Dr. Friedman’s Health Blog

Dangerous Chemicals In Your Microwave Popcorn!

By: Dr. David Friedman

Popcorn is a popular snack and for many, it’s the ultimate movie watching partner! But when it comes to microwave popcorn, you might also be eating toxic chemicals that have been linked to obesity, Alzheimer’s, thyroid disease, ADHD and cancer!

Here's what's hiding inside your microwave popcorn:

Diacetyl- otherwise known as artificial butter flavoring, is a chemical that crosses the blood brain barrier. That means, when it’s eaten, it can get inside the brain causing  memory loss and Alzheimer’s Disease. For over a decade, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has warned that diacetyl is hazardous if inhaled and can lead to a deadly lung disease called bronchiolitis obliterans (aka “popcorn lung.”) Millions of dollars have been awarded to people suffering permanent lung damage from inhaling steam from microwaveable popcorn. Artificial butter shouldn’t be eaten or inhaled. It’s far better to use ghee (cultured butter,) olive oil or coconut oil. Add some spices like garlic powder, basil, oregano and parsley. Or, for an interesting flavor combination, try adding some lime juice and chili to your popcorn.

TBHQ (Tertiary Butylhydroquinone)- a chemical preservative commonly used in microwave popcorn, is also a form of butane. Yes, the same stuff you find in lighter fluid!   This chemical has been linked to asthma, dermatitis, ADHD, obesity, and estrogen imbalances in women. The Centers for Science in the Public Interest, after an extensive government study, found TBHQ also increases the incidence of tumors in rats. And according to the National Library of Medicine, cases of vision disturbances have been reported when humans consume TBHQ. They also cite studies that have found TBHQ to cause liver enlargement, neurotoxic effects, and muscle paralysis.

PFOA (Perflurooctanoic acid) are chemicals that line the popcorn bag to prevent the grease from leaking out. When the bag is heated in the microwave, this chemical gets absorbed into the popcorn. PFOAs are endocrine disrupters which can cause obesity. Other negative effects of PFOAs include thyroid diseasekidney disease, and various cancers. I recently wrote an article for MindBodyGreen on the health risks of PFOAs in nonstick cookware. I highly recommend giving it a read.

GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms)- an estimated 90% of the corn grown in the U.S. is GMO corn.  So, unless you buy organic popcorn, you are more than likely buying GMO popcorn.  GMOs may lead to allergies, immune dysfunction including autoimmune disorders, liver problems, infertility, and damage to intestinal flora. Be leery of tricky wording used by many popcorn brands that state "GMO Free” on the label. For example, look at Orville Redenbacher's popcorn. On their label it states, “Non GMO Corn.” However, when you look at the other ingredients you’ll find soybean, canola, or corn oil, which does contain GMO. Always look for “USDA Certified Organic non GMO” on the label.


If you are a popcorn lover, there's an easy way to avoid these hidden chemicals. Air-pop or make your popcorn on the stove. If you prefer using the microwave, use your own bag (two if you are using oil) as follows:  


1/2 Cup Organic non GMO popcorn kernels, pink Himalayan salt, 1-2   tbsp of coconut or extra virgin olive oil.


  1. Place organic popcorn Kernels in a paper bag 
  2. Add oil and salt if you choose. Fold the edges over or cover with another bag
  3. Pop for about 2-3 minutes. (will vary depending on your microwave)
  4. Enjoy!


In my book Food Sanity, I list popcorn as one of the white foods you should try to limit from the diet. However, having an occasional bowl of popcorn won’t sabotage your weight loss goals. Also, eating organic popcorn in moderation, gives you some beneficial fiber, vitamin A, folate, magnesium, potassium and iron. Add some healthy fat with a little olive oil or coconut oil, along with some spices, and you have a healthy snack to accompany your Friday night movie.

About the Author

Dr. David Friedman is the author of the award-winning, #1 national best-selling book Food Sanity, How to Eat in a World of Fads and Fiction. He's a  Doctor of Naturopathy, Chiropractic Neurologist, Clinical Nutritionist, Board Certified Alternative Medical Practitioner, and Board Certified in Integrative Medicine.  Dr. Friedman is a syndicated television health expert and host of To Your Good Health Radio, which has changed the face of talk radio by incorporating entertainment, shock value, and solutions to everyday health and wellness issues.

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