Just one popcorn-and-soda combo can match the calorie-and-saturated-fat count of three McDonald's Quarter Pounders and 12 pats of butter, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest's review of popcorn sold at three national movie chains.
"A lot of people think they're better off at the popcorn counter than at the candy counter, when in fact you're not in good shape if you go to either," said Jayne Hurley, nutritionist for the Washington-based group. "The popcorn has staggering amounts of saturated fats."
Hurley blamed the high saturated fat count on the coconut oil used to pop the corn at theaters run by Regal Entertainment Group and AMC Entertainment Inc., which have a combined 852 theaters.
Regal and AMC both said they tested healthier alternatives after a similar 1994 analysis by CSPI, but they were unpopular with customers. Both chains said they offer a range of food options, some healthier than others.
"Theater popcorn and movie snacks are viewed as a treat and not intended to be part of a regular diet," Regal president and chief operating office Greg Dunn said in a prepared statement.
CSPI found that the 20-cup tub of popcorn at Regal theaters packs 1,200 calories and 60 grams of saturated fat, which Hurley said accounts for three days worth of saturated fat. An 11-cup (small) bucket has 670 calories and 34 grams of saturated fat. And those numbers don't account for the "buttery" topping, every tablespoon of which adds another 130 calories.
A 16-cup bucket sold at AMC theaters contains 1,030 calories and 57 grams of fat, according to CSPI.
A third theater chain, Texas-based Cinemark, had far lower saturated fat counts because they pop in heart-healthy canola oil, Hurley said. Seventeen-cup buckets at Cinemark have 910 calories and 4 grams of saturated fat.