Microwave Popcorn Bad for Health:

Warning on Microwave Buttered Popcorn

By Dr. Ben Kim

Last week, the New York Times ran a story about a 53-year old Colorado man whose penchant for microwave buttered popcorn may have caused him to develop a serious lung condition called bronchiolitis obliterans, or "popcorn workers' lung."

Initially diagnosed with generalized lung inflammation, the Colorado man's doctor eventually discovered that he ate at least two bags of microwave buttered popcorn per day for more than a decade. He often made it a point to inhale the butter-flavored steam that came out of the bags when he first opened them.

He was repeatedly inhaling significant doses of heated diacetyl, a vapor that, if inhaled over a long period of time, can cause the small airways in the lungs to become swollen and scarred. Eventually, the scarring of airways can create a situation where it is possible to inhale deeply, but very difficult to exhale without discomfort.

Diacetyl is used to add a buttery flavor to many brands of microwave popcorn, including Orville Redenbacher and Act II. Chronic exposure to heated diacetyl in food production and flavoring plants that utilize synthetic butter has been linked with hundreds of cases of lung damage.

A representative of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has stated that the agency is considering the Colorado man's case in its review of the safety of diacetyl.

A spokesperson for ConAgra Foods, the United States' largest producer of microwave popcorn, has said that ConAgra plans to remove diacetyl from its microwave popcorn products "in the near future."

A spokesperson for Pop Weaver, another large maker of microwave popcorn, has publicly stated that Pop Weaver has already stopped using diacetyl in its bags of popcorn "because of consumer concerns."

Clearly, it makes sense to avoid eating microwave buttered popcorn and spending time in areas that produce it.

If you are a fan of popcorn, here is some good news: you can make healthy popcorn in just a few minutes with the following recipe:

Healthy Popcorn Recipe


1/2 cup dried corn kernels, like the kind found in the picture above
Extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt


Cover the bottom of a medium to large-sized pot with a thin coat of extra-virgin olive oil.

Add corn kernels, and give the pot a good shake to coat the kernels with olive oil.

Place lid on pot and turn the heat on to a medium level.

Within a minute or two, the corn will begin popping into popcorn. As the frequency of popping starts to diminish, turn the stove off and take the pot off the heat, but keep the lid on to allow the last remaining kernels to pop.

Transfer popcorn to a large bowl, add a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, season with sea salt, give it a good toss, and enjoy all-natural popcorn that is free of harmful synthetic flavorings.

Please share this article with family and friends who don't know about the dangers of microwave buttered popcorn. Thank you.

Editor's Note:
At our house, we've been making popcorn with organic coconut oil the past several years. The popcorn is so good this way I rarely even want to add butter. And, yes, coconut oil hangs tough in high temperatures. That's another reason I like to use it.

You remember how movie popcorn used to taste in the good old days? When you could eat a huge bag of it and enjoy every kernel? Well, that's because most theaters used to pop with coconut oil or palm oil. Then in the early 90's (I think it was) the so-called Center for Science in the Public Interest made a huge stink about using coconut and palm oils and most theaters switched over to popping with partially hydrogenated soybean oil or canola oil. Ugh, gag me with a spoon!

Apparently some theaters have quietly flown under the politically correct food police radar and gone back to popping with coconut oil, but that's not the case in the town where I live, where the popcorn tastes so bad there are days I don't even buy a bag.

Indeed, the popcorn problems at our local multiplex are so maddening I'm tempted to smuggle my own corn into the theater. In fact, I may try it one of these days. I'll brazenly walk in with a big open container of popcorn. Most likely they'll start acting like Nazis, telling me in a firm voice, "You can't bring that in here!" My response will be: "Because of my heart, my doctor said I had to eat popcorn popped with the oil he prescribed." If that doesn't get me into the theater with my own popcorn, nothing will.

Finally, Dr. Kim has excellent articles about healthy oils on his site, and you'll also find plenty of good reading on the topic at http://westonaprice.org/knowyourfats/index.html#art

Chet "Pop Me Up a Big Sack of Corn with Coconut Oil" Day

8-25-09 A reader writes:

I got the message on Microwave Buttered Popcorn several years ago and stopped using it at once. Now I make only "real" popcorn. But if I followed the recipe in the Dr Kim article, I'd have pretty tough popcorn. And I don't like Extra Virgin Olive Oil anyway... it leaves too strong a taste behind.

I use either ordinary Olive Oil, or Sunflower Oil... usually the latter as it takes a high heat very well.

I cover the bottom of my pan with the oil and then heat it, with one kernel of corn in it. When that pops the oil is the right temp. Then I pour in the corn, cover and shake a few times to cover the kernels. Then I let it sit. It takes less than a minute to start popping. As soon as that starts you have to vent the pot and let the steam out or the popcorn will be tough. When it's done pour it into the bowl, salt and eat... if you want real old fashioned smell and taste... pour on some melted REAL butter and toss it.

I think there is enough evidence to show margarine or any other oil based so called "butter" like spreads are REALLY bad for you. Butter has calories, but it is all natural and has no trans fats.

Marya Z

11-13-09 A reader writes:

I must say, my daughter sent me a message a year ago about popcorn lung and I had always indulged in microwave popcorn and thought I was eating well. I stopped and I have been without any asthma symptoms for over 8 months. I do believe this needs great emphases as it surely affected my health. I am feeling great for the first time in a long long time. This is a very important thing that people do not know about. Thank You,


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