Let’s Ask Marion: Does Popcorn Deserve A Pass To The Movies?

(With a click of her mouse, EatingLiberally’s kat corners Dr. Marion Nestle, NYU professor of nutrition and author of Food Politics and What to Eat:)

Kat: My Screening Liberally colleagues have asked me to recommend "a nutritious alternative to popcorn" that Screening Liberally chapters could serve at their film screenings. But is popcorn itself really such a terrible snack? Obviously, if you drench it in butter or oil, it becomes a fat bomb, and then there's diacetyl--the "butter" flavored chemical that gives the workers exposed to it the debilitating illness called "popcorn lung." But if you start with non-GMO, organic popcorn, say, and you pop it in just a wee bit of canola oil and sprinkle it with nutritional yeast, the way they do in those hipster indie movie houses, haven't you got yourself a pretty healthy snack, provided you don't consume a Paul Bunyon-sized tub of it?

Dr. Nestle: Hey--this sounds like my new column in the San Francisco Chronicle in which I discussed, of all things, pizza. The editors wanted to know whether pizza could ever be healthy? Of course it can. Popcorn too. Popcorn has the benefit of being mostly air (it's popped, right?). Air has no calories. So a cup of popcorn is just 30 calories. Air doesn't have much in the way of nutrients either, so that cup of popcorn has a few minerals, a gram of protein, and a teaspoon of starch. Not much good, but no harm done either. BUT: nobody has just a cup and nobody just eats popcorn. Every tablespoon of fat--butter or oil--adds at least 100 calories and throw sugar on top of it and you've added some more. It's still a lot better than most things you get in movie theaters, but I want real butter on mine, not that phony stuff.

Hotel South Africa

Yes! Popcorn is great. Hotel South Africa