Cinema snacking - the bigger picture

Emma Brown - Nutritionist | 22 Apr, 2015

As one of the Nutracheck Team I pride myself on knowing my calories! However now and then something crops up which knocks me off my seat.

After a recent trip to the cinema I got to thinking about what's in the 'snacks' we mindless munch on while we're there – and boy did I get a shock!

In a medium sized cinema popcorn there is 996kcals and 44.5g fat – ouch! Team this with a large full fat coke and it's bye bye daily calorie allowance.

Cinema Popcorn (Medium) 996kcals 44.5g fat
Butterkist Toffee Popcorn (200g) 830kcals 20g fat
Butterkist Butter Popcorn (100g) 415kcals 18.5g fat
Butterkist Salted Popcorn (100g) 430kcals 20.7g fat
Butterkist Sweet Popcorn (100g) 425kcals 17.7g fat
Pret Skinny Cheddar Popcorn (20g) 123kcals 6.5g fat
Boots Shapers Maple Popcorn (25g) 92kcals 3.5g fat

This led me in search of a healthier option of popcorn, in the hopes that I could find a lower calorie alternative so that I could still have my cinema treat, but without the side order of guilt. The results of which are displayed below.

What about 'low calorie' popcorn?

There are a few popcorn products under health brands such as 'Pret's Skinny Popcorn' and 'Boots Shapers Popcorn'. However, when comparing the nutritional values for 100g of each type of popcorn, the results are enlightening – weight for weight the calorie values are virtually the same as 'regular' popcorn!

Cinema 430kcals 20.7g fat
Butterkist Toffee 415kcals 10g fat
Butterkist Butter 415kcals 18.5g fat
Butterkist Salted 430kcals 20.7g fat
Butterkist Sweet 425kcals 17.7g fat
Pret Skinny Cheddar 492kcals 26g fat
Boots Shapers Maple 460kcals 18g fat

So the lesson is – it's all about portion control. A small bag (25g) contains fewer calories because you are just eating less.

Do you really need to eat all that?

The other thing to be aware of is eating without thinking – which is not surprising when you've got a film to distract you.

In 2005, a study in America found that "the size of a container powerfully and unknowingly increases how much food a person consumes". To demonstrate the point, the BBC's excellent series 'The Truth about Food' carried out a study of its own. 150 movie goers were given large buckets of popcorn (120g) and the other half were give extra large buckets (240g).

To add an extra dimension, half of the audience were given stale popcorn! After the film was over, the researchers weighed the containers to see how much popcorn had been eaten. The results showed the people given the extra large containers ate 45% MORE popcorn – which powerfully proves the point, that if the food is there (even if it doesn't taste great!) we eat it!

So the story line is this – enjoy a treat, but don't supersize. A smaller portion can still hit the spot, but you're exercising damage limitation on your waistline.

Conduct your own experiment!

Warning! This could get messy, so a willing assistant may be required.

Cook yourself a meal and plate up your normal portion. Now get your assistant to blindfold you. Start eating and stop as soon as you feel satisfied. Remove your blindfold and see how much you've eaten. Is it the same as you'd usually eat – or less?

* BBC Science & Nature – Supersizing:

Nutritionist Emma Brown (ANutr), MSc Human Nutrition is passionate about how food science applies to the human body, and how the nutrients in what we eat affect us and ultimately have an impact on our health.