The dangers of fat from hydrogenated oils, butter, or margarine on popcorn are familiar to the majority of consumers. It’s also well-known that you run the risk of steam burns when you open a bag of microwave popcorn when it’s just finished popping. A far more insidious danger lurking inside that bulging bag is a condition known as popcorn lung, a form of obstructive lung disease or bronchiolitis obliterans.
While those working in factories where microwave popcorn is packaged are at greatest risk, due to their constant exposure to the chemicals used in flavoring the snacks, namely diacetyl, the average home popper isn’t out of the woods. Cases of popcorn lung may be not reported so much or may be misdiagnosed as other forms of lung obstruction, especially when the patient is a smoker or lives with second-hand smoke. In a case just settled, a Colorado man, Wayne Watson, sued a popcorn manufacturer for his lung condition. The plaintiff, who had been known to consume two bags of microwave popcorn a day, has suffered from this disease for the past five years. See http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504763_162-57516710-10391704/colorado-man-wayne-watson-wins-$7-million-in-popcorn-lung-lawsuit/ for the details.
The symptoms of this disease include wheezing, coughing, decreased ability to breathe as time goes on, and difficulty breathing with any exertion. Unfortunately these can be misdiagnosed frequently for asthma, bronchitis, or emphysema. A physician should always inquire about a patient’s employment and workplace conditions when such symptoms are being investigated.
A better solution? Return to plain old natural popcorn. There are numerous ways to make this healthy treat other than a microwavable bag, such as a metal mesh basket on a handle, or hot-air popping machines available in many stores. High in fiber not to mention protein, iron and phosphorus, this version has plenty of flavor on its own, but also can be seasoned to suit anyone’s tastes. Put any spices or herbs you choose in a paper bag, add freshly popped corn and close the bag then shake it. This ensures coating of all the kernels evenly. Instead of butter or margarine, try olive oil drizzled lightly over the popcorn. You’ll be getting nutrients such as Vitamin E, monounsaturated fats and antioxidants, that way, plus the benefits of whichever natural seasonings used.
For further information on popcorn lung disease, see: