Zea mays everta. Most of us know it as popcorn. It’s the waft of yumminess that greets us the moment we step inside the movie theater. The mouthwatering buttery smell lingers in the nose passing by the concession stand, calling us closer, initiating salivation as though the bell just rang for Pavlov’s dogs. Time to eat! Popcorn is a whole grain, so it qualifies as a  healthy snack. Maybe, or maybe not, depending on how it is prepared. If it’s in a microwave bag it has hidden dangers.  

Popcorn has been around for a really long time. Archaeologists suggest that people have known about it for thousands of years. The earliest Mexican civilizations show remnants of popcorn dating back to 3600 BC.

It became a popular treat during the Great Depression because it was so inexpensive to make. And, people all over the world have been enjoying it ever since.

Zea mays everta is the only kind of corn that will pop. Don’t be fooled by thinking that popcorn is exclusive, and la-t-dah. If that was the case it wouldn’t be so cheap.  

There are around 100 different strains, varying in texture and how they pop.

If you are on a budget, and need a cheap, healthy snack to throw in the cart, popcorn can be your new friend. Skip right over the microwave versions and pick up a bag of kernels. Keep it simple. Enjoy the health-friendly, budget-friendly snack. If you want organic, you can enjoy that option for a little more money, but an average bag of popcorn will cost only a couple of bucks – and for that couple of bucks, you can make many, huge, heaping bowls of the stuff. That is, assuming you are willing to take the time to heat up some oil on the stove top to pop these kernels.   

Our rush to get something quicker often sacrifices its quality. This is true with popcorn, especially if you make it in the microwave, and there are hidden dangers too.

I am guilty of this simple pleasure. I used to give it to my kids. It’s so easy. Heck, it’s so simple even the kids can make it. As long as youngsters can read to put “this side up,” hit the popcorn button, and count three seconds between kernels they can make their own tasty snack in under 2 minutes and be munching in less than the time it takes parents to unload the car.

Fox News with Dr. Oz, and even The Doctors agree, the chemicals coating that bag are not good for you and me. If you agree chemical free is the way to be here are some PFOA free brands to try:

  • Quinn Popcorn
  • Jolly Time Popcorn
  • Snappy Popcorn Co.
  • Newman’s Own Organics

What is PFOA and why is it bad? Perfolurooctanic Acid (PFOA) causes thyroid cancer, thyroid issues, and bladder cancer. It’s the coating inside pizza boxes, fire fighting foam, and many popcorn bags to prevent oil from soaking through the bag. It is also commonly used as a fabric protector. Yum!

The dangers started being noticed around the year 2000 when popcorn factory workers began getting sick. The diagnosis for former workers was obstructive lung disease. Bronchiolitis obliterans is an irreversible lung condition where the airways become, scarred, restricted and reduce the movement of air. Symptoms may begin as a cough and shortness of breath, but advanced symptoms include fever, night sweats and weight loss. While the CDC and the EPA are busy investigating, the general population is becoming aware of this health alert.

It isn’t only the bag that has dangers. It is also the yummy, delicious buttery flavor that keeps you coming back for more. Diacetyl is a yellowish green liquid that adds a buttery flavor to popcorn. It occurs naturally in some alcoholic beverages, and presents a problem in popcorn when it is heated.

Pop Secret, top secret, or trade secret. Diacetyl doesn’t have to be included in the ingredients on the bag if it is a “trade secret”,  or is not included as a stand alone ingredient, even if alternatives create diacetyl when mixed or heated. Common alternatives, which are no less dangerous, include 2,3-pentanedione, 2,3-hexanedione, and 2,3-heptanedione al α-diketone group as diacetyl. They function the same way and may be just as toxic. You’re unlikely to find the substitutes listed in ingredients yet because consumers haven’t become aware of their dangers. Diacetyl is also used in flour, dry bakery mixes, and the newer e-cigarette juice.

Everybody has a job to do, even if it’s a dirty job; right Mike Rowe? Popcorn factory workers are up close to the dirty job affecting their health. Some have received settlements as a result. If you are breathing easier thinking consumers are removed from the danger, don’t breathe in that wonderful aroma straight out of the microwave yet. One consumer also received a settlement. This CBS News story  identifies a Colorado man who won a $7 million lawsuit after eating two bags of popcorn a day for 10 years. Not many people are likely to consume that much popcorn. But, it begs the question: how much microwave popcorn is too much?

Had enough? If this is enough evidence to cause you to eliminate these dangerous chemicals completely you aren’t alone, and removal is easy.  

The solution is simple. Go old school, as in put it in the bag, the brown paper bag you used to take your lunch in for school. Put those popcorn kernels in a brown paper bag and lay it flat in the microwave for the same result. Easy; right?

Like the stovetop method? Stay old school and take a few more minutes. Heat up some of heart healthy oil in the bottom of a pot and spread a single layer of kernels in the bottom. I like coconut oil. It adds a little sweetness. Don’t use high heat the popcorn will burn, trust me, I’ve tried to rush it. Low to medium heat works great to pop those kernels. Melt a little regular butter over the top, if you must, and enjoy handful after handful with worry free delight.  

What is your favorite way to eat popcorn? Please comment below or share your best recipe for it as a healthy treat.

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