Arghhhhhh!!! Did you know that popcorn butter can trigger Alzheimer's disease. (Oh, it gets worse if you drink alcoholic beverages!!) Whether microwaved at home or purchased at a movie theater, diacetyl (left) is the problem. So someday soon you will no doubt see a sign indicating that there is no diacetyl in this popcorn. The initial sign was that people working in microwave popcorn factories had a high incidence of lung problems. Diacetyl is also found in margarines, baked goods, pet foods and, of all the things, chardonnay wine. Who led this study? Robert Vince (right) of the University of Minnesota. For those who regularly engorge themselves on this snack, is there a cure? Well, I've had several postings hinting that virgin coconut oil might prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer's. Like in olive oil, virgin means the first pressing.
About real butter, did you know it takes eleven quarts of milk to make one pound of butter? Also, is it better than margarine? Well, the American Heart Association continues to suggest purchasing soft, trans-fat free spreads instead of butter or stick margarine. But if the American Heart Association is only concerned about your heart, we need to hear from the American Brain Association, American Alzheimer's Association and the American Lung Association, or their equivalents, on this.
There is, of course, a wide range of substitutes for diacetyl, but most of them are structurally similar and general health effects are not yet known. If you are really interested in this subject, the Department of Labor has the following publication:
Occupational Exposure to Flavoring Substances: Health Effects and Hazard Control
French paradox, which says that they have a diet high in saturated fats, but yet with a relatively low rate of heart disease. The French consume 108 grams of animal fat per day, while the American rate is 72. They eat four times as much butter as us. Yet, the French coronary heart disease rate is almost 40% lower. The difference, it is suggested, is that Americans consume 8.6 liters of alcohol/person/year, while the French drink at a rate of 11.4 liters. Further, this difference is then linked to red wine. Turns out red wine might be even better than we thought. Read on.
Here is the part that is stunning. There is a term for certain white wines like chardonnay about being buttery. Guess why? California and Australian white wines are generally low in acidity, so wineries pass them through malolactic fermentation, which results in the formation of diacetyl. There is thus this connection to diary products and lactic acid. RED WINES also go through malolactic fermentation, but diacetyl is only barely present. Hmmm... This will kill some of us, figuratively and literally, but some beers and scotch have exceptionally high concentrations of diacetyl. I couldn't find any details for whiskey, but beer can have from 8 to 600 parts per billion of this chemical, while white wines have from 20-5400 parts per billion. I thus, hate to say this, but if you are truly worried about diacetyl and Alzheimer's, for now, avoid chardonnays and beer, and be careful about any whiskeys. Except that:
The diketone diacetyl (2,3-butanedione) has a buttery aroma and is present in almost all distilled beverages. Whiskies and cognacs typically contain more of this than vodkas, but significantly less than rums or brandies.
Totally changing the subject, here is an unscientific study featuring ants. The top is margarine, to the left reduced fat margarine and bottom right butter.:
We haven't quite answered which is better, butter or margarine, but most publications these days suggest that you skip both for olive oil, avocado or nut oils. Which makes more sense now because most margarines use diacetyl to provide the butter flavor and diacetyl is naturally found in diary products anyway. Thus, I remain somewhat confused, and now wonder (but not unnecessarily worry) about diacetyl.
So, to summarize, nothing is yet medically proven, but the early hint is that butters and margarines could well trigger Alzheimer's, and so might certain alcoholic drinks, but, rums and brandies are the worst. My sense is that when this issue shakes out, it will become a matter of concentration. Yes, diacetyl is bad for your health, but at low concentrations, it might not be all that terrible. Anyway, that is my hope.