When Popcorn Attacks! Microwave Popcorn, Infertility & Cancer

Popcorn is a topic near and dear to my heart.  I consider popcorn, chocolate and coffee to be the three major food groups.  Popcorn is basically neutral as far as food value, but how you consume it is important to your health and the environment.  You should always buy organic raw popcorn kernels instead of microwave popcorn bags.  Here’s why:

1.  Why You Shouldn’t Buy Microwave Popcorn until 2015

This year Americans will purchase 3 billion bags of microwave popcorn, at their possible peril.  Microwave popcorn is a convenient (I almost said cornvenient, ugh) , inexpensive snack that can be low in calories.  Americans love their popcorn so it should be safe, right?

A few years ago,  popcorn factory workers became concerned with a condition known as ‘popcorn lung’ caused by an airborne butter flavoring chemical called diacetyl.  This was a fatal condition for factory workers, causing thickening and scarring of the lungs.  It wasn’t considered a big  problem for those of us who aren’t exposed to it at such high levels; however  there was a story of a man who ate 2 bags of microwave popcorn a day who developed popcorn lung.  Major brands eventually removed diacetyl from their popcorn.  Some states such as California have banned the use of diacetyl.  It’s not clear whether it’s been totally removed from all microwave popcorn bags, so it makes sense not to inhale the popcorn vapors when you open the bag.

The present concern about microwave popcorn is this:  microwaving can cause the chemicals in the lining of the bag, including perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), to vaporize and leach into your popcorn.  According to the Environmental Working Group (home to the Cosmetics Database) PFOA’s are part of a “class of compounds that may be linked to infertility in humans, according to a recent study from UCLA” and they stay in your body for years and accumulate there.  PFOA’s at a certain level cause cancer in laboratory animals, so there is concern that these chemicals could similarly build up in humans and cause cancer.  DuPont and other manufacturers have promised to phase out PFOA by 2015 under a voluntary EPA plan, but until then, it’s buyer beware.  For now, I suggest avoiding microwave popcorn.

2.  Why You Should Buy Organic Corn Kernels

Corn is bad for the environment because it requires so much land and energy to produce.  The increase in traditional corn harvesting has resulted in massive deforestation across the world.  The widespread use of chemical fertilizer on corn fields in the U.S. has created a massive “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico – a 7,900 square-mile area patch of water that is so oxygen-depleted that sea life cannot survive.  Organic corn still requires a lot of land and energy to produce, but doesn’t rely on chemical fertilizers or pesticides.  Finally, buying organic kernels helps avoid the packaging associated with microwave popcorn and is less expensive.

3.  How to Make Awesome, Yummy, Easy, Healthy Popcorn

Okay, you likely can’t make this at the office, but it’s super easy to make at home.  (If you don’t like using oil, you can always use an air popper.  I like soy sauce on air popper corn and someone else suggested cinnamon).

  • Find a large pot with a lid that fits
  • Put enough Grapeseed Oil (healthiest because it doesn’t oxidize when heated.  Oxidization is linked with free radicals, which, in turn are linked with cell mutation or cell death and also with aging) to cover the bottom of the pan.  About a half a centimeter or less.   You can certainly use other types of oils, but Grapeseed is the safest.
  • Put three kernels in the pot and wait until they pop.  Be careful to wait for all 3, or a kernel could pop just as you’re opening the pot.
  • Cover the bottom of the now hot pot with popcorn kernels and stand by while they pop.
  • Put on salt or your favorite seasoning (Cajun seasoning, Tabasco, soy sauce, dill, sesame seeds, lemon pepper, garlic salt, whatever you like) and voila!  Yummy, healthy popcorn that doesn’t even need butter.

Happy Popping!

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