Why Popcorn Lovers are at Risk

Posted in Snacks

Americans munch some 17.3 BILLION quarts of popped corn each year. Until recently, popcorn was viewed as a healthy source of fiber and a great low-calorie way to fill up without filling out. Not anymore.

According to many public health activists, popcorn lovers are unwittingly being exposed to toxic vapors that are created when butter-flavored microwave popcorn is heated.

Week in and week out, the Food Sleuths here at eBrandAid preach about the dietary dangers linked to chemical additives in your favorite foods. It’s not lip service, folks. Avoiding chemical additives just might be the best preventive measure you can take to ensure good health for you and your family.

Here’s the skinny. Popcorn deserves its reputation of being a low-cal, high-fiber snack. However, thanks to manufacturers that load up their products with all kinds of chemical ingredients, certain varieties might be deadly.

It’s been all over the news – A synthetic chemical additive diacetyl, used in microwave butter-flavored popcorn, is causing a fatal disease referred to as Popcorn Lung. Until recently, the affliction struck only factory workers who inhaled it during popcorn processing.

But the very first consumer has been diagnosed with symptoms of this serious disease. The patient – a Colorado man who ate three bags of microwave popcorn a day over the past few years – is believed to have contracted this disease from overexposure to these toxic fumes. It’s a good reason to be leery of your favorite microwave treat.

Reality Check

There are differing opinions among health and medical agencies as to whether this additive is truly a threat, especially to consumers who are only exposed to small doses via the fumes they inhale after microwaving butter-flavored popcorn. More research needs to be done.
However, many of the major popcorn processors aren’t taking any chances. The top four American popcorn manufacturers are either in the process of taking diacetyl out of their products or have already done so. Obviously, they believe diacetyl is somewhat of a threat or they wouldn’t be moving this quickly.

So, here’s the $64,000 question: Are you willing to risk your health by continuing to eat your additive-soaked favorite brand? We sure aren’t. Our Food Sleuths had to dig deep but they managed to compile a list of truly healthy microwave popcorn brands that are not only diacetyl-free, but are also void of trans fats, artificial flavors and colors, and other junk ingredients.

BrandAid Popcorn Guidelines

It’s important to realize that you are unlikely to see diacetyl listed on the ingredients list of any popcorn product. Manufacturers are allowed to group various additives into generic sounding categories like “natural flavors” or “artificial flavors”.

In this case, diacetyl is often grouped as “artificial butter flavor”. This is scary. Consumers have virtually no idea what kind of junk may be hiding behind the “natural flavors” in the foods we eat. You’ll lower your risk if you follow these specific-yet-basic guidelines when choosing a healthy popcorn.

  • Avoid any kind of flavored microwave popcorn… especially the butter-flavored varieties. This ensures you won’t eat or inhale any hidden chemical additives.
  • Avoid brands that use trans fats (partially hydrogenated oils) and artificial flavors or colors of any kind.
  • Stick with the plain varieties. To jazz up the taste, simply add your own melted butter (in moderation) and seasonings.
  • The shorter the ingredients list the better. Popcorn and maybe some salt should be the only two ingredients listed. (see label example above)
  • USDAoorganicFoodSealLook for organic brands that haven’t been exposed to chemical fertilizers or pesticides. No organic manufacturer worth its salt will add chemicals to its products.


The popcorn section of your local market is vast, but we only found a few varieties that meet our BestBrand criteria. We’d like to spotlight one brand and its manufacturer who seems to have the consumer’s health in mind.

Farmer Steve’s Microwave Popcorn No Oil Added


Ingredients: Organic Popcorn, Real Salt (A natural mineral salt)

This brand can be found in certain grocery stores and online; go to Farmer Steve’s

Other BestBrands:

Newman’s Own Organic No Butter/No Salt 94% Fat Free
Garden of Eatin’ Organic Microwave Popcorn (no oil added)
Bearitos Organic No Oil Added Microwave Popcorn

BrandAid tip: We think it’s time to scrap the microwave and bring the traditional ways of popping popcorn back into vogue. So join us in dusting off our air or stove-top popper. Any organic brand of regular popcorn kernels will work with either mode of preparation. To make it a tasty and memorable occasion, drizzle your fresh-popped popcorn with a little real melted butter and a sprinkle or two of your favorite seasoning.

Remember, when you’re armed with a little eBrandAid know-how, you’re in control at the grocery store.

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In Our Opinion: The information contained in the eBrandAid e-newsletters is strictly based on the opinions of the eBrand Doctors. We have created a set of guidelines that we believe will help shoppers to better understand and decode food labels on products found in most grocery stores. Our mission is to help shoppers find the healthier brands that have the least amount of chemicals and other junk ingredients.

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