Thursday, March 24, 2011

Taking the Fun Out of Movie Popcorn

Popcorn can be quite a healthy snack. While cooked corn is considered a vegetable, dried corn kernels are considered whole grains (they can be used to make flour for tortillas, breads, muffins, cereals etc.) which are high in fibre and pretty much fat free. But as soon as you add movie theatres into the mix, full of sweets and sodas and - yes - popcorn, our innocent, healthy snack becomes virtually unrecognizable.

More like an entire day's worth of calories and fat rather than a snack, your average movie theatre popcorn, based on a survey of the 3 top chains in the U.S., is loaded with anywhere between 590 to 1,200 calories and 60 grams of saturated fat, depending on the size. Add butter, and now you have 1,400 calories and 63 grams of saturated fat, and that's not talking about the largest size, either. As a result, the U.S. wants to burst everyone's bubble and start slapping nutrition labels on movie theatre popcorn bags! But of course, theatre execs strongly oppose this mandate, because concession sales make up about 1/3 of their sales.

So, aside from being a whole grain with a significant amount of fibre, why is movie theatre popcorn so ridiculously unhealthy? How come your low-fat microwave popcorn at home has nowhere near the above numbers? The answer is that movie theatre popcorn isn't designed to be healthy. It is designed to be addictive and is most likely popped in oil, whereas at home you can control what you put on your kernels. Movie theatre popcorn is also ridiculously high in sodium, meaning you need a jumbo-sized beverage to wash it all down. That means more money for movie theatres! It's no surprise that they don't want you to know what's in there.

I think the more we know about what we're eating, the better off we are. It doesn't mean we can't have that popcorn at the movies, it just means we have to make an extra effort to eat well and exercise in addition to enjoying it as a special treat while we're out on the town! So, as with all nutrition related policies, only time will tell if there's a strong enough push for this proposal to get approved as a law, but we definitely know there is lots of opposition.