Thursday, November 19, 2009

I'll Gladly Trade You Three Quarter Pounders Today For A Tub of Popcorn Tomorrow!

The holiday season is descending upon us and just as they do in the summer, Hollywood begins to lure us back into the theatres with promises of “Holiday Blockbusters”  So when we think of movies, what else do we think of? Popcorn of course! I don't know about you, but I make a bee-line right to the concession stand to get my popcorn before the show starts. I'll even risk missing the previews of the upcoming films to get my buttery snack. I mean let's face it, the butter and the salt in that tub of popcorn just makes the movie experience so much more exciting. Movies and popcorn go hand in hand, so much so that we've even re-created the movie experience at home. Large screen TV’s with surround sound AND… POPCORN! Some folks even have popcorn machines in their home theatres. But of course, the popcorn that you make at home, no matter what the writing on the package says, never tastes quite like it does at the movie houses. So I'm sure you're thinking by now "OK Miss Fitness Lady, are you really trying to convince us to eat popcorn at the movies?" Trying to convince you? No, most of us are going to do that anyway. So if you are going to eat the popcorn, do so as an informed consumer so that you can make better choices.

But before we jump into things, I want you to think about this question for a second.  Could you eat three McDonald's Quarter Pounders and a stick of butter in one sitting?  Well, if you're eating a medium-sized movie popcorn and a soda, you're definitely consuming its equivalent.  A recent study by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) ,which updates their expose conducted 15 years ago, looked at popcorn from three major movie houses and provided an eye-popping assessment of the nutritional value of America’s favourite movie snack. The three chains reviewed were Regal Cinemas, Cinemark and AMC.

*According to the study, this is how they fared:

Regal Cinemas the largest theatre chain; pops their popcorn in coconut oil

• Large tub = 20 cups of popcorn, 1200 calories, 980 milligrams of sodium, 60 grams of saturated fat (3 days worth of fat and equivalent to the fat in a stick of butter)

• Medium bag = 20 cups of popcorn, 1200 calories, 980 milligrams of sodium, 60 grams of saturated fat *(the only difference between the large and the medium is the packaging & price, everything else remains the same. Oh, and you get free re-fills with the large)

• Small bag = 11 cups of popcorn, 670 calories, 550 milligrams of sodium and 24 grams of saturated fat *(That’s about as many calories as a Pizza Hut Personal Pan Pepperoni Pizza—except the popcorn has three times the saturated fat.

AMC, the second largest theater chain, also pops in coconut oil but has smaller serving sizes.

• Large popcorn has 1,030 calories and 57 grams of saturated fat. That's equivalent to 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.

• A medium has 590 calories and 33 grams of saturated fat;

• A small has 370 calories and a day’s worth—20 grams—of saturated fat. (Like Regal, AMC reports calorie counts lower than those returned in CSPI's lab tests.)

Cinemark, the third largest theatre chain pops in heart-healthy canola oil.

• A large has 910 calories with 4 grams of saturated fat;

• A medium has 760 calories and 3 grams of saturated fat;

• A small has 420 calories and 2 grams of saturated fat.

Considering that many of us go to the movies after dinner where we've already consumed a generous amount of calories, we then top it off by consuming more calories when we buy at the concession stand. Many people are lulled into a false sense of diet security because popcorn by many standards is considered a healthy snack, but as you've seen by the numbers, once you add the quantities, the salt and the butter, that healthy snack now turns into a health nightmare. When I go to the theatre, very rarely will I eat a bag of popcorn by myself. If I have it, I will buy a small without the extra butter (since it’s already popped in oil) and share it with a friend while the beverage of choice to wash it down with is water.

No, I’m not the "Food Police" and by no means am I trying to tell you to completely stop eating popcorn at the movies. The intent of this is only to inform you of the nutritional values so that you can make better and informed decisions on whether you want the popcorn or not, how you want it prepared and how much of it you'd like to buy. Unless you have medical conditions and medically imposed diet restrictions as recommended by your physician, there’s no need to deprive yourself. If you’re already physically active and follow a healthy and balanced way of eating, a night at the movies is not going to completely undo your hard work. Everything is balanced by moderation. But with this information, you can determine for yourself how you choose to enjoy your movie experience.

Tips to enjoy a night at the movies without blowing your diet:

Dining beforehand:

  • Cut your caloric intake by sharing your entrée with a friend
  • Go for smaller portions and load up on the veggies
  • Be mindful of your alcoholic intake as that can add to your calorie consumption quickly
  • Skip dessert if you're planning to have snacks at the theatre
At the theatre:

  • Buy a smaller portion of popcorn
  • Opt out of the re-fills
  • Say "NO" to extra butter.  Popcorn is already popped in oil, adding more increases your calories by some 130 cal/teaspoon
  • Share your popcorn with a friend,
  • Instead of regular soda, drink diet soda or water

Curious to know the movie releases for the remainder of 2009? Check out this link:

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