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Is Popcorn Cooked In The Microwave Hazardous To Health?

Microwave popcorn should be consumed in limited quantities, to avoid its health risks.

Is Popcorn Cooked In The Microwave Hazardous To Health?

Microwave popcorn can damage the lungs as well

HIGHLIGHTS

  1. Diacetyl in microwave popcorn can harm your lungs
  2. Factory workers are more prone to health hazards of microwave popcorn
  3. You should allow microwave popcorn to cool a little before eating them

Microwave popcorn is comfort food. Take a pack of popcorn, put it inside the microwave and bam! There's your favourite pack of delicious, super buttery popcorn. But brace yourself, this delicious comfort food might be posing some risks to your health. Our expert, Dr Rupali Datta mentions about a report from Food and Drug Administration (FDA)  which states that the chemical coating in microwave bags breaks down into perfluorooctanoic (PFOA), which can be a likely carcinogen. The buttery flavor in popcorn comes from Diacetyl which, when burnt, can be damaging for lungs, says Dr Rupali. This condition is sometimes termed as the the popcorn lung disease. There have been studies which indicate that an acid extracted from PFOA can cause cancer in animals, and might even cause cancer in humans. 

Microwave popcorn have been associated with lung diseases as well. Diacetyl is a flavouring agent which is added to microwave popcorn. This chemical has been linked to increasing rates of bronchiolitis obliterans in factory workers. This condition, though very rare, scars small airways in the lungs and causes difficulty in breathing.

Here's what nutritionist Pooja Malhotra has to say about the health risks of microwavable popcorn: 

  • Microwave popcorns contains a flavouring agent called diacetyl which cause obstructive lung disease.
  • Manufactures use trans fat because it has a distinct flavour, is solid at room temperature and is very cheap. Trans fat is the unhealthiest type of fat, increases bad cholesterol and risk of heart disease.
  • Bags of Microwave popcorn are lined with chemicals called fluorocarbons which are carcinogenic, increase risk of prostate and pancreatic cancer, and also disturb hormonal function, lower sperm counts and impair thyroid functioning.

Here's how you can reduce risk of microwave popcorn

There is not much that can be done about the content of PFOA in microwave popcorn. However, what you can do (to prevent risks) is add free-kernel corn inside the microwave popping pack. Also, your exposure to diacetyl is highest when popcorn is hottest. The boiling point of diacetyl is lesser than the boiling point of water. Hence, you must allow popcorn to cool a little before eating them. This will make you breathe less of diacetyl.

Dr Rupali says that safer options and safer techniques of doing the same is by cooking popcorn in a pressure cooker or a in a pan without butter and other additives. This makes popcorn safer and healthier in terms of calories. 

(Dr Rupali Datta is a Clinical Nutritionist, Pooja Malhotra is a Nutritionist)



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