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Buttered Up: Disturbing New Facts About Movie Popcorn

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This week, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) updated the findings of its historic study about the caloric and fat overload found in many moviegoers’ favorite treat: popcorn.

Among the newly released findings:

A bag of popcorn is really a super-sized nightmare times three.
Ever eat three McDonald’s Quarter Pounders with twelve pats of butter while watching a movie? Well, that’s nutritionally comparable to what you’d find in a medium popcorn and soda combo at the country’s biggest movie theater chain, Regal. The combo contains 1,610 calories and three days’ worth—60 grams—of saturated fat, and that’s without buttery topping! (Nutrition aside, that combo costs you $12. What does it cost Regal? Pennies.)

The advertised nutrition information is incorrect.
Regal says that its medium popcorn has 720 calories and that its large has 960. But CSPI’s lab tests found that those numbers were understated—way understated. Regal’s medium and large popcorn sizes each had 1,200 calories and, thanks to being popped in coconut oil, 60 grams of saturated fat, and that’s without buttery topping. The large size looks bigger, thanks to its titanic tub, but it costs a dollar more and comes with a free refill. A small at Regal has 670 calories and 34 grams of saturated fat. That’s about as many calories as a Pizza Hut Personal Pan Pepperoni Pizza—except the popcorn has three times the saturated fat. To factor in the buttery topping, add 130 calories to a small, 200 calories to a medium, and 260 calories to a large.

In these tough economic times, we all know it’s hard to eat healthy because it costs more. While there are truths to this, movie meals can cost a pretty penny while you’re eating them ($12), as well as in the long run (heart disease, etc.). As an alternative, bring your own healthier treat (it’s not hard to be healthier than this popcorn) and save some bucks. Or even better, come to the movie for the entertainment and skip the food. After all, sitting on our backsides gazing up is hardly strenuous activity requiring refueling.

I also want to provide some information here about coconut oil, lest it become the easy target of this nutrition-less story. Coconut oil is a saturated fat, but it’s one that has good health properties (medium chain triglycerides for easy absorption, lauric fatty acid, etc.) and can tolerate high heat, making it a better choice than a trans fat or an oil that shouldn’t be heated to higher temperatures. I prefer and recommend organic because then the health benefits aren’t reduced by the potential for pesticides. That said, coconut oil, like any saturated fat (and food in general), must be consumed with portion control in mind—60 grams of saturated fat is the issue here, not the use of coconut oil.

 Popcorn comparison (please click for a larger version)

By Ashley Koff R.D. for Intent


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