All Health's Breaking Loose: What's in that tub of popcorn?

The weekend is coming and it might find some of us nestled in to a theater seat, popcorn in hand, waiting for the lights to dim. But before you start munching away, let’s take a look at exactly what’s in that tub you’re holding.

A study from the Center for Science in the Public Interest detailed the contents of popcorn from three movie theater chains. A large tub of popcorn from Regal Cinemas holds 20 cups of popcorn and sports 1,200 calories, 980 milligrams of sodium and 60 grams of saturated (the bad kind) fat.

If you add one tablespoon of butter, you’ll up the calorie total by 130. But most of the “pumps” used for added butter in theaters add more than a tablespoon per pump. If you’re a “small bag” kind of person, you’re looking at 11 cups, 670 calories, 550 milligrams of sodium and at least 24 grams of saturated fat.

I know it’s frustrating, since we like to think of popcorn as a healthy snack. It can be — air-popped popcorn is low in calories and free of saturated fat. But movie theaters usually pop their popcorn in coconut oil. When a theater uses nonhydrogenated canola oil, a large tub containing 17 cups of popcorn has 910 calories, 4 grams of saturated fat and 1,500 milligrams of sodium.

The Mayo Clinic says healthy adults shouldn’t exceed 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day, and for those with high blood pressure, diabetes and kidney disease, or those who are middle aged, that number drops to 1,500. Your body does need salt—it transmits nerve impulses and helps with muscle contraction and relaxation—but reckless salt intake, as in a tub of popcorn, can be hazardous to your health.

Jane Hurley, senior nutritionist for CSPI, said, “Regal and AMC are our nominees for Best Supporting Actor in the Obesity Epidemic. Who expects about 1,500 calories and three days worth of heart-stopping fat in a popcorn and soda combo? That’s the saturated fat of a stick of butter and the calories of two sticks of butter. You might think you’re getting Bambi, but you’re really getting Godzilla.”

The CSPI, a nonprofit organization, commissioned the laboratory analysis that claims that three McDonald’s Quarter Pounders with 12 pats of butter is nutritionally comparable to Regal’s medium popcorn and soda combo: 1,610 calories and 60 grams—three days worth—of saturated fat. Adding insult to injury is the fact that you may have spent $12 to $14 on a snack that costs only a few cents to make.

Sharing with friends, trying to keep your portion to about 1 1/2 cups, eating it one kernel at a time or even taking a small baggie of raw nuts to alternate bites as you watch the movie are ways to lessen the hit.

And then there’s going commando—watching the movie without eating. A movie without that familiar tub may seem like a “corny” idea at first, but it’s simpler and allows movie lovers to focus more closely on the action on the silver screen. You can enjoy the show guilt free and without greasy fingers.

I’ll see you in two weeks.

Love & health,



Join Loa Tuesday mornings at 8 a.m. at the Community Center of LCF for mind & body sculpting, or reach her with questions or comments at

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