It's a movie-night routine. You line up for your tickets, and then you line up for your popcorn and other concession snacks. You look at the tiered pricing and decide that it only makes sense to get the best value and purchase the extra-large popcorn and soda. While that might be the most logical choice for your wallet, it's a very scary choice for your body, with a large popcorn and soda alone adding up to a full day's worth of calories – never mind any additional treats like candy.
According to dietitian Gloria Tsang, founder of nutrition network HealthCastle.com and author of "Go UnDiet: 50 Small Actions for Lasting Weight Loss," people are often shocked by the amount of fat and calories in movie theater popcorn because they've always thought popcorn was actually a healthy snack.
“It's true that popcorn is actually a whole grain and offers many beneficial nutrients,” Tsang says. “But movie theater popcorn is drowning in butter (real or fake), or even caramel. Plus, a large bag is 21 cups – that's seven full servings, or 1,500 calories, and the buttery topping packs in 100 grams of fat!”
Here are HealthCastle.com's top recommendations for healthier snacking at the movie theater:
- Stick with size small. Yes, the cost per ounce gets lower as you move into larger servings. But is saving a few cents worth making yourself sick by gorging on sugar and fat?
- Pack plenty of gum. It keeps your mouth busy so you won't be tempted to start eating on automatic pilot (which is what often happens when your mind is focused on the action onscreen).
- Lighten up your drink. A large soda has 80 grams of sugar. Diet sodas are sugar-free but full of chemicals. Try ordering a club soda for the fizz factor, and if you want to jazz it up, bring a packet of ice tea or citrus flavor crystals (look for one without artificial sweeteners).
- Be a sneak. It's against the rules to bring your own food to most theaters, but a small, healthy snack like trail mix or a low-fat granola bar will go unnoticed in your pocket.
Many larger movie theater chains are now offering options beyond the standard popcorn, soda, and candy. Look for options like frozen yogurt, and even fruit salads at some theaters. Of course, no matter what you plan to munch on, you should eat a healthy meal at home before you head out to the theater so that nutritionally suspect snacks doesn't become dinner.