Anyone over PG-13 knows that movie-theater food bears no resemblance to tofu and sprouts. But our new tests show it can be a nutritional nightmare on Elm Street.
We tested the largest available sizes of popcorn (with and without butter-flavored sauce), cheese nachos, pretzel pieces with cheese, and Coke or Pepsi from three of the nation’s biggest movie-theater chains: AMC, National Amusements, and Regal. For each chain, food came from two or three theaters in New York, New Jersey, or Connecticut. We analyzed popcorn for calories, total fat, sodium, and fiber; nachos and pretzel pieces for all but fiber; and sodas (with ice) for calories and sugars.
It turns out that a large tub of buttered popcorn and a large Coke can supply all the calories the average adult is supposed to eat in a day. OK, maybe you’d share that popcorn, but even one serving of pretzel pieces with cheese can provide up to half a day’s calories, almost half a day’s fat, and more than a day’s sodium.
The table below lists nutrient ranges for each food. Amounts for a given size (and nutrition) varied, even within a chain. AMC gave us 18 to 23 cups of unbuttered popcorn in a “large” tub; National Amusements, 14 to 16 cups; Regal, 20 to 25 cups. At AMC, the buttered popcorn’s fat ranged from 69 to 113 grams (the equivalent of 17 to 28 pats of butter). You could blame an individual worker’s heavy hand with butter topping, but even unbuttered popcorn varied in fat content: 49 to 81 grams at AMC, for instance.