredient is, obviously, popcorn. The next ingredient is partially hydrogenated soybean oil —yikes! That’s a source of trans fat, the most toxic fat of all. A second potential danger in microwave popcorn is diacetyl, the ingredient found in the fake butter flavoring. There’s even a debilitating respiratory disease known as “popcorn worker’s lung,” (the medical name of the condition is bronchiolitis obliterans) suffered by microwave popcorn factory workers and believed to be caused by prolonged inhalation of the chemical’s fumes. In response to the concerns regarding the risks of diacetyl exposure, a number of microwave popcorn manufacturers have discontinued using it in their products, but many experts argue that the replacement compounds are no safer. Adding insult to injury, most microwave bags are coated with PFCs (perfluorinated compounds), chemicals that have been shown to suppress immune function in children and cause cancer in animals. In response to safety concerns, most manufacturers are working on phasing out use of this chemical, too.
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