A few years ago, the Center for Science in the Public Interest broke the news on the true calorie and fat content of movie theater popcorn. Based on their own nutritional analysis, they found that a medium popcorn at the movies contains 1,200 calories and 60 grams of fat. This is the amount of calories and fat that many people should consume in a whole day. Many experts began recommending that people bring their own microwave (i.e. calorie controlled) popcorn to the movie theater instead. Although this may be a better choice in terms of fat and calorie content, unfortunately microwave popcorn contains chemicals that may be equally as dangerous to your health.

The Environmental Protection Agency  (EPA) has determined that the bags used for microwave popcorn are coated with a chemical that breaks down into perfluoroctanoic acid (PFOAs), a cancer-causing agent. PFOAs, also found in nonstick cookware, release toxins once it is heated. Approximately 95% of Americans have PFOAs in their bodies and remains there for a long time. PFOAs have been associated with toxicity in the liver, prostate, and kidney and have been connected to tumor growth. It can also effect growth and development in children and cause damage to the reproductive system. In 2009, several US companies made an agreement with the EPA to remove all PFOAs from their products by 2015.

The fake butter flavoring on popcorn has also been found to be problematic to health. The flavoring contains a chemical called diacetyl, which has been shown to cause a specific type of respiratory disease, called bronchiolitis obliterans, in workers who frequently work with this chemical. Generally, diacetyl is only a problem when it is breathed in at large quantities, but experts are still not certain that consumers can’t be affected by it. There have been a few cases of consumers who have been diagnosed with bronchiolitis obliterans, but generally those people consumed (and breathed in) large amounts of popcorn daily. Consumer concern has led several of the major popcorn manufacturers to remove diacetyl from their products.

If you absolutely must have popcorn on movie night, pop your own. Purchase plain, organic popcorn kernels at a natural foods store. Use a healthy oil like coconut oil or organic butter and pour 3 tablespoons into a heavy stainless steel pan. Put two kernels in the pan and wait until one pops, then pour 1/3 cup of popcorn in the pan and cover it. As it pops, make sure you shake the pan to allow the steam to escape and prevent the popcorn from burning. Remove from the pan when the popping stops and season as desired. Some great toppings include nutritional yeast, garlic powder, and cayenne pepper.

Lessons Learned:

  • Microwave popcorn may not be a healthier alternative to high-calorie movie theater popcorn.
  • Microwavable bags are coated with PFOAs, a chemical that is a possible carcinogen.
  • The fake butter flavoring contains a compound called diacetyl, which causes a serious lung disease when inhaled in large quantities.
  • Pop your own natural, organic popcorn for movie night.