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Is Artificial Butter Flavor Harmful?

The connection between diacetyl and the devastating lung disease bronchiolitis obliterans.

August 19, 2009 |
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Supplementary Info

Sources Cited


Image thanks to @bastique.


What about the artificial flavor, diacetyl? The artificial butter flavor in microwave and movie theater popcorn. Harmful, Harmless, or Healthy?
And the answer is Harmful. There’s even a name for it, popcorn lung, also known as bronchiolitis obliterans, because it obliterates your airways. It’s given off as vapor when you nuke it. You know when workers have to wear gas masks to handle your food, it’s probably not a good idea to eat it. Microwave popcorn manufacturers are now replacing the chemical with real butter, so now instead of dying of lung disease we can die of heart disease.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by veganmontreal.

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Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. And check out the other “HHH” videos (Harmful, Harmless, or Helpful?). Also, there are over a thousand subjects covered in the rest of my videos–please feel free to explore them as well!

For some context, please check out my associated blog post: Soymilk: shake it up! and Avoid Butter-Flavored Microwave Popcorn.

If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

  • Michael Greger M.D.

    Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. And check out the other “HHH” videos (Harmful, Harmless, or Helpful?). Also, there are over a thousand subjects covered in the rest of my videos–please feel free to explore them as well!

  • lonestarnot

    Are “Butter Buds” and similar sprinkles also harmful?

    • Strix

       It contains butter and salt — both of which aren’t healthful; but, you decide

  • fangobble

    What is your opinion of the soy video “Cinderella’s Dark Side”?

    • Karen A

      I’d say anything promoted by the Weston A Price people is immediately suspect. They have a history of wild and unsubstantiated claims about soya, and tout their own products. 

      Dr Price was a dentist who seems to have been very interested in diet for health, without social science skills or training in nutrition, who saw Native Americans, newly arrived on reservations, using loads of lard and butter in their cooking. Because they looked healthy, he assumed that lard and butter were health foods. He didn’t realise that they looked healthy because they’d only recently had their diets radically changed by being shunted onto reservations where government hand-outs of buckets of lard and butter (made available by dint of the financial and political influence of the burgeoning US livestock industry whose members were able to grow their farms on the land being cleared of Native inhabitants) were used to keep people alive while traumatised by being packed into reservations on land they were unfamiliar with and having their traditions cracked down on. You don’t move hundreds of thousands of people to a new place and expect them to just pick up a whole way of life overnight. You have to feed them something, or you’ve a mass death and a PR fiasco on your hands.

      So Price saw Native peoples carrying buckets of lard and butter, and instead of asking them what place these ingredients had in their varying traditions, he just put 2 and 2 together and made 22. He may have had the best of intentions. His legacy, though, has not been so great.

  • Sara

    I’m looking to find out how to cure VITILIGO naturally

  • Paul

    Is popcorn popped in coconut oil a relatively healthy snack? I am following the Hippocrates living/raw food regime pretty closely and it is eradicating my chronic leukemia, but I struggle with my life-long sugar addiction. Having un-buttered, coconut oil cooked popcorn around seems to quench the sweet cravings. But am I doing more harm than good?