How Unhealthy Is That Movie-Theater Popcorn?

You might want to think twice before ordering that bucket

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).

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.

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 coconut oil.

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.

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. 

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The same study showed that Cinemark (like our privately owned theater) use canola oil and have very low calorie/fat content. But this author conveniently decided to ignore that fact and encourage people to smuggle in popcorn, conveniently removing the only thing keeping movie theaters in business. Good job.

Artums's picture

I so totally not agree with this writer - its not that simple comparing ratio of calories and fat in food. there is more than that to consider while labeling a food unhealthy or healthy. Also coconut oil is not what the author states it is - artery clogging. In fact today it is the most recommended oil in cooking. It looks like the writer does not like popcorn and he is among the few who get annoyed when others around him eat it.

Erica Grise's picture

You may or may not want to do a bit of research on something you're labeling as "incredibly unhealthy," seeing as how it's very likely quite the opposite in many cases, including this one. Additionally, there is more to consider when determining the benefits of any food than simply comparing ratio of calories and fat - it's never that simple.

Don't smuggle popcorn in either because GIRLS YOU KNOW you're just gonna make that microwave nonsense and that's probably just about twice as bad by Dan Myers' standards.

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