The beloved snack of America. I used to consider this stuff a full meal. Yup, a bag of microwave popcorn and glass of wine and I was set for Monday nights with The Bachelor. It seems popcorn has somehow managed to straddle public perception — is it a junk food or healthy snack?
I selected the top 5 brands of microwave popcorn to share with you today to get to the bottom of it. It turns out, there’s a bit of grey area when it comes to popcorn and it’s time to draw the line between what’s healthy and what’s definitely not. And expose the dirty little secret of the ole MP.
What’s In The Bag: Healthy Or Not So?
The 5 brands I investigated for this product review were Orville Reddenbacher, Pop Secret, Smart Balance, Newman’s Own, and Jolly Time.
Because microwave popcorn is overall fairly simple ingredients-wise, I’m going to start with the shared factors among all of these and then we’ll dive into the few nuanced differences.
For each of these, the 3 ingredient list went something like this: corn, vegetable oil, and preservatives/colors/flavors.
While corn can be a trigger for food sensitivities in some and as a high-carb grain should be consumed in moderation, this isn’t a “bad” food. The catch here is that we definitely want corn to be organic because it is very commonly genetically modified.
This is where the problems really start. Vegetable oils are high in omega-6s. These types of fats can easily be damaged by high-intensity, high-heat cooking like what happens in a microwave. Your body also doesn’t need high doses of omega-6s.
For some of these brands, the vegetable oil was also partially hydrogenated which means it contains trans fat. By regulation, food companies are allowed up to 0.5 g of trans fat before it has to go on the nutrition label.
By the time you get to the end of the ingredients list, things get much worse. The chemicals that act as preservatives, artificial colors, or natural and artificial flavors are straight up toxic.
The additive I want to spotlight here is called TBHQ which is usually followed by “for freshness” on the ingredients list, which I guess is supposed to make it sound safer. Bottom line is that it’s a toxic preservative, no matter how you spin it.
It’s a chemical made from butane (a very toxic gas) and can only be used at a rate of 0.02% of the total oil in a product. Eating only 1 gram of TBHQ has been shown to cause all sorts of health issues from ADHD in children to asthma, allergies, dermatitis, and dizziness. It’s even caused stomach cancer in animal studies. It should be avoided at all costs.
TBHQ is found in both Orville Reddenbacher and Smart Balance popcorn.
Verdict: Not So
I would certainly not consider any of these products to be food. At least not food that contributes to wellness. While popcorn isn’t inherently unhealthy, getting your fix from junky microwave popcorn isn’t the best strategy.
Use an air-popper and make your own at home with organic corn to avoid the toxic oils and additives.
What Is The Bag: Microwave Popcorn’s Dirty Little Secret
Reason #2 to make your own popcorn is actually not what’s in the bag, but the bag itself.
Most microwavable bags for popcorn are lined with perfluorooctanoic acid — or PFOA. This is the same toxin found in teflon cookware. When heated, this chemical levels up in toxicity and has been linked to infertility and cancer. In fact, the EPA has listed PFOA as a carcinogen.
So not only do you want to avoid the chemical load in the highly processed popcorn food, but also there’s an additional toxic load being added to your food while it cooks from the bag it comes in.
Popcorn Made Healthy
Again, my recommendation is to make it at home with clean ingredients, add some herbs and spices to make it fun and a bit more nutritious, and don’t overindulge too much corn in one sitting.