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Warning on Microwave Buttered Popcorn, and How to Make Healthy Popcorn
Posted by Dr. Ben Kim on Jul 11, 2011
Originally published on September 10, 2007
A few years ago, 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, you can always 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 or virgin coconut oil
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.
Addendum: In a press release dated December 17, 2007, ConAgra Foods, maker of Orville Redenbacher's and Act II microwave popcorn brands, announced it had removed diacetyl from all of its butter-flavored microwave popcorn varieties. New products began hitting store shelves in October 2007.
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