The Evil Goodness of Theater Popcorn

At about 9:15 last night, I shut off the computer and headed to watch the season première of Mad Men and the latest installment of Entourage.  It was three hours after I had eaten dinner, and I wanted something to snack on while I watched.  I grabbed a bag of 94% fat-free microwave popcorn.  Then my eyes caught a glimpse of two large bags of theater-style, pre-popped popcorn that Mrs. Spidey had bought for our daughter’s end-of-school party.

The theater style popcorn was too good to pass up, and I soon found myself in our basement with a large-sized serving bowl full of this evil goodness.  75 minutes or so later, with both shows under my belt, the bowl was empty.  I felt a strange mixture of tasty satisfaction and oily dietary calamity.

1,030 Calories and 57g of Saturated Fat of Evil Goodness

I know theater popcorn is bad for me.  Don’t we all?  When I plan to see a movie, I will eat a lighter meal in advance, making room in my daily calorie intake for the popcorn.  But with that oily aftertaste in my mouth last night and the “tasty satisfaction” quickly disappearing, I vowed to remind myself today just how evil this popcorn is.

The fan was first hit back in 1994, when the Center for Science in the Public Interest published an exposé on just how bad movie popcorn is from a health and nutrition perspective.  The Center updated the report late last year, and found, for example, that AMC, which owns the theaters we frequent, has a whopping 1,030 calories and 57 grams of saturated fat in the 16 cups of popcorn in its large popcorn — without any buttered topping.  According to CSPI,

That’s like eating a pound of baby back ribs topped with a scoop of Häagen-Dazs ice cream—except that the popcorn has an additional day’s worth of saturated fat.

I’m still stunned.

This means, even if and your kid or significant other split a large popcorn,  you end up with 500 calories and 28 grams of saturated fat.  That’s 25% of the daily intake from a 2,000 calorie diet and 50% of those calories from fat.  The popular Zone Diet recommends 30% of calories from “good” fats, which would be 600 calories in a 2,000 calorie per day diet.  Eating 1/2 a large popcorn would provide you with 250 fat calories, nearly half of the daily allowance.  Although coconut oil is among the healthiest of fats, I still don’t think anyone recommends getting fat in this way.

By the way, a large tub at AMC also has 580 mg of sodium.  So when you split a tub, you get 290 mg, which is 12% of your daily recommended intake of 2,400 mg.

The popcorn I ate last night, purchased at our local Dierberg’s, is from the C.R. Frank Popcorn Company here in St. Louis.  The bag holds 2 pecks, which I’ve learned is 4 gallons or 64 cups.  I won’t bore you with the math, but trust me, based on the nutrition facts, that 16 cups (the size of a large AMC popcorn) or 25% of the bag results in 700 calories, 40 grams of saturated fat, and 1,300 mg of salt.  Calories and grams of fat are less, but salt is more, and, like AMC, this popcorn generates 50% of its calories from saturated fat.

320 Calories and 2.67g of Saturated Fat for the Same Amount

Microwave popcorn, on the other hand, is indeed better.  However, watch out for serving sizes.  Labels can be confusing.  In our pantry we have the Pop Secret 94% fat-free buttered microwave popcorn.  One bag has 2 servings or 12 cups.  If we gross up to 16 cups (again – trust me on the math), we get 320 calories, 2.67 g of saturated fat, and 1,120 grams of sodium.  So, you get fewer calories and only 7.5% of your calories from fat, but also get an awful lot of salt to go with it.

I did this research for myself to show once again how bad this theater popcorn can be.  I learned that microwave popcorn also has its nutritional challenges, but is better.  Will I stop eating popcorn at the theater?  Certainly not, but at least I can’t complain that I don’t know how evil it is.


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