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Internet Food Scares – Part 1 of 2
Microwave Popcorn Poison and PCB Laced Salmon

How Excess Weight Affects Your Life
Is a popcorn snack a bowl of poison?

I get them all the time. Emails, texts or postings on my Facebook page about, "Foods Even the Experts Won't Eat." They link to articles about how common everyday foods will KILL you, unless you stop eating them NOW. In an effort to see if I should really worry, I did some research about a couple of those internet food horror stories. Here's what I found.

Microwave popcorn is poison!

Shortly after microwaves started shipping to consumers, someone figured out they're pretty handy for whipping up a batch of popcorn. To make things more convenient, companies packaged the kernels and began dousing them in salt, butter and "flavorings."

One of those flavorings is a chemical called diacetyl that's used to create the buttery flavor. Turns out it's an irritant and when you inhale it and the fumes can trigger a respiratory condition known as popcorn lung. That healthy kernel, low in calories, full of antioxidants and fiber suddenly becomes a toxic minefield.

But messing with the kernels wasn't enough. Food companies lined the microwave bags with perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) to prevent grease from building up on the paper. As the popcorn heats up, the PFOA is absorbed into the popcorn. With every bite, you're ingesting something that's been linked to infertility, cancer and other diseases.

As consumers began to demand safer foods, microwave popcorn companies started removing diacetyl and shipping in bags that no longer used PFOA linings. But then they added trans fats, sugar and other flavorings with unknown health consequences.

Fortunately, there's a solution. Buy popcorn kernels and put one-quarter cup of them in a plain brown paper bag. Roll up the end and start the microwave for one and a half to two minutes. When the popcorn slows to 2 or 3 pops per second, it's done cooking. Then lightly sprinkle cinnamon and stevia, or a little salt and spray butter over the top. You know exactly what you're getting and you aren't throwing extra boxes and plastic wrappers in a landfill for each bag you pop.

Farmed salmon is full of cancer-causing contaminants!

In 1979, Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were banned in the United States because they build up in the environment and can cause cancer. However, decades after the ban, PCBs still persist in the soil. Farmed salmon absorb those PCBs and other chemicals from contaminated sediment, fishmeal and fish oil they're fed.

When farmed salmon and wild salmon were compared side-by-side, the farmed salmon had seven to ten times the PCB levels of the wild salmon. Wild salmon had 1 to 17 parts per billion of PCBs, compared with 20 to 50 parts per billion for the farmed salmon. Part of the reason farmed salmon have more PCBs is because they have more fat. PCBs accumulate in fat and it stays there for a long time. Farmed salmon are grown bigger and generally have more fat than wild salmon, so it's only logical they'd contain more PCBs.

Now lets put that amount in perspective. According to the Environmental Working Group, beef was found to have nearly 9 parts per billion of PCBs per serving. If you eat beef four times a week, you'd be exposed to approximately the same levels of PCBs as you get in four servings of wild salmon a week. The PCB exposure is the same. But you don't hear people calling for a ban on beef because of the cancer risk!

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, what that means for your health is this. If you eat eight ounces of wild salmon, or eight ounces of beef 3-5 times a month, you increase your risk of cancer by .001% over a 70-year lifespan.

So what should you do?

  • If you're really concerned about your health, replace at least one beef serving a week with wild salmon.
  • Remove the skin and trim any visible fat from the fish to reduce exposure to stored PCBs.
  • Grill or broil the fish so even more fat is eliminated. Finally, consider canned salmon since almost all of them are made from wild stocks.

If farmed salmon is all that's available, limit it to a couple times a month. But when you do that, cut back how much beef you eat as well and replace it with more plant-based meals.

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