How Unhealthy Is Movie Theater Popcorn?

by | July 11, 2013 at 9:56 AM | Food, Health

(iStockphoto)

You might want to think twice before ordering that bucket.

By Dan Myers, TheDailyMeal.com Editor

If there’s one food that years and years of history has taught us goes hand in hand with movies, it’s popcorn. Not only does just about every movie theater in America sell it (and if they don’t, there’s something wrong with them), just about everyone who’s ever gone to the movies has eaten it while watching a film at some point in their lives. Even when we’re watching movies at home, there’s a base instinct to pop a bag of popcorn in the microwave, and lots of video stores, especially the chain ones, sell them along with rentals (or used to before they shut down, at least).

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We’re not going to attempt to get into the psychology behind munching on popcorn during a movie (even though it’s actually supremely annoying to those sitting around you), but the fact of the matter is that it’s really unhealthy. When we microwave a bag of popcorn at home, calorie counts seem generally reasonable, so we assume that the same deal applies in the theater.

Not so.

We took a look at some of the calorie counts from movie-theater popcorn sold at national theater chains via MyFitnessPal, and the results are pretty shocking. For example, a small popcorn, without butter, from AMC weighs in at 225 calories and 11 grams of fat. Crank it up to a medium and you’re up to about 430 calories and 20 grams of fat. A large AMC popcorn, without butter, contains 1,030 calories and 41 grams of fat.

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Moving along to Regal Cinemas, things get even heavier. There are a couple of differing calorie counts for a small, unbuttered popcorn, but they range from 325 calories and 27 grams of fat to 670 calories and 34 grams of fat. Either way, not a light nosh.

Indeed, a recent WebMD study found that Regal’s popcorn was the richest on the market, with a medium containing 720 calories and the large boasting 960 calories. Both Regal and AMC pop their popcorn in the incredibly unhealthy coconut oil, which is essentially all artery-clogging saturated fat.

But don’t forget, lots of people also get “butter” on their popcorn, that strange greasy liquid that’s yellow and vaguely tastes like butter. What’s in that, exactly? It’s non-hydrogenated soybean oil that’s been colored and flavored, and each tablespoon contains about 130 calories.

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And if you decide to make it a combo at Regal, with a medium popcorn and a medium non-diet soda, that’s 1,610 calories right there: the equivalent of four scrambled eggs with cheese, four strips of bacon, and four sausage links, according to the study.

So if you’re going to eat popcorn at the movie theater, we suggest you smuggle it in yourself.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.