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The health risk you may not know about from microwave popcorn

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Photo: Stocksy/Peter Bernik

You know the drill: Hygge nights spent cozied up on the couch with your diffuser going and the perfect Netflix movie queued up aren’t complete without some popcorn.

But, despite not being the healthiest food, the worst thing about microwave popcorn isn’t eating it—it’s the fumes inside the bag.

A recent article in The Atlantic explores the damage that can occur—dubbed “popcorn lung”—when inhaling the seemingly innocuous smell inside that just-popped bag. “It seems to be the case that when you microwave popcorn, especially when you’re doing it in these bags, the bag expands, you pop the bag, and the steam and some sort of chemical—maybe some vegetable-oil metabolite—comes out,” Len Horovitz, a pulmonary specialist from Lenox Hill Hospital, tells The Atlantic.

“The steam and some sort of chemical—maybe some vegetable-oil metabolite—comes out.”

In other words, even though everyone tends to love the smell of fresh popcorn, the microwaved version at home comes with the risk of taking in some pretty toxic chemicals.

Popcorn lung is just an easier-to-remember name for a condition called bronchiolitis obliterans—an disease that can cause the scarring of lung tissue (yikes). You could get the same issue from other chemical exposures (like if you work in a chemical plant).

But before you ditch your beloved treat, keep in mind that Horovitz notes that this form of lung condition isn’t common. Just don’t open the popcorn immediately after it’s finished popping, and don’t stick your nose right by the opening (despite the temptation). Then you can continue to Netflix with all the chill.

For another option altogether, these are the snacks that health pros rely on for in-between meal hunger emergencies. And these are healthy snacks inspired by not-so-healthy favorites.