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Movie Theater Snack Attack!

Two Thumbs Up or Blockbuster Diet Disaster?
  -- By Leanne Beattie, Health & Fitness Writer
The aroma hits you as soon as you walk through the doors of any movie theater…popcorn! For many people, a trip to the movies isn’t complete without a big tub of buttery popcorn and a giant cup of soda. But if you don’t choose carefully, that treat could be scarier than the next blockbuster horror flick! With a little planning, you can still enjoy a yummy snack that doesn’t wreak havoc on your good eating habits.

In theory, popcorn should be low in calories and high in fiber—a healthy, whole grain snack. And it is when you air pop your own at home. But everything changes when it's made at the theater and becomes a greasy and oil-soaked mess covered in artery-clogging butter or margarine.

A few years ago, when the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) reported that movie theater popcorn was full of unhealthy fat, the industry immediately made changes, switching from coconut oil to healthier oils, such as peanut. Over the years, however, some chains have switched back to coconut oil to save money and improve flavor.

But just how bad could a tub of popcorn be? On average, a large popcorn (which contains 20 cups) boasts a mind-boggling 100 grams of fat—the equivalent of more than six fast food hamburgers. With about 1,300 calories, that large popcorn packs almost a full day’s supply of calories for the average dieter. <pagebreak>

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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One way to enjoy at treat at the movies without destroying your waistline is to bring your own snacks from home. Yes, this is discouraged by most theater owners because they make a huge profit at the concession stand. However, all theaters have different policies, and some even allow you to bring food from outside vendors (such as restaurants or shops in the same mall or shopping center). Find out the policy at your favorite theater, and be prepared to lose your snacks to an angry employee if you get caught breaking the rules.

Here are some healthy alternatives you can bring from home to munch on: The best way to avoid temptation at the theater is to eat a balanced meal beforehand—lean protein, whole grains, veggies and healthy fats will keep you satisfied for several hours. (Sorry, but the concession's pizza, nachos and hot dogs don't fit the bill of a healthy meal.)

Going to the movies is a social experience—and that means eating for many people. But you don’t have to miss out on the fun just because you’re watching what your diet. By bringing your own portion-controlled snacks from home or choosing carefully at the candy counter, the only things you’ll be missing are the inches you'll lose from your waist.