Why You Should Think Twice Before Eating Microwave Popcorn

If you're someone who gets a creeping suspicion that food packaging might be behind some kinds of health issues, then you might want to rethink eating microwave popcorn. Some foods are kind of sneaky in that they are actually deadly to eat. Remember that even our water bottles were not always BPA-free, which has some health concerns of its own (via Mayo Clinic). The latest food to add to your list of chemically dangerous items is microwave popcorn, though you shouldn't panic — the risk is not super high, although you should be aware.

The first problem with microwave popcorn that makes it surprisingly unhealthy is an ingredient included in the butter flavoring, diacetyl, which becomes toxic when heated at a high temperature. Apparently, according to a report from 2018, the ingredient can cause lung problems when it is breathed in large amounts (via Livestrong). Workers at manufacturing plants for microwave popcorn who have breathed in large quantities of diacetyl ended up with chronic coughs, lung obstructions, and symptoms similar to COPD to the point that they started calling it "popcorn lung" (via Oprah).

Again, it's all about quantity, so to have this happen at home, it would take eating at least two bags per day for 10 years plus inhaling the buttery scent from the bag when it comes right out of the microwave — at least it did for one man who developed the condition, according to Oprah. So, if you rarely eat (or use moderation when eating) microwaved buttered popcorn, you're likely fine.

The lining of the bag could be the biggest issue

Another issue that can cause health problems with microwave popcorn is the lining of the microwave-safe bag itself. A 2013 report showed that the bags contain chemicals like perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS). PFOA has been linked to kidney cancer, testicular cancer, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure during pregnancy. It can even have an effect on the thyroid (particularly in women) and can be connected to hypothyroidism, according to Livestrong.

Ultimately, eating microwave popcorn does cause quite noticeable associations with higher concentrations of both types of chemicals in the bloodstream. Plus, PFOA and PFOS chemicals can remain in the system between three and a half to nearly five years, respectively.

Again, quantity is an important factor, and as with most things, moderation is key. However, if you do not want to even run the slightest risk of being overexposed to such chemicals, there is a safer alternative to microwave popcorn. You can simply make popcorn on the stovetop. It's easy and fast, although you will have to wipe out and wash a pot — and make sure you put a lid on the pot before you make it. It's probably worth it if it protects your health.