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Movie Snacks: The Ugly Diet Truth

What you need to know about movie popcorn and other movie snacks.

Coming Soon to a Theater Near You?

A marquis that lists calories -- instead of show times -- may really give moviegoers An Education in healthy movie snacks, says Scott Kahan, MD, co-director of the George Washington University Weight Management Program in Washington, D.C

“Now that would be eye-catching,” Kahan says. Unlike chain restaurants in certain areas of the country, movie theaters are not required to post calories. “If this were ever to be mandated, then they would have to reformulate their menus to include healthy options and avoid sticker shock," Kahan says.

But until that happens, Kahan says your best bet is to bring your own treats to the movies. “You can pop a 100-calorie popcorn bag that is almost fat free and much lower in calories than what you can get in the theater,” Kahan says.

Keep in mind that many movie theaters discourage bringing your own snacks, so check with the manager.

If you don’t bring your own, avoid heaping on the free fixings. “It doesn’t take a whole lot to make popcorn taste pretty good,” Kahan says. “Get popcorn without butter, and while salt is good, a little less salt is also good."

But what if you crave a little something sweet with your flicks?

"Share M & M’s or another candy instead of getting your own and right off the bat you are consuming less calories,” Kahan says. Thirsty? "Get a diet soda or a water instead or regular soda."

And never arrive hungry. “If you arrive at the movies on an empty stomach, it will be much harder to satisfy yourself, and you will eat a lot more,” Kahan says. “Having a meal or a healthy snack before can be helpful.”

Meals at the Movies

Many movie theaters now offer meal-like snacks including chicken tenders, hot dogs, and nachos laden with cheese. But you'll do far better to eat dinner at home or in a restaurant, says Molly Kimball, RD, a nutritionist at Oschner Clinic's Elmwood Cardiovascular Health and Fitness Center in New Orleans.

"If you are going to eat dinner in the movies, you get lots of what you don't need -- namely calories, saturated fat, and sodium -- and not anything of what you do need, such as fruits and veggies and whole grains," Hurley says.

Speaking of things you don't need, consider this revolutionary idea: You don't have to eat anything at all during a movie. Eat a healthy meal or snack beforehand, and you may be able to break the movie-snacking habit that's costing you money and calories.

"Eating at the movies is totally a cultural thing," Kimball says. "My clients from other countries say that people here eat everywhere they go. I always try to emphasize what the point of the event is: It's going to the movies, it's about entertainment, not necessarily food."

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