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Nutrition Articles  ›  Eating Away From Home

Movie Theater Snack Attack!

Two Thumbs Up or Blockbuster Diet Disaster?

-- By Leanne Beattie, Health & Fitness Writer
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If movie theater popcorn is a must-have, stick with a kid-sized serving and forgo the added butter or margarine. Avoid the larger sizes completely, even if it seems like a steal. Moving up to the medium serving from the small size costs only pennies more, but adds about 500 more calories and two days worth of saturated fat. Ouch!

Think you can get away with buying large and sharing? Think again. One study conducted at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that people who were given a large bucket of popcorn ate 50 percent more than those who were given a medium-sized bag. When asked to estimate how much they had eaten, participants thought they only ate as much as those with a smaller bag. This is one of many studies proving that if there’s food in front of us, we’ll eat it without thinking.

Those giant chocolate bars and boxes of candy at the counter are also bad news. While you might kid yourself into thinking that you won’t eat the whole thing, chances are that once you're munching away in the dark, you’ll mindlessly consume the entire box without blinking. If you absolutely have to have a treat from the candy counter, choose the smallest sizes. They offer built in portion control and fewer overall calories.

Check out the following chart to see how your movie favorites compare. Pay particular attention to the sizes, which vary from two to over nine ounces.

Theater Food Size Calories Fat
Sno Caps 3.1 oz box 300 15 g
Hot dog Medium (2 oz) 305 5 g
Mike & Ike 3 oz box 320 0 g
Junior Mints 3 oz box 360 7 g
Milk Duds 3 oz box 370 12 g
Gummi Bears 3.5 oz bag 390 0 g
Raisinets 3.5 oz bag 400 16 g
Soft pretzel Large (5 oz) 480 5 g
Starburst 4.4 oz 480 11 g
Goobers 3.5 oz box 500 35 g
Twizzlers 6 oz bag 570 4 g
M&M's 5.3 oz bag 750 32 g
Skittles 6.5 oz bag 765 9 g
Peanut M&M's 5.3 oz bag 790 40 g
Dots 9.2 oz box 850 0 g
Cheese nachos Large (4 oz) 1,100 60 g
Reese's Pieces 8 oz bag 1,160 60 g

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About The Author

Leanne Beattie Leanne Beattie
A freelance writer, marketing consultant and life coach, Leanne often writes about health and nutrition. See all of Leanne's articles.

Member Comments

  • I do take dry cereal and don't feel bad about it. If they actually offered healthy choices, I'd gladly support that. I used to work at a movie theater as a teenager - honestly, workers understand, just be discreet. Once, a family tried to walk in with several buckets of fried chicken and got angry with us when we couldn't allow them in. They weren't looking to be healthier, they wanted greasy food for cheaper. - 12/13/2013 2:57:52 PM
  • I love my popcorn. I have a small bag of popcorn almost every night for my snack. I don't care what snack I have in there the popcorn is on top of the list. - 12/9/2013 9:50:17 AM
  • If I want to avoid popcorn, I just bring some sugar free gum, usually in a minty flavour. Hard to smell the popcorn over the mint. I bring a baggie and/or a kleenex to get rid of the gum when I'm done so I don't have to interrupt the movie. - 8/29/2013 4:46:18 PM
  • I just did a search for this article, because I remembered reading it a while back and I am planning to go to the movies this afternoon with my kids. I wanted a review of which items had the fewest calories. I usually get a small popcorn so I can much continuously through the movie, but I knew from reading this that it was a bad idea. I was pleasantly suprised to find my childhood favorite, snow caps, was the lowest calorie item listed. Eaten slowly it will satisfy my need to nibble through the movie and help me avoid the cotton candy my kids tend to get (once a year treat). - 6/28/2013 1:56:22 PM
  • I hate how every post about how to eat healthier at a location provides rediculous suggestions. Bring your own isn't an option at ANY theater, you will be kicked out and you will not get your money back. Also, the whole just skip it argument kinda defeats the whole point of the article since, well OBVIOUSLY if we're reading an article on how to do better it's cause we HAVEN'T been able to "Just skip it" bah.
    Lastly I to am getting frusterated with the bad rap fats get around here.... fats can be good, and are crutial to your brain functioning right. It's a matter of good ones and MODERATION. That is the key word. If you only go once in a blue moon, and lets be real, who can afford to go regularly? Then what the issue?
    However, I have a great tip for how to avoid eating it and lower the cost. Cash in some air miles, VISA points, iCoke rewards or what have you for a free ticket. When you go, take just your ID and no money, no debit and no credit cards. Guess what? If you can't PAY for the food, you certainly won't be eating it! LOL my husband and I have been doing that for awhile now and it's really helped. We get a date night for free and don't kill the waistline! - 3/7/2013 2:15:48 PM
  • 45LBSSOFAR
    I find that I really enjoy sunflower seeds at the movies. As a matter of fact, I like them better. They are crunchy and salty and easy to sneak in. - 3/7/2013 11:34:52 AM
  • CANUCKSFAN2
    Honestly, when I go to a movie theatre or watch a movie at home, I don't expect to eat healthy and I look at it as a treat. - 3/7/2013 11:19:35 AM
  • LOPEZB2012
    I'm sorry but I go to the theatre so infrequently (maybe once a year) and nothing, I mean nothing is coming between me and my butter ridden popcorn and large soda! That's just part of the awesome experience. I have found that I usually eat nothing else that day because it keeps me full. - 3/7/2013 9:22:55 AM
  • I have yet to find a movie theater that will allow anyone to legally gring in snacks from home. If you do not want what they are selling, skip the snacks and don't bring something from home. - 3/7/2013 8:58:41 AM
  • I cook homemade popcorn cooked in organic, virgin coconut oil with a sprinkling of sea salt. It is unbelievably good and definitely doesn't need any extra butter or seasoning in it. The stuff they sell at the theatre can't hold a candle to it.

    Coconut oil is a staple at my house and I believe we're healthier for it! - 3/7/2013 8:12:33 AM
  • FRECKLEPUP
    Enough! Bottled water, bottled water, bottled water...is horrible for you and the planet. Plasticizers leach from the plastic into your water and into your body releasing free radicals and then the bottle hangs around the planet for thousands and thousands of years. I haven't bought bottled water for almost 5 years. What I do is refill a washed glass bottle (an old Snapple bottle usually) with tap water and refrigerate. It's just as portable as a plastic bottle. - 3/7/2013 3:03:10 AM
  • Without trying to sound negative most cinemas I have been at do NO allow outside food. - 11/26/2012 10:07:43 PM
  • Actually, the popcorn was healthier when they were using coconut oil. Vegetable oils such as peanut oil promote weight gain whereas coconut oil actually can promote weight loss. The particular type of saturated fat in coconut oil, medium chain triglycerides, is responsible for this as it increases metabolism. Butter is healthy in moderation, too, but I doubt there are any theaters anywhere that provide real butter for the popcorn. It simply costs a lot more than other fats they could provide.

    There is more to weight loss than reducing calories. The source of the calories is important, too. For instance, fructose works in the cells to turn off the fat burning mechanism and turn on the fat storage mechanism. It does this by increasing uric acid in the cells. This is why ANY type of sugar, whether sucrose or high fructose corn syrup, can cause weight gain. Natural fruit, however, is OK because it contains antioxidants that counteract the fructose in the fruit. - 11/3/2012 8:07:49 PM
  • KAMACK42
    Coconut oil IS a healthy fat! The truly unhealthy fats are those that are genetically modified, which are corn, soy, canola, cottonseed and rapeseed oils. GMOs are TERRIBLE for us, and most dry cereal that isn't organic is loaded with GMOs. You might want to think about that when grocery shopping. Check the labels!. - 11/3/2012 7:35:57 PM
  • WENDY005
    I love popcorn I just can't eat movie theater popcorn or microwave popcorn. The 'butter' upsets my stomach so i have to buy the natural popcorn or buy kernals and pop my own. - 11/3/2012 6:46:27 PM