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October is National Popcorn Poppin' Month, Some Tasty Healthful Tips

National Popcorn Poppin' Month

If you love popcorn, then any day of the year can be the time to enjoy this treat. However, October is National Popcorn Poppin’ Month, so what better time to look at what’s new on the popcorn scene (and there is a new report) and to take a look at some tasty healthful tips.

About popcorn and National Popcorn Poppin’ Month

The first official National Popcorn Poppin’ Month was in 1999, when Dan Glickman, who was Secretary of Agriculture under Bill Clinton, made the proclamation. October was chosen because that’s when states in the Midwest conduct their popcorn harvest.

The Popcorn Board notes that Americans love their popcorn; so much, in fact, they eat 16 billion quarts per year (or 51 quarts per person). Although movie theaters are a popular place to eat popcorn, the treat is often consumed at home.

Microwave popcorn pros and cons
In years past, popcorn made at home was usually prepared in a pot on the stove, a ready-made popcorn pan you could buy at the grocery, or in a popcorn popper. Now the number one way to make the treat is in the microwave, but that’s not necessarily the best way.

Why? Although microwave popcorn is convenient, comes in its own bag, generally pops most of the kernels, and is available in a variety of flavors, there are some drawbacks. One is the presence of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a synthetic chemical that is used to coat the inside of microwave popcorn bags because it helps repel moisture and grease.

Unfortunately, heat releases PFOA, which has been classified as a likely human carcinogen by the Environmental Protection Agency. PFOA can linger in the body once it has been ingested, and it has been associated with cancer and reproductive problems in laboratory animals.

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The good news is that food manufacturers have promised to eliminate use of PFOA by 2015. But there’s another potential problem with microwave popcorn.

Love the butter flavor of popcorn? That artificial flavoring is called diacetyl, and it is believed to be the cause of a potentially lethal respiratory condition called bronchiolitis obiterans. Diacetyl also has been associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

The potential dangers of diacetyl caused some researchers to try to find an alternative buttery flavoring for microwave popcorn. According to a new study published in Food and Chemical Toxicology, the alternative found thus far caused hypersensitivity reactions similar to those seen with diacetyl, which suggests it is not a safe option.

More popcorn fact and tips

  • Popcorn is a nutritious snack food that is high in fiber and low in calories (when air-popped).
  • You can enjoy air-popped popcorn sprinkled with a no-calorie flavoring for about 30 calories per cup, but expect twice as many calories—and more—if you pop the corn with oil and add butter or other flavorings such as cheese or caramel.
  • Popcorn is a whole grain and so helps satisfy your daily requirement for this food group
  • Skip the microwave popcorn and go for hot-air popped corn. Use spray-on oil (like the oil used to coat pans) and sprinkle the popped corn with garlic powder, chili powder, black pepper, or other no-calorie flavorings
  • Popcorn prepared without butter and oil (but with spray-on oil) and herbal flavorings is low in calories and carbs, which is good for people with diabetes and those who want to watch their weigh
  • Popping your own popcorn saves money. A hot-air popper is not expensive, and you can buy popcorn kernels in pound or larger bags. Or you can create your own microwave popcorn bags: use a plain brown lunch bag, put about ½ cup of popcorn kernels in the bag, fold the top over three times, and place in the microwave for 2 to 3 minutes.

Celebrate National Popcorn Poppin’ Month by trying something different. Try a hot-air popper, make your own microwave bags, or flavor your popcorn with a new flavor, and make every month National Popcorn Poppin’ Month in your house.

Anderson SE et al. Evaluation of the hypersensitivity potential of alternative butter flavorings. Food and Chemical Toxicology 2013; 62:373-81
The Popcorn Board

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