September 6

Popcorn Lung Redux

8  comments

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A good while back, I posted a blog about the dangers of diacetyl, the chemical additive in butter flavoring for popcorn. A growing body of evidence had begun to point point to the chemical’s being a respiratory hazard to workers in the popcorn factories where the stuff pollutes the air, inspiring numerous law suits. At the time of that blog, the governmental powers that be were still holding firm that it if diacetyl caused the illness (it’s approved for use in flavors by the FDA, after all) it constituted a workplace exposure problem and didn’t appear to pose a risk to consumers.

Comes now the article by AP journalist Marcus Kabel (and picked up on every news agency from Fox to CNN) of a consumer who has developed ‘popcorn lung‘ from breathing in the diacetyl-laced fumes of microwave buttered popcorn several times a day for years.

Stop and think about that last paragraph…this gentleman popped (and presumably did not just sniff, but ate) several bags of butter-flavored microwave popped corn every day for years. One assumes it’s not all he ate, though it could have been. With an average of 3 servings of corn in a microwave bag, at an average of 25 grams of usable carb per bag, eating “several bags a day” of popcorn constitutes a whole lot of corn starch–about 75 grams worth, minimum. That, all by itself, is about double the daily total effective carb intake for people trying to lose weight or regain health on a low carb diet. Heck, it’s more than the total carb intake for most people trying to just maintain health and weight in a carb conscious lifestyle, all taken up by very antigenically active (read that potentially damaging) corn starch, leaving no room for any other source of carb.

This whole diacetyl thing makes for just one more reason a low carb diet is healthier than a low fat one. No one following a low carb diet would have ever been so exposed to this particular toxic compound, because no one on a low carb diet would ever dream of eating 9 servings of popcorn a day.

That’s not to say that every now and then, it’s not a treat to curl up on the couch with a good movie and some hot buttered popcorn. The key is that it should always be a treat and should never be hot ‘butter-flavored, low-fat’ popcorn.

If the mood for popcorn strikes you, do it safely. Here’s a link to a recipe for making your own diacetyl-free microwave popcorn, with a brown bag, popping corn, salt, and oil. I’d use coconut oil, personally, and then top it with melted real butter or try melting the butter, mixing the unpopped corn with that and microwaving in the bag.

Do not fail to note that the recipe makes 3 servings and the whole bag contains 24.6 grams of total carb with 4.9 grams of it as fiber, so an ECC of 19.7 grams. Each serving is 6.5 grams, which is totally doable as a snack.
So if the mood strikes, curl up with a good movie (or football game, in my case) this weekend and split a bag with a friend…or two.


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  1. I’m so glad I no longer eat crappy stuff like that!

    As for the microwave popcorn – PLEASE do yourself a favor and get an actual microwave corn popper! I used to work in a Friedmans Microwave Ovens store, and I can’t tell you how many ovens we got in for repair because the brown paper bag caught fire and burned the inside of the oven. COULD be worse, too, if there isn’t someone right there watching….

    Those kernels of corn get SUPER hot before they actually pop and they can set those bags afire before you know it. Better safe than sorry!

    COMMENT from MD EADES:  Indeed.  Okay, folks…safety first…better go invest in a microwave safe corn popper unless you’re willing to watch for the few minutes it takes to pop a bag.

  2. Just as with secondhand smoke, we find it difficult to have control over what goes into our bodies! Many of us are in situations where others are nuking their butter flavor popcorn and we are breathing it in! Office, school, hospital, etc. cafeterias and breakrooms!

    This stuff needs to be banned for this use!

    COMMENT from MD EADES:  And I feel sure it will.  We banned microwave popcorn from our clinics years ago, not because of the risk from smelling it to our lungs (since that wasn’t known then) but because the very smell of it made our weight loss patients hungry.  It’s hard enough for people to stay on a diet without having to smell freshly popped popcorn.

  3. That is not the only place diacetyl wreaks (or is it reeks?) havoc. It is an off-flavor in homebrewed beer, a consequence of incomplete fermentation. Diacetyl has a limited place in certain dark ales where just a hint of butteryness is enjoyable, but more often than not it will pretty much ruin a brew and has led me to pour entire 5-gallon batches down the drain (with a tear in my eye).

    Eating a third of a bag of popcorn seems too much like eating one Lays potato chip.

    COMMENT from MD EADES:  No, more like eating a third of a small bag of Lay’s potato chips.  Still, if you just pop one batch and three people dive in, it wouldn’t seem so tiny a portion.

  4. Opening a bag of microwave popcorn used to trigger an asthma attack, so I got a hot-air popper and used real butter. When I went LC I realized it is the butter I really want, not the corn, so I enjoy buttered low carb vegetables now.

    Can you pop things like pumpkin seeds in hot air or in coconut oil?

    Comment from MD Eades;  If you can, I’ve never done it.  They might pop or just fry or possibly explode.  I haven’t a clue.  Sorry.

  5. I just wanted to share a more convenient option. Bearitos brand popcorn (I find it at Whole Foods Market) has an organic no oil popcorn in microwave bags. They also have one without salt. The only ingredient is popcorn!

    So if you don’t want to deal with buying brown paper bags and measuring out, etc, etc. you can get these pre-packaged items versus a jar of popcorn. Since it only has four bags, I feel it better portion control too.

    Comment from MD Eades:  Sounds good; thanks for the tip.

  6. I don’t understand what’s so terrible about eating lots of carbs? It’s certainly better than eating lots of fat and cholesterol to clog your arteries.

    BTW

    I eat Orville Redenbacher’s Light Natural which uses a minimum amount of Palm Tree Oil… about as healthy as you can get without going completely oil-free (read: no flavor).
    COMMENT from MD EADES: From your comment I take it that you aren’t a regular reader of our blogs or our books.

  7. Hello there, I have been following your posts for a few days now and was curious. How do I subscibe to your blog? I would like to follow your updates as they come along!

    COMMENT from MD EADES: Currently there isn’t a button. At some point the web guys will get around to putting these bells and whistles on my blog, as they are on Mike’s blog.

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