Uh-oh! At your next movie night, you may need to find a new
snack to munch on with your girlies. Scientists at the University of Minnesota examined
diacetyl (pronounced die-a-see-tul), a chemical many companies use to create the buttery
smell and flavor of microwave popcorn, and found that it is linked to
Alzheimer’s disease. In the past, the chemical has also been thought to cause lung disease.
The structure of diacetyl is similar to that of a substance
that makes beta-amyloid proteins. When too much of this protein clumps together
in the brain and forms plaque, it’s a surefire sign of Alzheimer’s. The
scientists found that diacetyl leads to an increase of the clumping of these
proteins, which has toxic effects on nerve cells. Not only that, but diacetyl
also breaks down a barrier in the brain that keeps out hazardous materials.
Don’t hurry and toss your popcorn in the trash just yet. These
results have only been shown in test tubes and haven’t been replicated in
people yet. Before ya nosh, though, check the ingredients
label on the back of your box o’ microwave popcorn. Even though some major
brands have already removed diacetyl, there are other icky ingredients you
might want to avoid.
Always a safe choice? Grabbing a jar of corn kernels at the
grocery and popping them in oil in a heavy-bottomed pan on the stove, or in an
air popper. Yum!