Popcorn please, but hold the pentanedione

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We keep finding more chemicals in our environment that can harm us. But it’s the man-made chemicals — the synthetics — that are the real problem.

Now there is danger in popcorn. IN POPCORN! But it’s not the popcorn that is dangerous; it’s the butter flavoring on it.

With me, I can honestly say my concerns began years ago when we still lived in Hawaii.

My investigations into this theorem began more than 40 years ago. After church one Sunday at a popular restaurant in Honolulu that we frequently attended, my wife ordered coffee. With the coffee, they brought “cream” or so we thought.

After sipping the coffee, my wife complained to the waitress, “I think this cream is bad.”

“Oh no,” replied the waitress, “that’s not cream, it’s a nondairy creamer.”

“But it’s in the cream dispenser ... shouldn’t it be cream? Isn’t that misleading?”

The truth is that it is indeed misleading. Hence we started a movement that insisted that the food served in restaurants should be labeled just as ingredients in grocery stores foods are labeled. We soon organized a task force of no less than 100 volunteers from the University of Hawaii who went out two-by-two to every restaurant in Honolulu.

They found that most restaurants were indeed using synthetic creamer. And margarine rather than real butter. Synthetic bacon bits. And dipping the salad greens into a chemical “bath” to keep them crisp.

Another volunteer with experience wrote a bill with our findings. A friendly state representative then found our plight to be valid and introduced a bill in the Legislature to the effect that “all restaurants in the State shall list on their menus all the ingredients and additives in the foods that they serve, and that they shall be listed on their menus.”

The bill was opposed by no less than the FDA, Hawaii Board of Health and the state association of restaurant owners. The reason they claimed was because putting the law in practice would take a food technologist to prepare each restaurant’s menu. Ironically, as an example, they showed one item from a sample menu from one popular restaurant with a turkey salad sandwich that listed eleven typewritten lines of chemical ingredients!

Really? But doesn’t that prove our point?

Unfortunately, the bill faced much opposition by industry and those who should be protecting the public and did not pass. Some time later we went to a movie and bought some popcorn. There was the liquid “butter” to go with it that we pumped onto the popcorn. With the price of butter I truly wondered how they could be so liberal with it.

After some investigation I soon found out that the stuff we were dousing our popcorn with was indeed butter flavored oil, even though the sign on the pump distinctly said “BUTTER.” Well, it tasted like butter but it wasn’t. Misleading? Yes, it is!

Then came “butter lung,” a condition linked to the chemical butter flavoring diacetyl, found to cause a life-threatening and nonreversible lung disease in the workers who inhaled it during packaging.

And now we find out that the butter flavor we get with our microwave popcorn can be even more dangerous. The flavoring called pentanedione isn’t much better than the diacetyl it replaced. In fact it might be far worse. Not only is it reported to be a respiratory hazard, but a study cited in the American Journal of Clinical Pathology indicates it can also alter gene expression.

I relate this to you so you can become more aware of the hidden dangers we face from our food industry. Ever since this column began more than a year ago, my underlying theme has always been to stick with the “natural” when it comes to any and all food items.

Walla Wallan Frank Trapani is a retired chiropractic doctor whose background includes 41 years of practice plus doing investigative reporting and fitness programs for broadcast media in Hawaii. For more information, go to drftrapani.com.

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