Popcorn: The Good, Bad, and the Ugly


I have a challenge for you. Close your eyes and think about three or four favorite childhood memories with your family (no, not the one in which your sister shaved your head or you thought it would be funny to pull the chair out from under your rickety great-aunt).  Chances are, at least one or two of these might just include popcorn, a naturally healthy snack humans have been enjoying for over 7000 years that has been completely transformed in recent decades by food manufacturers–and not for the better. 

The Good News: Unadulterated, air-popped corn is delicious, and not at all bad for you (unless you bite down on an unpopped kernel, crack your tooth, and end up scheduling a root canal three days before your wedding; true story).  In fact, popcorn has healthy doses of fiber and the antioxidant polyphenol, which is supposed to fight those pesky free radicals. Of course, the good is outweighed (pun intended) if you soak your popcorn in a vat of butter and salt. Instead, try going Little House on the Prairie and pop your corn on the stove in a few teaspoons of coconut oil (okay, you’re right, Ma would have used bacon grease), or sprinkle some salt and nooch (nutritional yeast) on these fragrant kernels for an extra dose of B vitamins.  Organic kernels are inexpensive, too.  Get yourself some and make new popcorn-centered memories, stat!

The Bad: If you’re like me, the more suspenseful a movie is, the faster you’re stuffing your face with popcorn and sour patch kids. The following info may stop even us mid-shovel, however: a large tub of movie popcorn has an entire’s day worth of fat and calories before the extra added butter. Un-freakin-believable. But before you reach for a bag of Pop Secret (the secret is out!) or Act II (type 2 diabetes, most likely), microwave popcorn is not exactly high-quality fuel, either.

The Ugly: Let’s begin with the packaging. Microwave popcorn bags are usually lined with perflourochemicals (PFCs), which are known to mess with your thyroid and have also been linked to ADHD, reproductive problems, and various cancers. Oh, wouldn’t it be loverly?  There are more chemicals lurking on the genetically-modified kernels themselves, the worst offender being diacetyl, a chemical added to create that “fresh” buttery flavor.  Remember the guy who got “popcorn lung” disease from ingesting (and inhaling) too much microwave popcorn? Was he perhaps going a bit overboard by eating two bags a day for 10 years? Possibly. Further, and certainly just as disturbing, is the use of industrialized, or trans fats, to add “shelf stability.”  Did you know that if a serving contains less than .5% trans fat manufacturers are not required to put that information on the label? Here’s a tip: If you see the words “trans fat” on an ingredient label, DO NOT EAT IT.  Why else would it be on the label if there weren’t at least scant amounts in the product? Precisely, my dear Watkins.  

So, as with most other foods, the less processing, the better. Keep it simple, and when you need a movie-popcorn fix, at least you’ll know the score.







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