Microwave popcorn that you make yourself is a deliciously healthy snack—low in calories, low in sodium and unhealthy fat and high in fiber. However, the prepackaged stuff you buy in the store often comes with some decidedly unhealthy ingredients, such as artery-clogging trans fats. While most products have reduced the amount of trans fats they contain, some major brands of “regular” popcorn (not “low-fat” or “healthy”) still contain significant amounts of these unhealthy fats.
And you may have heard about a weird condition dubbed “popcorn lung,” which occurred in some manufacturing facilities that produced the buttery-tasting chemical, diacetyl, for microwave popcorn. Workers who breathed in the flavoring chemical day in and day out developed the nasty lung condition and, in some extreme cases, required lung transplants. While diacetyl is found naturally in some foods, like cheese, it doesn’t appear to be harmful when ingested in small amounts. However, when breathed in day after day, lung disease can develop. Chances are slim that popping butter-flavored popcorn at home once in a while would pose a risk, but you’re better off not sticking your nose in a newly popped bag to take in the buttery aroma.
Last, but certainly not least, is the concern over a cancer-causing chemical, with the unpronounceable name, perflurocooctanoic acid. It’s used to make Teflon pans and line the inside of pizza boxes. It’s also used to line microwave popcorn bags. As the bag heats up, the chemical leaches into the popcorn. While researchers haven’t been able to make a positive link between the chemical and cancer in people, it has been linked to cancer in animals.
Best advice? Create microwave popcorn yourself using a paper bag, unpopped corn kernels, and a bit of virgin coconut oil. You’ll get a super healthy snack, paired with the aroma of old-fashioned movie popcorn.
Coconut Oil Microwave Popcorn
- Take a brown paper lunch bag.
- Combine ¼ cup of your favorite brand of popping corn (the stuff you buy in a jar) with ¼ teaspoon salt and 2 to 3 tablespoons virgin coconut oil. (If it’s too messy, you can drizzle the coconut oil over the popcorn after popping).
- Fold over the top of the bag a couple of times (or tape it shut) and shake.
- Microwave on high for 2 to 3 minutes, until there are 4 to 5 seconds between pops.
- Open the bag carefully, because steam will have built up.
- If want, you can spice it up with grated Parmesan cheese, a sprinkle of brown sugar or sugar and cinnamon, freshly ground black pepper or chili powder. Flavors are limited only by your imagination.
– Densie Webb, Ph.D., R.D.