Microwave Popcorn Dangers & Healthy Alternatives

Popcorn On The Stove

Do you ever feel like living a natural lifestyle makes it harder for you to find snack food?

It’s definitely a good trade, of course, switching from convenient, easy snacks to a more healthful, nutrition-oriented lifestyle, but there’s no denying that a lot of things get harder when we choose to eat a whole foods diet.

There are a lot of things that you just give up, or seriously cut back on. (Moderation is key!) I’m not saying that’s a problem, but I’m always glad when, instead of giving up a favorite food entirely, I can just change the way I eat it.

Popcorn is one of those foods that our culture has turned into a convenience food. When I was growing up, popcorn came out of a bag and out of the microwave. It was nice, too, because it doesn’t take any effort beyond opening the plastic bag and programming the microwave for two minutes. Some microwaves even have a popcorn button!

Reasons to Avoid Microwave Popcorn

Unfortunately, as I’ve gotten older and started researching more, I’ve realized that microwave popcorn can be a really harmful thing to eat. For one, there are very few options available for USDA Certified Organic microwave popcorn. Luckily all popcorn is non-GMO, but it is not all organic. Like all other foods, it’s important to purchase organic popcorn so you can avoid pesticides and herbicides. Finding organic popping corn in bulk is pretty easy, especially at natural grocery stores like Whole Foods or your local food co-op.

Back to microwave popcorn, even if you do find organic, it tends to come in two varieties: unsalted or lightly buttered. Personally, I dislike the taste of unsalted popcorn. It tastes like a bowl full of styrofoam packing peanuts; I imagine. (I’ve never actually tasted packing peanuts.) As for lightly buttered popcorn? Well, even though organic is often our best option as consumers, it isn’t a perfect stamp of approval. Lightly buttered popcorn tends to have “natural flavoring,” which you probably already know should be avoided. (This post from Food Babe helps explain why.)

If you can get past the questionable ingredients, you still have two big problems with microwave popcorn. Even the popcorn bag itself (or, more accurately, the coating of the bag) can be extremely harmful. PFOA, which keeps the popcorn from sticking to the bag, has been linked to reduced fertility and thyroid problems. (Read more here from the NRDC.) And if you want one more reason to stay away from microwave popcorn, you’ll have to think twice about the use of the microwave itself.

Popcorn on the Stove: A Healthier Alternative

The good news is that you can give up microwave popcorn without giving up all popcorn. Popcorn on the stove is incredibly easy to make, and it’s also delicious. (This recipe adapted from Simply Recipes.)

Ingredients

*Use healthy oils with a high smoke point, like expeller pressed coconut oil (find it here), or clarified butter–learn how to make it here (or purchase it here).

Directions

  1. Get out a pot with a lid that holds at least three quarts.
  2. Place your pot on high heat and pour three tablespoons of oil into the bottom. Wait a few minutes until the oil is quite hot.
  3. Next, drop a test kernel into the bottom of the pan. When the kernel pops, add the rest of the popcorn quickly. Cover and remove from heat for thirty seconds.
  4. Place the pot back on the stove. After a few seconds, you will hear your popcorn begin to pop. This part is actually much like microwaving popcorn in that your best bet is to use your ears. When you hear the pops become spaced out by more than a second or two, take the pot off of the stove. (Just a note here: I always think it’s better to take the pot off a little early than to leave it a little too long. I’d rather have perfect popcorn with too many kernels on the bottom than have a whole pot of burned popcorn.)
  5. Pour your popcorn into a bowl and add toppings if you wish. It’s time to enjoy!

What about you?

Note: Matt and Betsy air pop their popcorn and add real butter and freshly grated parmesan cheese–it’s delicious! (Find air popcorn poppers here.)

How do you enjoy your popcorn? Share your tips for healthy popcorn below!

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Comments

  1. I cut out microwave popcorn but not the microwave. So I just put the organic popcorn with a little coconut oil and salt in a loosely covered glass bowl and nuke it. Perfect every time and takes minutes. I even do it oil free sometimes, but the coconut oil gives it a really nice flavor.

  2. I use organic popcorn. I used to put it in a brown paper bag. Now I have a bowl that I use that has a loose cover. I put three tablespoons of popcorn in, put it in the microwave and let it go on high for 4 minutes. I pops beautifully with no oil. I use a mister to put a little oil on and then sprinkle it with Braggs nutritional yeast . It’s wonderful, low fat and entirely healthy

  3. Growing up my mom always made us “cheese” popcorn. When we got older we found out it was actually nutritional yeast added to the melted butter. It tastes awesome and my kids love it. We alternate coconut oil popcorn and the “cheese” popcorn.

  4. Microwaving anything , even water, destroys its nutritional value .

    The microwave should be used as a cupboard only.

  5. I buy Great Northern organic popcorn and cook it on the stove in a Great Northern stainless steel popcorn popper. I have tried several different oils and Coconut oil is a wonderful oil to make popcorn with. The kernels seem to pop twice as large as, say olive oil and I have read it is also very good for you. Thanks again for all of your information! Mike

  6. I’m amazed no one mentioned air popped popcorn.
    What could be easier than hot air blowing on organic corn?
    Add whatever after it’s done
    No kernels. No mess. No nukes.
    Air poppers are all over thrift stores. Go!!

    • I just bought my husband an air popper. Only $20 new. I have no difficulty finding organic popcorn. Unfortunately I can’t control the toppings he uses but at least my health is not being affected by that.

  7. I use Meijer Naturals microwave popcorn. There are two different kinds and one has butter flavor so I don’t use it. The one I use just has palm oil and salt in it and while it isn’t organic, it is non-GMO. All the Meijer Natirals line is supposed to be non- GMO.

  8. Currently all popcorn is non-GMO. It is a different crop than the GMO variety. It is unlikely that they will create a GMO for popcorn because the crop is not a high demand. You have to watch out for oil used in microwave popcorn. If it’s not organic and it’s soybean or canola it’s likely GMO. If you’re buying a bag of popcorn to pop yourself that it’s not GMO. You still have to worry about pesticides if it’s not organic.

    Anyway I love popping my own stove top popcorn. I use any non gmo high heat oil. I currently prefer avocado oil. It doesn’t leave much flavor. I go crazy on the spices. My favorite are nutritional yeast, curry spice, and garlic powder. I use a olive oil spray to the popped popcorn (not to the kernels as olive oil is not a high heat oil) so the spices stick better. I often think about adding cinnamon and sugar for a sweet treat, but I haven’t tried it yet.

  9. Glad to see an interest in healthier eating and agree with most of what you say. However, one thing is incorrect. Popping corn is not gmo. While its true that most corn in the U.S. is gmo, popping corn is a different breed and is not grown gmo so there is one place we can save a little money. No sense paying extra for it to get gmo, although organic has other benefits.

  10. Jennifer and Laura are correct, there is no GMO popcorn–I have corrected this in the article and we (Matt and Betsy) apologize for missing this in our editing.

    That said, many oils ARE derived from GMO crops. This is why it’s important to avoid “processed” popcorns (meaning ingredients are pre-assembled for you), and purchase healthy, organic, non-GMO ingredients separate from each other to be compiled delicious fashion at home–it’s great family fun to pop popcorn together!

  11. we actually grow our own popcorn , but when I run out, I buy Bob’s Red Mill organic popping corn. I purchased a metal popcorn popper for the stovetop ( amazon- 24.00 or so)… it has a spinning arm on top that you turn as it heats, so the popcorn pops just right. I use either olive oil or coconut oil . YUM !

  12. I like popcorn to and do not like all the gunk in microwave pop corn. I take a large glass bowl and put a Tablespoon oil ( I like olive oil) and 1/3 cup Popcorn in the bowl. Place a glass plate on top. Put in the microwave. I set it for 20 minutes, to be sure the popcorn has enough time. WATCH THIS BECAUSE IT WILL BURN. When it popping slows down stop the microwave. Some times it takes 4 minutes or 5 or 6, that is why I set the longer time. The popcorn taste great.

  13. GMO Popcorn will not pop. You can also pop popcorn in a pan not coated cast iron works great without oil. Just pop it like you normally would without the oil.

  14. I have been a popcorn junkie my whole life. When i was a kid it was popped on the stove in a pot with peanut oil. I tried the microwave stuff a few times but it seemed to make my heart flutter. You can buy micrwave poppers on line that work great. I have a few very old electric poppers that i use a few times a year but finnaly bit the dust and bought a medium size movie theater popper that i love. I have raised my own popcorn and also bought corn from popcorn farms online. You can even buy the tiny popcorn that the Native Americans showed us. Did you know that you can pop barly and garbanzo beans too?

  15. My dad would always pop the popcorn on the stove and if you find the right temp it never burns. But recently I tried using coconut oil to pop the corn with , it smelled amazing and then I poured coconut oil on it when it was done instead of butter with a little salt….
    Organic pop corn (to cover the bottom of the pan),
    organic coconut oil (to cover bottom of pan about half a corn kernel deep)
    and more coconut oil and Sea Salt to taste… I served it to about sixty people they LOVED it! Everyone wanted to know the recipe so here it is

    Heat the oil with one kernel till it pops don’t heat more then med high it might take a little longer to heat up but you won’t burn any!
    when the one kernel pops add enough kernels to cover the bottom of the pan one layer of corn deep
    let it sit till you hear it popping then give it a shake. keep doing this until you hear the poping slow down to a few pops
    keep the lid a little off center to let steam escape so the pop corn stays fluffy.
    Drizzle with coconut oil and sea salt and gently toss with a knife or fork

  16. Hi! I am new to this whole finding out about the evil in foods you should be able to trust thing! I am going to do away with the microwave popcorn. Just thought I would say my almost 2 year old gets a huge rash that lasts for at least two days every time she eats microwave popcorn. I don’t let her have it anymore. But, I’m wondering what in that evil mix is doing that to her. It is not like a normal diaper rash. It is a really bright red and inflamed rash. I know it is from the popcorn. Anyone have this happen to their little Blessing? Thanks for the great info.

    • I would say she might be allergic to the actual corn. I know several relatives (who are children) who have developed an allergy to corn.