Why You Should Skip the Popcorn at the Movie Theater

Popcorn and movies are like Minnie and Mickey Mouse — a match made in heaven. But if you're counting calories, carbs or just aiming to make healthier choices, you may want to reconsider buying a big tub of popcorn from the concession stand during your next movie night.

While popcorn and movies are a match made in heaven, the movie theater popcorn's calorie count can make a big dent in your daily intake. (Image: Klaus Vedfelt/DigitalVision/GettyImages)

Movie Theater Popcorn Calories, Carbs and Fat

The calories and carbs in your movie theater popcorn vary depending on the chain you frequent and the size of your order. When it comes to calories, butter-free popcorn ranges from 300 calories for a small to 1,090 calories for a refillable tub, according to AMC Theatres. As far as carbs are concerned, the numbers range from 41 grams for a small butter-free popcorn to 148 grams for a refillable butter-free tub.

Although movie theater popcorn is high in carbs, it also adds a significant amount of fat calories. A small butter-free popcorn has about 13 grams of fat and can contain up to 49 grams of fat for the refillable butter-free tub. Keep in mind, fats are higher in calories than carbohydrates!

These values also vary according to the flavor and toppings you add. Popular picks such as caramel corn, cheddar and spicy cheddar add quite a bit of popcorn calories. A 46-ounce container of caramel, cheddar and spicy cheddar total 1,340 calories, 2,070 calories and 1,110 calories, respectively.

Broken down, these gourmet flavor options vary significantly in carb and fat contents, too. The carbs in those popcorn picks total 304 grams, 127 grams and 82 grams, respectively. The fats in popcorn varieties range between 18 grams, 161 grams and 80 grams, respectively.

Quit the Butter

While butter definitely adds flavor to plain popcorn, it can do quite a bit of damage to your total calorie count. Although increasing the butter won't affect the carb total (nope, butter is not a carb!), it can skyrocket your popcorn's calorie total to as much as 1,500 calories, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR).

Not to mention, butter is usually dispensed through a button-operated machine, so it can be easy to over-douse your snack. One tablespoon of movie theater butter contains 130 calories and 14 grams of fat (nine grams which are saturated fat), according to Cinemark.

Healthy Movie Snack Ideas

If you can't enjoy your movie without a snack in hand, meal prep your own snacks to keep the carbs and calories low. If you're concerned with the calories in movie theater popcorn, opt for some air-popped popcorn instead. With only 31 calories per cup, air-popped popcorn will give you the same satisfying crunch for a fraction of the calories, according to the USDA.

If you like pairing your movie theater popcorn with something sweet, make your own trail mix. Combine air-popped popcorn, unsalted nuts and dried fruit for flavorful variety. This combination of protein, carbs and fats will fill you up without derailing your healthy-eating streak.

But if bringing your own snack isn't an option, choose the healthiest snack at the theater: A small tub of unbuttered, unsalted popcorn. If your theater offers kid-sized options, go for the junior-sized popcorn, which clocks in at 200 calories, 11 grams of fat and 22 grams of carbs, according to Cinemark. Plus, you'll get four grams of filling fiber!

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