Why You Should Avoid Butter-Flavored Microwave Popcorn

The poison gas phosgene, first used extensively as a chemical warfare agent during World War I, can cause a horrific lung disease called bronchiolitis obliterans. Bronchiolitis obliterans causes your small airways (bronchioles) to become obliterated, a generally irreversible and fatal condition that may also be caused by butter-flavored microwave popcorn.

I’ve warned previously about diacetyl, the artificial butter flavoring being linked to a condition known as “popcorn lung,” where workers who had been exposed to diacetyl started dying. It turns out that the industry knew about the dangers for decades, but covered it up. Even when the industry admitted workers were dying, they swore the chemical was safe for consumers—that it was only an occupational health hazard. In fact, they even had ads with Orville Redenbacher telling consumers to breathe deeply.

I quipped in my previous video Is Artificial Butter Flavor Harmful? that any ingredient requiring the use of a gas mask is probably not something you want to feed your family. I wanted to err on the side of caution and I’m glad I did.

A group of researchers compiled a series of cases of butter-flavored microwave popcorn consumers developing bronchiolitis obliterans:

  • A 47-year-old woman who consumed 3-5 bags a day and now can’t even walk without getting out of breath. She’s awaiting a lung transplant.
  • A 56-year-old man ate 2-3 bags a day before he started to cough up blood. His doctor alerted the FDA, but it’s still on the market.
  • A third ate 1-2 bags a day and she ended up with lungs so scarred they had what’s called “honeycombing” and patches with the appearance of ground glass.

The chemical is found in real butter, too, but it’s heavily concentrated when added as additional flavoring. Tragically, it remains on store shelves and legal to this day. The regulation of health hazards from food additives has simply “fallen between the regulatory and health surveillance cracks,” the authors of the case series lament. They recommend a series of steps to protect consumers, such as allowing the bag to cool completely before opening (but who wants cold popcorn?) and then opening in a well-ventilated area away from the face. One solution they didn’t mention that would also eliminate the risk of lung disease? Don’t buy it.

What else can we do to protect our lungs?

Meat safety is another example of regulatory breakdown. See, for example, Drug Residues in Meat, Deadly But Not Illegal and Past the Age of Miracles.

What about food dyes? See Are Artificial Colors Bad for You? and Treating ADHD Without Stimulants.

Anyone have any good recipes for making air-popped popcorn delicious? I spritz with some Bragg’s and apple cider vinegar, and then sprinkle on chlorella and nutritional yeast.

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death and More Than an Apple a Day.

Related:
6 Healthier Alternatives to Movie Popcorn
Is Carrageenan Safe?
Is Coconut Oil Good For You?
Is There a Safe, Low-Calorie Sweetener?

554 comments

Monica Buchanan
Monica Buchanan1 years ago

Thank you.

Jeanne Rogers
Jeanne Rogers2 years ago

Thank you for the info. Too bad I liked it. Fortunately, it wasn't too often.

Veronica C.
Veronica C.2 years ago

I don't even like the smell of it.

Elizabeth O.
Elizabeth O.2 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Ann B.
Ann B.2 years ago

thanks

Valerie A.
Valerie A.2 years ago

Thanks

aaron c.
wiz w.2 years ago

okadoky

Margaret M. F.
Margaret M. F.2 years ago

Thank-you for posting this informative article. I guess I am fortunate in that popcorn in any way is not really up there on my favorite foods list. Another product that has a strong possibility of acquiring the label in its packaging, 'Warning: The Surgeon General has determined that consuming this product (maybe) definitely hazardous to on's health & may cause severe lung damage'. That day is coming for sure, I just wish it will wait until I've permanently vacated the earth's premises.

Alison A, I had a friend who was friends with a couple. I don't remember what the woman did for a living, however, she died from lung cancer only she never smoked a day in her life. The culprit of this women's untimely death = the aerosol hairspray (remember those) she would spray on coating after coating after coating daily & I imagine she didn't hold her breadth.. Are the remaining aerosol hairsprays & other related aerosol items gearing towards that warning from the Surgeon General? Only time will tell. I thank-you for reading this.

Margaret M. F.
Margaret M. F.2 years ago

Thank-you for posting this informative article. I guess I am fortunate in that popcorn in any way is not really up there on my favorite foods list. Another product that has a strong possibility of acquiring the label in its packaging, 'Warning: The Surgeon General has determined that consuming this product (maybe) definitely hazardous to on's health & may cause severe lung damage'. That day is coming for sure, I just wish it will wait until I've permanently vacated the earth's premises.

Alison A, I had a friend who was friends with a couple. I don't remember what the woman did for a living, however, she died from lung cancer only she never smoked a day in her life. The culprit of this women's untimely death = the aerosol hairspray (remember those) she would spray on coating after coating after coating daily & I imagine she didn't hold her breadth.. Are the remaining aerosol hairsprays & other related aerosol items gearing towards that warning from the Surgeon General? Only time will tell. I thank-you for reading this.

LMj Sunshine

Thank you.