Is Eating Popcorn Bad for You

(Last Updated On: August 3, 2018)

Here comes the question everyone in the world is asking “Is eating popcorn bad for you?” Who even thinks about popcorn being unhealthy for you to eat. No one has ever died from eating popcorn have they? Every kid dreams of going to the movies and snacking on a bag of popcorn swimming in butter. How can popcorn be a health issue for anyone? Eating popcorn is like eating like eating cotton candy which is a harmless snack. On the other side of the argument what if eating popcorn is bad for you? If you were on a diet would popcorn be in your list of foods to eat?You don’t see olympians or professional athletes eating popcorn to stay in shape do you? Let’s do some investigating and see if popcorn is alright to eat or not.

Doctor Recommended Treat

One proponent of popcorn said her doctor told her to eat popcorn to help a slow digestive system. Popcorn is one of the healthiest snacks you can eat. But if you slather butter and salt on it could be trouble. Like the movie popcorn that has turned yellow after it took a bath in butter. Popcorn by itself is one of the healthiest foods you can munch on.

How Popcorn becomes Popcorn

How does popcorn become those little balls of corn fluff that we all have come to love to eat? Popcorn is a very of maize, a whole grain product with the official name of Zea Mays Everta. It looks almost like corn on the cob in its seed form. It don’t taste as good as corn on the cob so don’t eat it in the raw seed form.  Popcorn is the only variety of kernel that can pop; those little kerns burst into those tasty white snowballs we eat.  Popcorn is selectively bred for the favorable grain and high popping success. Most of the world’s popcorn is grown in the Midwestern part of the United States. The actual process of the popcorn popping occurs like this. Popcorn kernels contain a small amount of oil and moisture and when these liquids are heated they form pressurized steam. The steam continues to build  until it hits the desired breaking point 180 °C (356 °F). The pop inside the kernel id the shell exploding and the interior of the kernel is turned inside out and it expands until becomes popcorn.

The Beauty of Popcorn

Popcorn is a master over calories. Just eating popcorn plain will carry 31 calories  per cup making it a great diet food. A lot of other snacks are higher in calorie like a chocolate bar or a bag of chips  has 250 calories and a banana has 100 calories. Popcorn is also low in fat carrying one gram of fat per cup. It don’t fill you up so it’s recommended that you eat popcorn as a snack and not a replacement for lunch.

The doctor recommended popcorn to the patient because it’s high in fiber and would boost the digestive system. It’s hard to eat the daily allowance of fiber which is anywhere from 25to35 grams depending on the source. Popcorn has 1.2 grams of fiber per cup. This is enough to help you reach the daily objective without adding supplements to the mix. Popcorn is also an unprocessed whole grain. These days people are talking a lot about whole grains because their fiber content and nutritional values are something people should be getting more of. The whole grain versions like bread, flour, or cereals are much more expensive than popcorn. A bag of popcorn is very cheap and it’s 100% whole grain. Antioxidants are in vogue these days and popcorn has plenty of them. Research has shown they may be beneficial in fighting cancer and heart disease. Their exact benefits have not been pinpointed but research is promising. Researchers at the, the University of Scranton, found that that that popcorn contains more antioxidant polyphenols than many other whole grain foods, fruits or vegetables.

For those of you who cannot consume gluten products we have some good news for you. Popcorn is gluten-free and if you or a family member suffers from Coeliac disease (a disease in which the small intestine is hypersensitive to gluten, leading to difficulty in digesting food.) or you just want to live a lifestyle free of gluten popcorn is a good snack for you. To keep your heart on a healthy track eat plain, air-popped popcorn which has no no cholesterol, no sodium and no sugar. This is good for diabetics who suffer from hypertension-just don’t add any fatty or salty seasonings. You may have heard of the glycemic index-it measures the blood sugar levels after carbohydrates are eaten. Foods with a low glycemic index will keep the blood level sugars low in the body. This will keep you energized longer and you will have to eat less food. It also contains trace amounts of vitamins and minerals not enough to meet any daily allowance limits though. popcorn naturally contains small amounts of thiamin, niacin, B6, folate, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, zinc, copper and iron. Which will have some effects on the body.

Bad Eating Options

Popcorn is very healthy when you eat it by itself. It would taste very bland but it is very healthy for you. But if you saturate it with butter,salt, or sugar it will cause damage. Consuming loads and loads of movie popcorn is a bad idea as well. A reasonable portion being one or two cups full. Movie popcorn sure tastes good but it isn’t healthy for you. A typical batch of movie popcorn contains a large amount of coconut oil. A large portion will contain up to 60 grams of fat and a tablespoon of salt add 102 calories. ¼ teaspoon of salt adds 600 mg of salt. The daily limit for salt is 1500 mg. So 600mg of sal you are already at almost ½ the daily allowance. If you are heavy-handed on the salt you will put your heart at risk.

It’s claimed that popcorn you make at home contains “artificial butter flavoring” and this flavoring contains a compound called “diacetyl” which is claimed to cause lung disease. This finding hasn’t been verified by clinical research. The bag that home popcorn is cooked in may be coated with PFC’s (perfluorinated compounds) but this may not be factual. These chemicals suppress immune function in children and cancer in animals. It is also claimed many microwave popcorn brands contain trans fat that increased the levels of bad cholesterol.      

Positive Reasons for Eating Popcorn

Popcorn is high in fiber as we mentioned earlier in this article. Fiber is very beneficial to giving your body staple digestive processes. It keeps you full all day, keeps the heart healthy, and may help with colon cancer. Eating popcorn may help keep the gut bacteria healthy; this bacteria helps with digestion and keeping the immune system healthy. Popcorn is rich in carotenoid antioxidants, including lutein and zeaxanthin, which help keep the eyes healthy. It also may help with age-related macular degeneration and it will combat system-wide inflammation which may cause a lot of chronic diseases.  

Eating a bowl of organic popcorn may reduce the desire to snack on unhealthy foods

Popcorn is also rich in B-vitamins including including vitamin B3, B6, folate, and pantothenic acid. B-vitamins help in regulating body systems across the board. Two examples of this are production of energy and metabolism of numerous nutrients. Vitamin B3,also known as Niacin, has been studied for its potential to ease depression and it may be effective reducing the effects of depression. So, popcorn is considered a comfort food to help people in deep depressive states. Popcorn also contains phosphorous, a mineral that helps with healthy bone health and it aids in function of body cells. Manganese is another mineral found in popcorn which is beneficial in helping with bone health, regulating blood sugar, and is instrumental in promoting healthy blood sugar. Popcorn contains a valuable commodity in ferulic acid which may be linked to killing certain types of tumor cells.

Eating a bowl of organic popcorn may reduce the desire to snack on unhealthy foods. This might be because of its high fiber content. But this benefit hasn’t been proven and verified in clinical studies. Organic popcorn is also gluten-free which will be of great benefit to gluten intolerant people.

Plain and Simple Organic Popcorn     

It is advised that if you are going to eat a lot of popcorn you should buy organic popcorn and make sure there are no additives or any other ingredients on the ingredient list. It sounds like the best bet is to purchase an organic popcorn that provides all natural ingredients and no additives added. The suggestion to buy organic popcorn is because supposedly regular popcorn is genetically modified in its original state. According to a 2012 study Monsanto released a GMO popcorn into the United States. You don’t know if you are eating popcorn with GMO in it or not. So some experts say to stick to organic popcorn to be safe.

The 7.2 Million Lawsuit

This seems to be an extreme and rare case of popcorn causing a man what has become known as “popcorn lung”. Wayne Watson, a 59 year-old Colorado man, was awarded a 7.2 million settlement against a microwave popcorn manufacturer. The man ate tons of popcorn everyday for years and developed what is called “popcorn lung.” The condition is supposed to be fatal and could kill the man eventually. It’s the informal name for a rare ailment called bronchiolitis obliterans, an irreversible respiratory illness that causes wheezing, dry cough, fatigue, and shortness of breath. People can die from this rare lung condition and it leaves the bronchioles (smallest airways in the lungs) damaged making it harder for the person to breathe. Some people with this deadly condition require lung transplants and it the most sever cases the condition can be fatal.

The condition is developed through constant exposure to an artificial flavoring called diacetyl which gives popcorn a buttery taste. Workers in popcorn factories who work with this compound constantly are advised to wear breathing masks and have their lungs checked out periodically. Many workers have suffered from “popcorn lung” and have sued the popcorn manufacturers for millions. The highest settlement was 34 million. Watson is the first consumer to go to court over this lung condition.

Watson says he developed the popcorn lung from inhaling too much popcorn vapors over a ten year period. The jury sided with him. He first noticed something was wrong and he went to a pulmonary expert. The expert asked watson if he had been exposed to a lot of popcorn. Watson was shocked by the question. He told the specialist he had been eating 2 or 3 bags of microwave popcorn for ten years. He udd to savor inhaling the smell of the popcorn when he first opened the popcorn bag. His kitchen was tested for diacetyl contamination. The results were alarming his kitchen was found to have factory levels of diacetyl in it. Watson will not go near the popcorn now. But still there are some who question whether the popcorn manufacturer is to be blamed for his lung condition. Watson said a simple warning label should have been put on the product to warn him of the possible deadly consequences. He says he would have been kept safe. The company who lost the lawsuit argued its popcorn is really safe. Theysaid Watson developed the illness from working in the chemical carpet cleaning all his life.   

Eat More Popcorn

The proponents of popcorn say that it is one of the healthiest snacks you can eat. This is because it contains a rich source of polyphenols. These are very important to your body. They fight free radicals that can cause massive cell damage. So we see that both sides have ample artillery to support their perspectives on the popcorn war.   

The safest popcorn to eat according to researchers is air popped popcorn. This is because this method of popping popcorn involves using no saturated fat or a minimal amount of sodium. This kind of popcorn may be the healthiest to eat but it sure sounds like it’s pretty tasteless.  

One doctor maintains that microwave popcorn is unhealthy for you. One popular brand packs 9 grams of fat into the snack bag. This isn’t a healthy diet food to be consuming. The common thread through the health industry is that air-popped popcorn is the best for you and microwave popcorn is the worst. Wayne Watson, the Colorado man who won the multi-million dollar lawsuit ate microwave popcorn. A big part of whether popcorn is healthy for you or not is how it’s prepared. If you cook the popcorn by the air method it is the safest way to eat popcorn because you don’t be introducing any salt, butter or sugar into the treat. You don’t saturate the popcorn with any type of oil either. This way you are eating the popcorn as simply and naturally as you can.

The other end of the spectrum is eating microwave popcorn and here the experts are divided  as to whether this type of popcorn is safe to eat or not. This type of treat is prepared totally opposite the air popped popcorn. This popcorn has that deadly artificial flavoring incorporated into the process. So, you have two extremes some say air popped popcorn with no added ingredients is the way to go to keep the body healthy and take care of all the amazing benefits popcorn has to offer. Others say that microwave popcorn is the worst popcorn to eat because of the artificial flavoring diacetyl added to the manufacturing process. Some have blamed diacetyl for stimulating “popcorn lung” in workers and consumers who have been exposed to high levels of it.

Of course you have the popcorn manufacturers who will stand by their product no matter what. For instance, the popcorn manufacturer who lost the 7.2 million dollar lawsuit says their product is safe even after the man developed the sometimes fatal lung disease. He seemed to have solid proof that the microwave popcorn was the cause of his lung ailments. He had scientific support to bolster his claim His specialist seem to confirm the popcorn was the culprit for the lung condition as well.

Positive Reasons for Eating Popcorn


Overall it seems fairly safe to say that eating popcorn isn’t bad for the body. The cases where the popcorn was considered unhealthy were extreme cases. They happened more as the exception than the norm. Popcorn has so many great benefits for the human body it cannot be bad for you to eat. It is considered to be one of the healthiest snack foods you can eat. There are so many health benefits related to popcorn that it cannot be bad for regular consumption. Additionally, how you prepare it will play a major role in if it’s healthy to eat or not. Movie made popcorn is bad for because of all the extra ingredients that are added to that type of popcorn.

Written by Irina Radosevic MD
Irina graduated from the University of Belgrade, School of Medicine as a Doctor of Medicine (MD) and spent over 3 years working in the Clinical Hospital Center Zvezdara, in the Department of Emergency Medicine. She also undertook a postgraduate in Cardiology from the same University and had previously worked for over a year as a Physician and Nutritionist Dietitian for the Fitness club Green Zone. She eventually left her chaotic but fulfilling job in the ER to pursue her passion of writing, travelling and mountain climbing which has included writing a first aid course for the alpine club of Belgrade. Irina currently works as a VA for PintMedia focusing on medical and travel writing. Feel free to connect with Irina on LinkedIn and FaceBook. Her CV can be seen here.