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AICR HealthTalk

Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN
American Institute for Cancer Research

Q:        I’m confused: popcorn is always recommended as a low-calorie snack, so why do people make such a big deal about calories in movie theater popcorn?           

A:        Popcorn can be a low-calorie, high-fiber snack. Three cups of air-popped popcorn (a portion the size of three typical adult fists) contain just 90 calories (along with practically zero sodium and nearly 4 grams of dietary fiber). However, movie theater popcorn is quite different: portions tend to be huge, it’s popped in oil and often served with extra buttery topping. According to information from major movie theater chains, a “large” portion (often 17 to 20 cups) may contain 900 to 1000 calories, and when the buttery topping is added, that can zoom up to about 1500 calories. For many women trying to lose weight, that’s almost the calorie recommendation for a whole day. Cutting portion size helps, but even a theater “small” unbuttered portion contains 450-485 calories – which is like a whole extra meal. I know that for many people getting popcorn seems an essential part of going to the movies, but it’s primarily “mindless” eating, which is a habit that whether at home or out is worth breaking. If you feel totally deprived going to a movie without getting popcorn, get one in the smallest size available, skip the extra butter, and share it with others. Or your theater may have some lower calorie snack options like granola bars. But ideally, break the connection and focus on enjoying the movie. Some people may find sugarless gum helps ease this transition by providing something to chew – and it keeps you from saying “yes” if companions offer you some of their popcorn!


The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is the cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk, interprets the scientific literature and educates the public about the results. It has contributed more than $95 million for innovative research conducted at universities, hospitals and research centers across the country. AICR has published two landmark reports that interpret the accumulated research in the field, and is committed to a process of continuous review. AICR also provides a wide range of educational programs to help millions of Americans learn to make dietary changes for lower cancer risk. Its award-winning New American Plate program is presented in brochures, seminars and on its website, www.aicr.org. AICR is part of the global network of charities that are dedicated to the prevention of cancer. The WCRF global network is led and unified by WCRF International, a membership association which operates as the umbrella organization for the network.The other charities in the WCRF network are World Cancer Research Fund in the UK (www.wcrf-uk.org); Wereld Kanker Onderzoek Fonds in the Netherlands (www.wcrf-nl.org); World Cancer Research Fund Hong Kong (www.wcrf-hk.org).

Published on 02/25/2013

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