In American culture, the picture of sitting down and tearing open a bag or bucket of popcorn is a near iconic symbol for intently watching a movie, a TV show, or any other spectacle. Despite the discomfort associated with the stuff getting stuck in your teeth or drying your mouth out in general, many people swear by it as the go-to snack for their entertainment ventures. If you happen to be on the exercising train while also having plans to see such movies as “The Greatest Showman”, you’ll want to know the answer to this burning question: is microwave popcorn healthy?

bag of microwave popcorn

General Information about Microwave Popcorn

You can find microwave popcorn in most grocery stores, convenience stores, or supermarkets. Like most snacks that come out of bags, the selling point is the taste, so nutrition isn’t the maker’s main focus; a lot of the time, the packaging even goes so far as to emphasize various concentrations of butter, including “Blast-O-Butter”, “Buttery Explosion”, and “Ultimate Butter”. Besides the butter concentration, which can threaten to add too much fat to your diet, most popcorn enthusiasts will also note the taste of salt, which carries with it a risk of excessive sodium, as well. But how severe are these risks, and is microwave popcorn healthy? Let’s take a further look…

Ingredient List for Microwave Popcorn

To answer the question “Is microwave popcorn healthy?” it makes sense to look at the things its makers put in it. The brand of popcorn that I chose to look at is Pop Secret: Butter. While there are differences between brands and each person has his or her preference, most brands will be pretty similar nutritionally. When reading a list of ingredients, remember that the criteria for arranging the ingredients is from greatest to least. In other words, the first ingredient listed is found in a much greater concentration than the last one. The ingredients for this product are as follows:

  • Whole grain popcorn;
  • Oil (Palm);
  • Salt;
  • Mil flavoring, both natural and artificial;
  • Rosemary extract and ascorbic acid as preservatives;
  • Annatto extract and paprika extract for color.

Dangers of Microwave Popcorn

Calories

Also paramount to answering the question, “Is microwave popcorn healthy?” is taking an objective look at its potential dangers. Predictably, the biggest danger in microwave popcorn will come from the fat content, likely because of the butter that is advertised on the packaging. A bag of Pop Secret contains about 360 calories, 240 of which come from fat. About half of this fat is saturated fat, which is more likely to stick in your blood vessels than its unsaturated counterpart. If too much saturated fat sticks in your blood vessels and creates a blockage, that’s when risks for heart attacks or strokes become real, depending on whether blood flow will not reach the heart or brain respectively.

Sodium

Similarly, the amount of sodium taken from a bag of Pop Secret Butter popcorn is 700-800 mg. The risk of excessive sodium in one’s diet has largely to do with hypertension. This can once again carry with it the risk of heart disease. To give you an idea of how much 700-800 mg of sodium is, let’s look at the 2015 Dietary Guidelines. These are published every five years by the U.S. government to promote health. According to them, the general population limits its sodium intake to 2,300 mg per day and they suggest at-risk populations (people above 50 years, African American people, people with hypertension, diabetes or chronic kidney disease) limit their sodium intake to 1,500 mg per day. Having a full bag of popcorn cuts into this limit by a third, or even a half for some people – in a single snack.

Preservatives

It is also possible that the preservative ingredients in microwave popcorn can pose various health risks. Most foods, particularly packaged ones, do contain some preservative ingredients. The impact of these ingredients on long-term health merits further research.

Final Verdict: Is Microwave Popcorn Healthy?

So, is microwave popcorn healthy? Overall, we’ll have to answer that one in the negative. However, there is still hope. As with many tasty snacks, you can safely enjoy microwave popcorn in moderation. The statistics in the paragraphs above correspond to an entire bag of popcorn. As such, nobody said you had to eat an entire bag in one shot. Our best advice for enjoying microwave popcorn without putting yourself at undue risk is to share. Split that bag between two or three of your friends so that you each get to enjoy the taste without any one of you taking in too much fat or sodium. We also encourage those of you who have experience with healthy eating to leave your own advice about enjoying snack foods in moderation without drifting into an unhealthy binge.

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