Is microwave popcorn harmful to your health?

Aside from the partially hydrogenated fats, artificial flavors, preservatives, and all of that standard stuff that’s bad for you, there may be something else lurking in microwave popcorn. Curiously enough, people have recently started speculating that there’s something harmful in the aroma too.

From City News:

To some, it’s the most wonderful smell in the world, a mouth watering invitation to dig in and enjoy a movie. But now researchers are warning that the aroma of microwave popcorn may actually be hazardous to your health. You may remember a few years ago when workers in factories that make the tasty treat began filing lawsuits over lung problems they maintain were caused by regular exposure to the chemicals used in flavouring the product.

From the New York Times:

A fondness for microwave buttered popcorn may have led a 53-year-old Colorado man to develop a serious lung condition that until now has been found only in people working in popcorn plants.

Lung specialists and even a top industry official say the case, the first of its kind, raises serious concerns about the safety of microwave butter-flavored popcorn.

If I search for related stories on Google news, some headlines actually call it “Popcorn lung(!)”

One more reason to avoid microwave popcorn, I suppose. The best popcorn is never out of the microwave anyway — it’s pretty easy to make it on the stove if you pay attention and don’t burn it. I put a little oil in the bottom of a saucepan, a layer of popcorn, put the lid on and turn the burner to high. They key is to lsten very carefully to the popping and turn the burner off as soon as it starts to slow down (it’ll keep popping for a while). I put a couple of pats right into the pot and let it melt while everything’s hot, then shake it up with some salt.

The NY Times is on to this too — there’s an entry in the Diner’s Journal that tells you how to make popcorn “the old fashioned way,” which means on the stove, like I do. Their technique is slightly different, though - they suggest heating up the pan first, and leaving the heat on until all of the popcorn has popped. I’ve found that leaving it on until all of the popcorn pops burns it, but maybe they have better pans than I do or something…

Either way, making popcorn this way is quite a bit cheaper to buy plain popcorn by the bag than in prepackaged microwave bags. Not to mention tastier. And you won’t be at risk for “popcorn lung,” no matter excessive a popcorn eater you are…




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