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Eating at the movies

August 3, 2011 - Kathie Evanoff
I love going to the theater to see a good movie.

In fact, I seldom watch movies at home and don’t subscribe to any premium movie channels from my television service. I prefer going out to a movie because it’s the only place I can watch without constant interruptions. There’s nothing like seeing a good film on a big screen in the dark with no distractions, such as a dog whining to go out or a washing machine that just finished the last spin and needs emptied.

The problem is, it is difficult to go to a theater without having to pay almost as much, if not more, for movie snacks than it does to see the show. Sure I have the “card” that sometimes gets me a free small drink or a free small popcorn and even an occasional free movie ticket, but $4.50 for a small bag of popcorn is a shock to the system, especially when those of us who do the grocery shopping know how much popcorn really costs. And then the concession attendant will always try to upsell by offering a medium bag for only 50-cents more. Who can resist a “good deal?”

So why do we do it? I would guess because it’s more of a tradition to sit in a dark theater with a bag or tub of popcorn on our laps. When I watch a movie at home, I seldom have food in my lap. Instead I’m holding the remote control because I’m usually pausing and rewinding so can tend to those interruptions previously mentioned.

When the husband and I go to a movie, we generally split a small popcorn and a bottle of water. I have, on occasion, bought a box of peanut M&M’s in place of the popcorn, but usually end up sticking my hand in the bag a couple of times anyway. We share because when we each have our own, we always end up throwing away half a bag anyway and at those prices, it’s difficult to justify the waist.

So maybe a recent article from New York Times health writer, Karen Barrow, will change some minds – and the tradition – of eating tons of popcorn at the theater. I know it has me thinking twice about whether or not I can go two or three hours without eating something.

Barrow explored the nutritional information of movie popcorn after a study by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) revealed high amounts of fat, salt and calories, even in the smallest package.

According to the article, and the study, a large tub of buttered popcorn from Regal Cinema holds 20 cups of popcorn and has 1,200 calories, 980 milligrams of sodium and 60 grams of saturated fat. The saturated fat is because the corn is popped in coconut oil.

Okay, we don’t get a large tub, but even a small popcorn, according to the CSPI, contains 11 cups of popcorn, 670 calories, 550 milligrams of sodium and 24 grams of saturated fat. Since we share, and even if we each eat half the bag, we’re still getting almost as much calories and fat as an entire meal. We’re probably getting even more sodium and fat than the study revealed because the husband likes to get extra of that artificial butter flavored oil and keeps extra salt packets in his pocket when the flavor of the salt runs out about mid-way through the bag.

In general, popcorn, when made without fat and salt, isn’t a bad thing to eat. Instead of pouring on the butter, try spraying it lightly with a buttery spread, but don’t go overboard. Those spray butters are not calorie-free, even if they say one serving contains no calories. That’s because you don’t get enough in five spritzes to count, but an entire bottle does contain calories, 900 calories in fact. Not only that, but those sprays are mostly water and too many spritzes can cause soggy popcorn.

You might try sprinkling on some flavor instead. There are hundreds of recipes for popcorn spices, including some that contain onion soup mix, garlic powder (or salt), and even cinnamon and sugar. You could mix up your favorite flavors and carry it into the theater in a baggy, order your popcorn plain and flavor it yourself.


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