Elisa Shackelton: Don’t inhale
November 23, 2007
Craig — Today, Americans consume 16 billion quarts of popcorn as a crunchy snack that comes in many forms including plain, sweet, savory or salty.
On the plus side for popcorn is the fact that it’s a whole grain, which means it is loaded with fiber – about four grams of fiber in three cups. Three cups of popcorn equals a 1-ounce whole grain equivalent from the grain group, and it also contains only 90 calories if air popped. (165 calories if popped in oil; around 300 calories, if topped with butter.) Once it gets mixed with chocolate and caramel and all those other yummy, sugary add-ons, the calories can go out of sight.
Microwave popcorn concerns
There are now concerns about microwave popcorn after the recent incident of a man diagnosed with what is being called “popcorn lung.”
Diacetyl flavoring is added to some butter-flavored microwave popcorn, but when diacetyl is heated and becomes a vapor and is inhaled into the lungs throughout a long period of time, it can cause the small airways in the lungs to become swollen and scarred. This appears to be the first case documented by a consumer, who ate at least two bags of popcorn daily and was in the habit of inhaling the fumes of freshly popped microwave popcorn. As a result of this man’s illness, the leading manufacturers of microwave popcorn are removing diacetyl flavoring from their products, but err on the side of caution and do not breathe in the aroma and steam when opening a microwave popcorn bag.
Note: this was not an isolated case – microwave popcorn company employees had previously been diagnosed with similar symptoms.
Movie theater popcorn is loaded with trans fat
Another word of caution about popcorn: Movie theater popcorn is likely the least healthy version of popcorn available.
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Unless you find out differently from your local movie theater, it’s usually popped in coconut oil. Coconut oil is highly saturated or partially hydrogenated and is loaded with trans fat and therefore not recommended for those trying to eat a heart-healthy diet. Additionally, movie theatre popcorn serving sizes can be excessive and, consequently, loaded with saturated fat and calories.
A large bucket may contain 1,650 calories, or about equal to the total daily calorie needs of a sedentary adult. FYI: In 1957, popcorn came in a three-cup bucket at the movies. Today the large bucket holds about 16 cups.
Keep Your Focus on portion size
Regardless of what kind of popcorn you choose, keep your focus on portion size whether eaten at home, at the theater or elsewhere.
Consider sharing a bag or container with someone else, or set some aside for later (popped corn actually freezes well – just store in a freezer bag and nibble on cold or at room temperature later). Chosen wisely, popcorn is a healty snack that can be enjoyed year round.
Source: Adapted from a nutrition column by Shirley Perryman, M.S., R.D., Department of Food Science and Human, Nutrition Colorado State University, Extension Specialist.
For more information, contact Elisa at the CSU Moffat County Extension Office, 539 Barclay, 824-9180.