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The hidden health dangers of microwave popcorn

When it comes to snacking, popcorn is usually thought of as one of the healthier snacks out there. It’s low in calories, rich in antioxidants, and offers a satisfying way to get your daily fill of whole grain goodness. But that’s if you opt for plain, air-popped popcorn. According to, microwave popcorn is anything but healthy, thanks in part to some dangerous hidden chemicals.

The damage you don’t see

Diacetyl is a common food additive most often used to imbue popcorn with a creamy, buttery flavor. It’s made by extracting hydrogen from 2,3-butanediol, a naturally-occurring substance and byproduct of sugarcane molasses fermentation. Although delicious when added to popcorn, diacetyl was all but phased out of popcorn production by the early 2000s due to its dire effects on the health of factory workers.

In 2005, a report pointed to diacetyl as the primary cause of severe obstructive lung disease in eight former workers of an unnamed microwave popcorn packaging plant. The study, conducted by researchers from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), noted how workers were exposed to a variety of volatile organic compounds, with diacetyl being one of the most prominent. Further studies only supported these findings, with some finding out that heating up diacetyl could result in damage to the cells covering the lungs and trachea.


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