Air-popped popcorn is a nutritious snack, but with numerous chemicals and ingredients added to many packaged popcorn brands, it becomes a junk food. Generally, packaged popcorn is cooked in a microwave, which releases fumes from the steamy bag.
These fumes may contain chemicals from the ink, glue, and butter flavorings, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. There is also the issue of unhealthy fats, sugar and calories found in many packaged popcorn brands, which can contribute to health conditions, such as heart disease.
Diacetyl, an organic substance that contributes to butter's taste is found in many foods and is considered harmless. However, when it’s heated up in popcorn butter flavorings and breathed in, it can cause bronchiolitis obliterans -- also known as popcorn lung. The condition primarily affects workers that manufacture the packaged popcorn.
However, those who microwave packaged popcorn frequently can also develop this condition. There is a case of a popcorn enthusiast who contracted the condition by eating two bags of popcorn daily and inhaling the fumes. Although it is an isolated case, it is still a cause for concern, according to Cecile Rose, MD, the director of occupational and environmental medicine clinic.
Salt or Sugar?
Packaged popcorn, such as caramelized or flavoured kettle corn is usually sugar-laden or heavily salted, depending on the brand. These extra flavorings can contribute to chronic disease and an impaired immune function. Excess sodium from salted popcorn or sugared popcorn can raise your high-blood pressure and contribute to type 2 diabetes.
15 to 20 cups of popcorn -- the equivalent of a large popcorn from a movie theater -- can contain up to 1,500 milligrams of sodium, which is more than half of the daily recommended intake of 2,400 milligrams.(ref2,3,4)
Calories and Fat
Packaged popcorn usually contains butter or oil that is high in saturated fat, LDL cholesterol and trans fat, which can contribute to heart disease from arterial blockage. While arterial blockage can take years to build up, the effect of the high-calorie intake from popcorn is more immediate.
A small portion of packaged popcorn can contain 500 calories while a large portion of 15 to 20 cups can contain over 1,000 calories. High-calorie snacks, such as packaged popcorn can contribute to weight gain and lead to obesity. Read packaged popcorn labels to avoid brands with trans fats or saturated fats.
Avoid Adverse Effects
When prepared the right way, popcorn is one of the healthiest snacks you can eat. It is low fat, sodium and cholesterol and rich in fiber, folate and manganese. Eat packaged organic popcorn, or prepare your own air-popped popcorn with packaged corn kernels.
Flavor your popcorn with healthy toppings such as lemon pepper, cinnamon, balsamic vinegar or nutritional yeast. Those who are allergic to corn or suffer from an intolerance should avoid popcorn.