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Microwave Popcorn - A Risk for Cancer

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According to some research studies, microwave popcorn consumption is associated with the risk of cancer. Read this article to know more in detail.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Rajesh Gulati

Published At November 17, 2023
Reviewed AtNovember 17, 2023

Introduction :

Popcorn cooked in a microwave is a common snack since it is fast and simple to make. However, some worry that eating microwave popcorn increases their risk of developing cancer. While microwave popcorn can be a tempting and uncomplicated snack, it has raised significant apprehension about its safety in recent years. The irresistible aroma that wafts when the bag of popcorn is heated in the oven conceals the potential health hazards associated with its consumption.

Does Microwave Popcorn Increase the Risk of Cancer?

The safety of microwave popcorn has been debated for some time. The chemical diacetyl it contains is mostly responsible for this. Popcorn gets its buttery flavor from diacetyl, a flavoring ingredient. Studies have demonstrated that inhaling significant levels of diacetyl can damage the lungs, although it is normally considered harmless in tiny concentrations.

Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) is another ingredient found in microwave popcorn with diacetyl. To prevent oil from leaking through the popcorn bags, they are coated on the inside with PFOA. This molecule has been associated with a wide range of diseases and conditions, including cancer. Scientists have found that exposure to PFOA makes one more likely to get kidney and testicular cancer.

Diacetyl and PFOA are in microwave popcorn, but only in small amounts that are safe for humans to eat. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said it was okay to use diacetyl in food. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has imposed restrictions on the use of PFOA in food packaging.

Even though these things worry people, there is no strong evidence that microwave popcorn causes cancer. Some studies show that microwave popcorn and its packaging may contain substances that can cause cancer. The American Cancer Society says no strong evidence exists that eating microwave popcorn can cause cancer.

What Does the Research Say About Microwave Popcorn as a Risk Factor for Cancer?

The research on the link between microwave popcorn and cancer is inconclusive, although some evidence suggests that diacetyl and PFOA may be detrimental. Some studies have linked popcorn eating to an increased risk of certain cancers, while others have not identified such a link.

According to a study, workers in popcorn manufacturers exposed to high amounts of diacetyl were found to have an increased risk of lung disease. Despite the researchers' best efforts, no correlation between diacetyl use and lung cancer was discovered.

According to a study, people who consumed microwave popcorn at least twice weekly had greater PFOA blood levels than those who consumed it less frequently. The study, however, could not discover evidence connecting PFOA exposure and cancer.

However, even with these results, the overall risk of acquiring cancer from eating microwave popcorn is still quite low. There is no proof that popcorn cooked in the microwave causes cancer in people, says the American Cancer Society.

What Are the Chemicals That Pose the Risk for Cancer in a Microwave Popcorn?

The butane chemical preservative TBHQ (Tertiary Butylhydroquinone) is one of the most prevalent ingredients in microwave popcorn. Popcorn is preserved with this chemical, which has been linked to health problems.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl compounds (PFAS) have also been discovered in microwave popcorn. Microwave popcorn eaters have been found to have higher amounts of the chemical PFAS. Cancer, thyroid disease, and immune system malfunction are just some of the illnesses that have been associated with PFAS, a class of synthetic chemicals.

The chemical diacetyl is also included in several bags of microwave popcorn. Inhalation of this flavoring has been associated with bronchiolitis obliterans, commonly known as "popcorn lung." Workers at microwave popcorn factories were the first to be diagnosed with this ailment, but whether or not those who do not eat anything but popcorn are in danger is unknown.

These are not the only chemicals used; some microwave popcorn bags include a carcinogenic coating. While the Food and Drug Administration has restricted the use of some chemicals in popcorn bags and other consumer products, this does not ensure that these chemicals have been eliminated entirely. Popcorn made in an air popper or in a skillet with a bit of oil reduces exposure to these toxins. This way, one can enjoy the delightful flavor of popcorn without worrying about ingesting any harmful chemicals.

What Are Some Healthier Options for Microwave Popcorn?

Microwave popcorn can be a convenient and tasty snack, but many store-bought options can be high in unhealthy fats, sodium, and artificial additives. If one is looking for healthier alternatives, consider the following options:

Air-Popped Popcorn: Invest in an air popper, which uses hot air to pop the kernels without the need for oil. This method significantly reduces the calorie and fat content of popcorn.

Stovetop Popcorn: Make popcorn on the stove using a small amount of healthier oils like coconut oil or olive oil. This allows one to control the amount of oil used and the seasoning, making it a healthier option.

DIY (Do It Yourself) Microwave Popcorn Bags: Instead of buying pre-packaged microwave popcorn, one can make one’s own using plain popcorn kernels and a microwave-safe bowl or bag. Simply place a handful of kernels in a microwave-safe container with a microwave-safe cover or wrap them in a brown paper bag, then microwave until the popping slows down.

Seasoning Options: Instead of using pre-packaged popcorn seasoning, try making one’s own with healthier ingredients. Use herbs and spices like nutritional yeast, garlic powder, chili powder, cinnamon, or paprika to add flavor without excess sodium or unhealthy additives.

Nutritional Yeast: Nutritional yeast is a delicious, cheesy-tasting seasoning that is low in calories and packed with nutrients like B-vitamins and protein. It's a great alternative to traditional cheese-flavored popcorn seasoning.

Herb-Infused Oils: If one prefers to use oils for flavor, infuse them with herbs like rosemary, thyme, or basil to add a subtle and healthy twist to oner popcorn.

Coconut Oil: While it is still a type of oil, using unrefined coconut oil in moderation can add a delightful taste to one’s popcorn and provides some health benefits.

Light Microwave Popcorn Varieties: If one chooses to buy pre-packaged microwave popcorn, look for options that are labeled "light" or "low-fat." These versions typically have fewer calories and less fat compared to regular varieties.


There is no conclusive evidence that microwave popcorn causes cancer. The chemicals used in the container and the popcorn itself raise some worries, but there is no proof that microwave popcorn would cause cancer. Like any other food, microwave popcorn should be eaten in moderation and prepared according to the manufacturer's directions. Always check for the ingredients before consuming to be on the safe side.

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Dr. Rajesh Gulati
Dr. Rajesh Gulati

Family Physician


food safetycancer
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