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I had several ideas for this week’s post, but I decided to put them off in favor of sharing a big tub of butter-flavored popcorn with you. There’s no way we can sit through a WHOLE movie without downing 2,000 or 3,000 calories in the process. We might starve. Add in the coming attractions and those annoying commercials and that comes to 2 or 3 hours. We can’t make it that long without adequate food and drink. Can we?

Popcorn. We’ll have some popcorn because that’s a healthy treat, right?

Wait, let me back up and set the stage. First some statistics and credits.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the past 20 years has seen a dramatic rise in obesity rates in the United States. In 2008, only Colorado (not that 18.5% is all that great) had a less than 20% obesity prevalence. Thirty-two states had a prevalence equal to or greater than 25%, six of which were equal to or greater than 30%. Check the map at the end of this post to see where your state fits into the mix.

Now the credits. The movie food nutrition data used in this post came directly from the December issue of the Nutrition Action Health Letter, which is the voice of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Okay, back to the movie and the food that will sustain us while we sit on our bums for a couple of hours. Let’s watch Julie & Julia, at least Julia used real butter, rather than butter-like flavoring.

I’ll use the data on Regal Entertainment Group provided by CSPI. Regal is the largest theater chain in the US. If you’ve gone to any movies lately you know the kid behind the counter always encourages you to buy the large serving. That way if the 20-cup tub of popcorn doesn’t last through the coming attractions, you can go back for more (shudder). Here are the heart-stopping (literally) details.

Regal Theaters Popcorn
1 large tub with 2 tablespoons of “buttery” topping

1,460 calories
64 grams of saturated fat
980 mg of sodium
This is if the person adding the “buttery” topping stops at 2 tablespoons, which I doubt happens. You can also “up” the sodium content if you re-salt it yourself on the way to your seat (I don’t eat movie popcorn, but I will admit to having a heavy hand with the salt shaker).

Regal Theaters Soda Pop (hey, we need something to wash down all that salty, buttery popcorn)
1 large drink
54 fluid ounces
500 calories
33 teaspoons of sugar

Reese’s Pieces, 8 ounces (we must have candy – this is treat night)
1,160 calories
35 grams of saturated fat
31 teaspoons sugar

Okay, lets figure out what we’ve had while sitting on our bums in a dark theater for 2 hours.

Total calories: 3,120 (WHOA, it’s not like we’re riding in the Tour de France)
Total grams of saturated fat: 99 (5 day’s worth)
Total mg of sodium: 980 (those of us who re-salted can add another 400 mg)
Total teaspoons of sugar: 64 (now, what are empty calories again)

Let’s say the average person needs 2,000 calories a day. The daily values appropriate for that caloric intake are:
20 grams of saturated fat
2400 mg of sodium
refined sugar – yikes, we don’t need refined sugar (imagine what a bowl of 64 teaspoons of sugar looks like)

This is a small example of why obesity rates and the associated health problems are on the rise in this country. Skip the movie food and bring a bottle of water and some healthy snacks into the theater. Yeah, I know, the movie police might get you. Better than having a heart attack while watching Men Who Stare at Goats.


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18 Responses to “Pass (on) the popcorn”

  1. Thanks for taking all the fun out of movie popcorn. No really Thank you. I stopped eating it after finding out I was gluten intolerant and not trusting things out like movie popcorn, I gave it up. Sometimes I would miss it. I will never miss it again in my life. I do however pop my own kernels in a brown paper bag in my microwave. Trick learned from Mark Bittman. Wow, I’m sharing this data with my teenage boys!

  2. Shocking! How about a small popcorn without the butter? 650?

    What snacks do you suggest sneaking into the movies, Melissa? I’ve brought my own backpack stash of popcorn (popped in olive oil with bragg’s or wheat-free tamari + nutritional yeast), and sometimes the famous sliced zucchini spears sprinkled with Spike – that’s pretty good, and reasonably quiet (shhh!)…

    I have been known to succumb to the convenience of (unbuttered) movie popcorn more than once, however. Not that it tastes much better than packing foam.

    Thanks for the reality check!

  3. Melissa says:


    Sorry about that. Yes, make your own and sneak it in. Tastes much better anyway! I have a hard time with popcorn though (even the good stuff), so I’m usually sneaking in something else. Maybe some strawberries, dark chocolate and a thermos of tea.


  4. Melissa says:


    You must get the same health letter! You’re close on the “small” popcorn, which is 11 cups worth for 670 calories. That version only has 34 grams of saturated fat and 550 mg of sodium.

    Your popcorn recipe sounds wonderful. I wish popcorn agreed with me as I do like it. Ooh, and the zucchini spears — great idea!

  5. Alta says:

    Wow. I mean, I am really not all that shocked when I hear this stuff, because I know how many calories and the sodium content of those bags of microwave popcorn, and those tubs at the movies are like 3X that size…but still. I never get popcorn anyway at the theater, but I do sometimes get a box of candy (and a water). Still, if I ate that whole candy box, that’s nearly my daily allotment for calories! Sheesh.

    • Melissa says:


      Here’s what’s even scarier about these numbers (calories, etc.) — they’re from the Regal Entertainment Group. When CSPI did their own testing, their lab results showed an even higher caloric content! It’s almost hard to believe. And little kids are eating this stuff. Ugh! I know what you mean about the candy though. I used to be a Junior Mints girl, but I forego all this junk now (in favor of my own treats).

  6. Reading this makes me so grateful we never go to the movies. Seriously. It’s been well over a year since we’ve gone. I’m not a big popcorn fan, but I do eat some of Mr. GFE’s at the movies. (At home, I always pass.) Now the treats entice me … I’m a Junior Mints and Sno-Caps girl myself, but the price helps me pass those of up most of the time, too. LOL But, what’s sad is this type of fare is NOT just movie fare, it’s every day far … several times a day. And, you’ve shared critical info, but consider additives like food coloring, preservatvies, and what that refined sugar actually is (HFCS), then YIKES! (Shirley runs scared out of the movie theatre …)

    Thanks for the always right-on reminders.


    • Melissa says:


      Sno-Caps (3.1 oz) have 400 calories, 53 grams of sugar and 11 grams of saturated fat. Fifty-three grams of sugar is about 13 teaspoons. Can you imagine sitting and eating 13 teaspoons of sugar?! Well, the Junior Mints (large 4.8 oz box) have 107 grams of sugar and 570 calories. That’s TWICE the teaspoons of sugar that are in the Sno-Caps! YIKES is right! And you’re right, we’re not factoring in all the other cr*p! Yes, run!

  7. Killing me. Luckily I never have time to make it to the movie anymore b/c popcorn gluttony was my favorite part

    thank you so much for keeping us on track!! Slowly but surely am making transition to healthier lifestyle!!

  8. Melissa says:


    Yeah, I know, I know. But it’s so important to know what it is you’re eating and why it might not be the best choice. Unless you really understand labels and how deceiving some of the information is, you’d never know you’re getting a zillion teaspoons of sugar in a soda pop, or 60 grams of saturated fat in the tub of popcorn. I’ll do a post on reading labels. The manufacturers actually don’t want you to know what’s in a product. You might not buy it if the ingredient label was easier to read and understand!

    I know what you mean, though. It’s a transition. And a RE-transition. And a RE-RE-transition. It’s an ongoing process. We just do the best we can.


  9. Lauren says:

    That would be why I always got tummy aches after downing all that (usually just the pop & popcorn)! Then again, lately I haven’t been drinking pop & the stuff they pop the popcorn in might be gluten-containing. I saw a bag of the stuff once – you don’t want to know. So I think I’m good for this =D.

  10. CoconutGal says:

    Not that I have even been able to eat this stuff for years but still- bleh! It reminds me of my high school days when my breakfast consisted of a frappucino, a herscheys cookies and cream bar, a peanut butter twix and a bag of peanut m&m’s. And don’t get me started on the cheesey bagels and cookies they sold us for lunch! I admit to have a heavy hand with salt but at least I am salting real foods and I can’t imagine it could ever total up to what is in this processed stuff!! This is amazing to see the numbers written out though, wow. And I love how the picture of popcorn says “Fresh!!”
    I am bugging you again for a starchy veggie post!! I can’t even remember what my original question was…. I think it was how do you know what’s got more sugar/starch? Example: sweet pot’s or winter squash?… Yeah I think that was it?
    Anyway! This was a great post- I’m sending the link to my popcorn-loving mother, she will be annoyed with me πŸ™‚

  11. Melissa says:


    It may not seem like it’s any big deal (and it probably isn’t on rare occasions), but eliminating soda pop altogether is such a good thing to do for your health. I just posted a link on my Facebook page about Coke giving the American Academy of Physicians a 6-figure grant to promote healthy soft drink consumption. UGH! That’s an oxymoron! Good for you for giving up pop! I commend you for it!

  12. Melissa says:


    GROSS is right! Check this out, you won’t believe it.

    As I said to Lauren, I posted this on my regular FB page and my Gluten-Free For Good one. This kind of stuff makes it so hard to convince people that many of the health problems we face are because we eat and drink cr*p!

    Yes, yes — I do have the starchy veggie post on my mind. I promise. Okay, I’ll really do it. Thanks for the gentle nudge. I need that on occasion!


    Hope you’re feeling better! Thinking of you.

  13. It’s funny we all like(d) Junior Mints, (hee hee)! Not to be confused with Junior Miss.

  14. Melissa says:


    Love your Junior Miss comment. Snicker, snicker.

  15. Kelly says:

    I used to sneak my own healthy food into the movies all the time, but now I don’t need anything while watching a movie.
    I was impressed recently by the Angelika theater in NYC…they had the junk food, BUT they had plenty of healthy snack option and even hot tea! I was so happy and impressed! Oh, and they had vegan options too.

  16. Even as a kid, we’d always pop our own and bring it. Luckily, my parents knew better than to eat artificial popcorn. We’ve been using an air popper ever since I can remember. We put either hemp oil (not heated) or coconut oil on our popcorn! Great post though. So many people don’t realize how unhealthy some popcorns can be.

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Disclaimer: All material on this website is provided for informational and educational use only and should not be used for diagnostic purposes. Consult with your physician regarding any health or medical concerns you may have.
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