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Is Microwave Popcorn Bad for You?

Michael Pollick
Updated May 16, 2024
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The introduction of microwave popcorn during the 1980s seemed like a natural progression after the success of stovetop popcorn and air-popped popcorn. A consumer would place a folded bag containing oil, flavoring and popcorn kernels into a microwave oven for a few minutes. The results could be variable, from a half-popped bag to a smoking bag of carbon, but in general, microwave popcorn was similar to other forms of popcorn, and done in much less time.

Questions over the safety of microwave popcorn began to arise when a number of popcorn factory workers started reported severe respiratory problems while working with the chemicals used to process the popcorn. Specifically, a chemical known as diacetyl was the suspected irritant. Diacetyl is used to create a buttery flavor in various seasonings and processed foods, including the artificial butter flavor used for microwave popcorn. Small amounts of diacetyl are not considered toxic, but when heated on a factory scale the fumes can trigger a respiratory condition known as popcorn lung.

When word of the popcorn workers' exposure to diacetyl became public, many health professionals became concerned over the safety of microwave popcorn at the consumer level. The FDA and other agencies determined that the amount of diacetyl contained in an average bag did not reach toxic levels, although critics questioned the validity of these findings after discovering little to no testing had actually been conducted on a consumer level. Virtually all reported cases of popcorn lung occurred in popcorn factory workers, but one consumer who ate two bags of popcorn every day and habitually smelled the fumes did contract a milder form of the disease.

If there is any danger at all associated with microwave popcorn, it is most present when the bag is first opened and heated fumes escape. Breathing in these fumes will expose the consumer to the highest level of diacetyl possible at the consumer level. This may cause damage to the smallest air passages in the consumer's lungs or trigger a pre-existing asthma attack. Young children and those with compromised lung capacity may also have an adverse reaction after breathing in the first fumes of a hot bag of microwave popcorn.

Other ingredients contained in microwave popcorn are not considered toxic, although some health experts would warn against consuming high levels of sodium or partially hydrogenated oils. It generally uses healthier oils that certain movie-style popcorn served in theaters or concession stands. Avoiding the addition of artificial butter or extra salt is always a good idea for a healthier snack.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to DelightedCooking, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.
Discussion Comments
By anon924144 — On Jan 02, 2014

Whole Foods Market carries microwave popcorn without diacetyl!

By anon169076 — On Apr 19, 2011

Pop Weaver is the only brand that does not have diacetyl in it! Enjoy!

By oasis11 — On Dec 18, 2010

Latte31-The microwave popcorn and diacetyl does make me be more careful when I open the bag. I open it slightly and leave it in microwave with the door closed to vent.

Sometimes I will open my kitchen window and place a bag on the window sill and let the air vent outside that way. I know that the regular popcorn that is not microwaveable is healthier but I am used to the taste of my microwave popcorn flavors and I prefer the microwave popcorn kernals to the regular popcorn kernels.

They are usually fuller.

By latte31 — On Dec 16, 2010

I love microwave popcorn brands but my favorite is Orville microwave popcorn. I like the Kettle corn flavor the best. It has a nice salty and sweet taste to it that it wonderful.

They also make flavored microwave popcorn but I found that their cheddar microwave popcorn was too greasy and I did not like it.

I eat popcorn to control my weight and eating this cheddar popcorn defeated the purpose for me. The Kettle corn that I buy is 94% fat free and it has a light yet satisfying taste.

This kettle microwave popcorn is best in the middle of the afternoon when you are feeling a little hungry. It really fills you up and tastes great. A mini bag has like 100 calories but about 9 grams of fiber or more and only 6% fat.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to DelightedCooking, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide...
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