(Health Secrets Newsletter) A Colorado jury has recently ruled that microwave popcorn destroyed the lungs of Wayne Watson, and awarded him $7.2 million in damages. This destruction was found to be the result of the flavoring chemical used to give microwave popcorn its buttery taste and smell. This chemical is called diacetyl, and if your microwave popcorn says it is butter flavored, you may be in great danger.
Watson, age 59, is not the first to sue for damages caused by diacetyl. Many of the people working in microwave popcorn processing across the U.S. have been suing since 2004 for damages suffered from bronchiolitis obliterans, an obstructive lung disease commonly known as popcorn lung.
Dr. Cecile Rose, a physician at National Jewish Heath in Denver, is Watson’s physician and was a witness in his case. She has identified other workers with the same popcorn lung condition. National Jewish Health is the number one rated respiratory hospital in the U.S.
The jurors held the manufacturer of the private-label popcorn eaten by Watson liable for 80 percent of the damages. King Sooper’s, a prominent Denver supermarket chain, and its parent company, Kroger, were held liable for the remaining 20 percent. Watson had earlier settled with the company that makes diacetyl, the butter flavoring.
Watson, age 59, had been microwaving and consuming two bags of butter flavored microwave popcorn daily for several years before being diagnosed with respiratory problems in 2007. In his case, popcorn lung was contracted by inhaling diacetyl released into the air during the popping of the corn. The disease is ultimately fatal, with the only hope being a complete transplant of both lungs.
Symptoms of the disease are worsening dry cough, wheezing and shortness of breath due to the lungs being wounded and filling with fibrous tissue to the point where they no longer have the capacity to process air.
Watson first noticed lung problems during church choir practice when he was unable to sustain notes as he once could. Dr. Rose, a lung specialist, was unsure what was causing his the problem initially, but knew it had to be the result of something he was inhaling. She told CBS Early Show that when she asked him if he had been around a lot of popcorn, “his jaw dropped and he asked me how I would possibly know that about him.”
Before the initiation of the lawsuit, Dr. Rose wrote a letter to federal agencies warning that she had encountered the first case of the disease outside of factory workers. “We cannot be sure that this patient’s exposure to butter-flavored microwave popcorn from daily heavy preparation has caused his lung disease,” she said. “However, we have no other plausible explanation.”
CBS News has reported that in 2004, a jury awarded Eric Peoples, a 32 year old worker at a private-label microwave popcorn processing plant in Missouri, $20 million for lung damage he sustained during the manufacturing process of butter flavored microwave popcorn. At that time, 29 other workers had cases pending.
When manufacturers heard about these suits, they substituted another chemical for diacetyl and assured their customers the problem was taken care of. But government investigators have reported that the substitute chemical is just another form of diacetyl which has the same toxic effects as the original. A top lawyer for the flavoring industry says his organization has told anyone willing to listen that diacetyl substitutes are just another form of diacetyl. Microwave popcorn is no safer today than is was in 2007.
The original form of diacetyl is still being used in many other snack foods and products that are butter flavored too. It is even in products that are labeled as natural. But you won’t see the word diacetyl on the label — only the term butter flavored or butter flavoring.
Aside from the butter flavoring, there are compelling reasons to stay away from microwave popcorn. The blood of healthy people becomes abnormal after eating microwave food, showing decreased lymphocytes and decreased hemoglobin, two prime conditions for the growth of cancer. Although corn has recently been shown to have the highest amount of healthy phenolics of any vegetable, cooking it in a microwave destroys its nutritional value as it does with other foods.
Most of the corn in microwave packs is genetically modified (GMO) and carries the Bt toxin. The only way to avoid GMO corn is to buy corn that is clearly labeled as organic. Some people seem to have the idea that food from Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s is all organic. This is an incorrect assumption. Although Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s carry products that are organic, they also carry many products that are not organic. The only way for you to tell the difference is by looking for the organic certifying seal on the food item or package. If you do not see it, the food is not organic. The term natural does not denote organic products.
The microwave bag itself is hazardous because of its levels of perfluroctanoic acid, a chemical related to Teflon. The high temperatures used in popping can facilitate the transfer of the chemical, which has been found to be carcinogenic in lab animals, into the popcorn oil. And the oil used in microwave popcorn is low quality processed seed oil that typically has an extremely high level of multiple pesticides.
What to eat instead? You don’t want to miss out on popcorn’s powerful antioxidant phenolics, a class of phytonutrients that keeps you feeling and looking young, and keeps cancer away. Corn is rich in fiber too, making it a center player in cardiovascular, lung and brain health.
Take it from Watson who told CBS, that he now pops his corn on the stove, “the old fashioned way”. Buy corn labeled as organic, and pop it on the stove using coconut, palm, sunflower or safflower oil. These are the oils that are safe for high heat. Or do it the easy way at home or work with hot air popper. Top it with lots of melted organic butter and plenty of high quality sea salt. Add whatever herbs and spices appeal to you. Be creative and don’t worry. Butter and sea salt are both genuine health foods.
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