Recently we looked at buying the best produce and learned when you really should splurge on organic and when you can save some pennies and buy conventionally grown fruits and vegetables. Knowing you can save some money if you so choose is always good information to have, even if it is a downer to have to talk about pesticides being present on the healthy fruits and vegetables we are trying to eat more of.

Most of us probably remember several years ago when the news broke that a chemical that was added to microwave popcorn caused lung damage in the factory workers who inhaled it. The damage was serious and only treatable with a lung transplant. But for those of us who don’t work in factories making popcorn or candy, who aren’t exposed to the chemical daily, we were told not to worry, as ingesting it is “generally regarded as safe” (as government agencies love to term things they haven’t thoroughly researched!).

There were few cases of lung damage or respiratory concerns among people who consumed enormous amounts of microwave popcorn (and often also admit to inhaling when opening the bag) but mostly the impact was on the people who made the products containing the additive and who inhaled it at work on a daily basis. Many popcorn manufacturers announced they were removing the additive to protect workers. (Though some researchers now say the replacement is merely a reformulated version of the same additive and is no better for us health-wise).

The additive that caused the original lung concerns, diacetyl or DA, is still being used in many products to give them a butter flavor. It can be found in numerous non-butter spreads to add a buttery flavor as well as in margarine, shortening, oils, oil sprays, cookies, crackers, gelatin desserts, syrup, flavoring extracts, candy, potato chips, chocolate, cocoa powder, milk, packaged popcorn and yes, it is still used in some microwave popcorn.

When something advertises butter-flavor, it probably contains DA; it is being used in more and more food products. But you won’t always see it on the label as it can be listed as “natural or artificial flavorings.” (Whenever I see natural or artificial flavorings, I always assume the worst as it likely contains a chemical or additive such as diacetyl or MSG that manufacturers don’t want to disclose, and thanks to the FDA, they do not have to).

It is fascinating to me as well that diacetyl is used in unsalted butter as a stabilizer; without salt, the butter would spoil so DA is used instead. We know DA causes serious respiratory concerns and it is pervasive in many packaged goods that we consume regularly, but despite being called “safe,” testing hasn’t been done to assess the long-term impact of ingesting small amounts over extended periods of time. Let alone the larger amounts that many consumers of packaged and prepared food now do. (And if you eat out, most restaurants use DA-laden oils because they are cheaper and more stable than using real butter.)

But beyond the respiratory concerns, the real reason you should avoid consuming butter flavor products comes from a new study that links diacetyl to Alzheimer’s. Here’s where the science comes in, so bear with me: I promise it will be quick!

Researchers realized that DA is architecturally similar to a substance that makes beta-amyloid proteins clump in the brain. Clumping of beta-amyloid proteins in the brain is a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease so they wondered if diacetyl could also cause the proteins to clump. The study concluded that exposure to diacetyl did in fact cause the protein clumping that is associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

In addition, the researchers concluded that diacetyl enhanced the toxic effects of beta-amyloids on nerve cells, stopped a protective protein called glyoxalase from protecting the nerve cells and that DA was readily able to penetrate the “blood-brain barrier” which is designed to keep harmful substances from entering the brain. They concluded by saying that the study raised “the troubling possibility of long-term neurological toxicity mediated by DA.”

Did they prove that DA causes Alzheimer’s? No. This first look merely shed light on how toxic diacetyl may be and provides several great reasons to avoid exposure. But given the increasing prevalence of Alzheimer’s and neurological concerns over the years since our food policies have changed and real food has been replaced by laboratory creations, chemicals and additives to save money, reduce costs or lengthen shelf-life, it is not a stretch to say that it is playing a role. The study confirmed its connection, though its full role may not be proven for many years. But by then it will be too late for many who are consuming diacetyl (or other potentially harmful additives) on a daily basis.

Eating better and living healthier is all about making choices. Lots of little decisions each day add up to health and wellness — or the lack thereof. So instead of viewing it as one more thing to worry about, why not think of it as one more decision you can control? Next time you are seeking butter flavor, try using the real thing instead: better to enjoy a little organic butter than to consume a known neurological toxin, don’t you think?

To your wellness and health: your true wealth!


Author: Inger Pols is the Editor of the New England Health Advisory and Author/Creator, Finally Make It Happen, the proven process to get what you want. Get a free special report on The Truth About Sugar: It’s Not All Equal at

Photo Source: Microsoft Clip Art

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