Movie Popcorn Is As Bad For You As Ever... Well, Mostly

Here's two things that Big Cinema want: they want you to buy lots of, and stuff your face with, their popcorn and they want the manufacture of that popcorn to be cheap. This is because the concession stand is where they make pretty much every penny, the majority of ticket sales being siphoned off by the distributors and studios – though, arguably, that's just the way it should be, the better to stream this revenue to the filmmakers who actually produce the pictures in the first place.

One might contest that the movies being shown at the cinema are just the bait to get you through the door and into a neon-tinged arena of unhealth food, overpriced but apparently super-tempting to very many of us. But how evil is the popcorn, the one food seemingly linked inextricably with the movies? Really quite evil. The findings of the Center for Science in the Public Interest might just shock you.

The CSPI begin their new report on the nutritional value of Popcorn with this following bombshell:

It's hard to picture someone mindlessly ingesting three McDonald's Quarter Pounders with 12 pats of butter while watching a movie. But according to new laboratory analyses commissioned by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest, that food is nutritionally comparable to what you'd find in a medium popcorn and soda combo at Regal.

The killer ingredient appears to be coconut oil, which both Regal and AMC use. And that's in the dry popcorn, before you've splooged your topping all over it. We in the UK, if you don't know, go without that butter pump in our cinemas, and we always take our popcorn "dry".

Cinemark use the rather less fatty Canola oil, but the report finds their popcorn troublematic on another front:

Though popping in canola gives this chain's popcorn far less saturated fat than its competitors, it's almost as high in calories and has the most sodium – about twice as much as Regal or AMC. With 1,500 milligrams of sodium (a day's worth of sodium for most people) a large popcorn without topping from Cinemark will be less likely to clog your arteries but more likely to elevate your blood pressure.

The CSPI's senior nutritionist Jayne Hurley had a question about our cinema etaing habits:

Sitting through a two-hour movie isn't exactly like climbing Mt. Everest. Why do theaters think they need to feed us like it is?

She clearly didn't go see Meet Joe Black.

In truth, I'm pretty sure the cinemas treat us like this because we let them. As I said, we consider popcorn part of the movie going experience, and "heck, why not throw on a big bag of Reese's just for luck". As long as we're buying, they're selling and I don't think they can even afford to experiment around the edges of their "menus" at the moment.

The full report, to be published in Nutrition Action can be read as a pdf.

Via The LA Times