3 Microwave Popcorn Health Risks

Microwaved popcorn poured out in front of its bag.

Note: Because Microwave popcorn can be very dangerous for you, we recommend replacing pop corn with organic farm nuts. They’re both healthier and tastier. If you have any question about this product, feel free to ask about it in the comments.

Popcorn ‘nuked’ in those microwave bags with the shiny silver insides are a very popular snack but recent health concerns have come to light that have health experts worried. Here’s three microwave popcorn health risks and three good reasons to switch a healthier replacement snack like nuts, or at very least make your own popcorn to avoid some surprisingly toxic chemicals.

The 3 Worst Chemicals in Microwave Popcorn

An opened bag of microwaved popcorn inside the microwave.

1. Diacetyl Butter Flavoring

Diacetyl is an artificially created chemical that has been used in the ‘butter’ flavorings that are common in microwave popcorn. So many people who worked manufacturing this product became sick with scarring of the lungs that the condition was termed ‘popcorn lung’.

American popcorn manufacturers promised to come up with safer alternatives to this chemical, but regulators have recently found that the diacetyl substitutes they chose may be just as toxic. Butter starter distillates and trimmers, the most common replacements, themselves contain diacetyl or release it when heated and are not considered any healthier than the original toxic chemical they are meant to supersede.

In Europe diacetyl is still approved for use and is a common additive in snack foods. This is despite studies that have linked diacetyl directly to Alzheimer’s. It easily crosses the blood brain barrier, has been demonstrated to cause damage to important proteins in the brain and may be a trigger for this terrible disease.

Clearly diacetyl and its chemically similar replacements are not substances you want to be regularly putting in your body if you value your health. If you really want some butter flavored popcorn then it’s far better to get some organic corn and make your own with the real thing. Artificial butter flavoring is a very suspect ingredient and well worth avoiding.


2. TBHQ – Lighter Fluid with Your Popcorn?

Tertiary butylhydroquinone or TBHQ is a chemical preservative used in microwave popcorn and many other snack foods. It is also a form of butane. Yes the same stuff that you find in lighter fluid.

Why anyone thought it was a good idea to allow lighter fluid in microwave popcorn is beyond me. While the amounts are small, all of these different chemicals add up and create an extra burden on your body to eliminate them.

Side effects of high doses of TBHQ include nausea, vomiting, tinnitus and delirium. Animal studies on it suggest an increased risk of stomach cancer and DNA damage and there are reports linking it to skin problems like dermetitis and attention deficit disorder in children.

TBHQ may also appear on your food packaging labels as preservative E319. The FDA allows .02% of the oils in your snack foods to be TBHQ, but do you really want any of this chemical in your diet?

Two bags of unpopped microwave popcorn.

3. PFOA in Microwave Popcorn Bags

The third of these microwave popcorn health risks isn’t actually an ingredient. It’s a gas that is given off by the bags that your popcorn comes in when heated in the microwave.

Perflurooctanoic acid or PFOA is a toxic chemical that has been labeled a likely human carcinogen. It is strongly implicated in a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and thyroid problems and just inhaling enough of it can make you feel sick. That’s a real problem when the first thing most people do when they removed a bag of popcorn from the microwave is open it and to take a deep breath.

I’ve recently covered Teflon health dangers in nonstick cookware and in particular PFOA. That article is really worth reading if you use nonstick pans, but the same chemical that can cause so many problems in your cookware is also found in your microwave popcorn bags, pizza boxes and other nonstick packaging.

Microwaved popcorn poured out in front of its bag.


3 strikes against microwave popcorn I’m afraid. While it may be convenient, these chemicals alone make it a surprising health risk and definitely not something you’d want to be eating regularly.

Popcorn itself isn’t particularly good for you, even without these chemical additives, especially if you’d like to lose weight. A far healthier replacement is a bag of nuts like almonds, walnuts or a mixture of different ones. These kind of snacks give your body the nutrition it needs and fills you up without toxic chemicals like diacetyl, TBHQ and PFOA.

Did you know about these microwave popcorn health risks and are you surprised that government agencies are happy for these type of chemicals to be in your food? I’d be interested to hear your opinion on this.

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0 thoughts on “3 Microwave Popcorn Health Risks”

  1. Thanks for this article. My wife often buy microwave popcorn and she sometimes live it longer in the microwave because of other distractions and the result is a thick black smoke that takes upto 3 days to clear in the house.

    • Appreciate your comments Musa. I’d really try and avoid breathing in that smoke if possible. If there’s teflon in the inner coating of the packaging it can be quite toxic. How about buying her some nuts as suggested in the article. They’re much more satisfying than popcorn, help you lose weight and won’t stink out your house for 3 days!

  2. How about just make the popcorn the old fashioned way? I understand there’s only 55 calories per cup when you cook it in a pot with oil.

    I keep hearing about air-popped popcorn. I’ve tried it, and it tastes horrible. It’s dry and seasonings won’t stick to it, so you can’t improve the flavor at all.

    I have about two more bags of microwave popcorn. After they’re gone, I’ll go back to the old fashioned oil cooking way. Sprinkle some freshly ground pepper, garlic powder (not salt!) and/or Parmesan cheese. It’s relatively low calorie, salt-free, and delicious! And if you *must* have a bit of salt, you can at least control how much.

  3. I ate microwaved popcorn out of bag twice both times I got a swollen red rash around my mouth. It’s sore. Ate popcorn before bed woke up at 3am sore

    • Hi Suzanne,

      This could be a reaction to one of the microwave popcorn additives but it’s hard to know for certain. Long term I think there’s evidence that microwave popcorn is quite an unhealthy snack, particularly with Teflon coated silver bags. I’ve read of recent testing where PFOA (a dangerous chemical in Teflon) was found to have leeched into the butter flavoring. I’d suggest nuts or seeds would be a much healthier and more filling snack.

      All the best.

  4. Do you know which brands carry these chemicals? We buy a lot of microwave popcorn, but have never had any that had a silver coating inside the bag. I don’t think that they use Diacetyl Butter Flavoring anymore. This chemical would be in the ingredients label. I’ve heard stories about this product before. People who worked packaging popcorn would get this “popcorn lung.” I’m pretty sure that companies don’t use it anymore.


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