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New Study Confirms That We Don't Eat at Movie Theaters for the Nutritional Benefits

Posted on Thursday, November 19th, 2009 11:31 AM and updated on Friday, November 20th, 2009 7:01 AM

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Few people go to the movie theater expecting to have a nutritious meal. Although many movie theaters are starting to offer sit-down dining experiences with the movie, most of us go to the movies and order up a soda and popcorn or candy at the concession stand. In all of my experience, I've never seen a bag of brussel sprouts offered as an alternative to M&M's, and I don't expect to. Maybe that's a failing in our society, but we don't expect to eat in a healthy manner when we want to enjoy a snack.

But when do we cross the line between a snack and a meal, and do we cry foul when the snack has more calories than a steak dinner?

Study GraphicThe nonprofit group Center for Science in the Public Interest commissioned a study where concession items from the top three movie theater chains were analyzed for their impact in calories, fat, and sodium. What they found might surprise you!

For example, a medium popcorn and soda combo at the nation's largest theater chain (Regal Cinemas) contained 1,610 calories and three days' worth (60 grams) of saturated fat. Their medium-sized popcorn is 20 cups, which contains a whopping 980mg of sodium, which is the equivalent of almost four packets of salt that you'd get at a fast food restaurant. And all that is before you add any "buttery" topping and your own salt...

So, skip the popcorn, you say? Some would see watching a movie without popcorn a sacrilegious act, but for the sake of discussion, let's trade the popcorn for a bag of Reese's Pieces. It's a good thing that it's dark in the theater, otherwise, you'd see that an 8 ounce bag of the candy will rack up 1160 calories, 122 grams of sugar, and 35 grams of saturated fat! It's better than the tub of popcorn, but that's like saying a poke in the eye is better than a punch in the gut.

Would you like that to hurt now, or later? Yikes!

Regal Cinemas and AMC Theatres pop their popcorn in coconut oil, which is incredibly high in saturated fat. Cinemark helps the situation by popping their popcorn in non-hydrogenated canola oil, so their 17-cup large popcorn contains only 910 calories and 4 grams of saturated fat, but hits you with 1500mg of sodium, so your heart and arteries will be taking one for the team.

Does this mean we have to stop eating at the movie theater before we all turn into the blob-like humans from WALL-E? I don't plan to, but I think this is a good reminder to pay attention to the nutritional trade-offs of the available concessions and to watch the serving sizes more closely.

I checked out what the serving size is for microwave and traditional popcorn that you'd pop at home. A box of Pop Secret Homestyle microwave popcorn states that a serving size is 4 cups of popped corn, and that a single bag has three servings (12 cups per bag). Could you imagine eating almost two bags of microwave popcorn in one sitting? That's what you're doing if you get a medium bag or large tub of popcorn at Regal Cinemas! The small popcorn at Regal is still 11 cups, which is close to three servings, according to the Pop Secret people.

The serving sizes will also fool you when it comes to soda. A small soda at Regal is 32 ounces! Assuming that ice takes up a quarter of that volume, you're still left with the equivalent of two cans of soda that you'll likely polish off before the end of the movie, especially because of the saltiness of the popcorn (it's interesting how they work together, huh?). If you'd like that soda to hurt on the way home, be sure to get the monster 54 ounce large at Regal...

If your favorite theaters offer junior-sized options, check those out! They are going to be smaller and they are also much cheaper than what they are telling you are small, medium, and large sizes.

You may feel a little self-conscious walking away from the concession stand with a junior-sized combo (if the theater even offers reasonable serving sizes), but you stand a better chance of having your health intact and you still get to enjoy a decent snack with the movie.

Click the Read link below to view the article posted by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, where you can view a more complete analysis of their findings.

What Do You Think?

Are you concerned about these findings, or do you prefer to enjoy your concessions in peace, without worrying about the nutritional issues? Add your comments below!

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