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What's Really Inside Your Movie Theater Popcorn?

By Shannan Rouss ; Updated January 30, 2018

There’s just something about movie theater popcorn — the rich, buttery aroma, that familiar yellow hue, even the greasy coating it leaves on the roof of your mouth. And while it probably doesn’t need a squirt of butter, sometimes you just wanna go all in, ya know? It’s even easy to dupe yourself into believing that what you’re eating only contains two ingredients: popcorn and butter.

Alas, that could not be further from the truth. The site Extra Crispy has broken the news to us that what makes movie popcorn so good is basically a combination of artificial colors, flavors and other chemicals. (Of course, this isn’t the first time we’ve had to face facts about what’s really in our food, but that doesn’t make it any easier.)

First, there’s Flavacol, a finely ground, powder-like seasoning salt containing yellow dye. And that “butter” topping? As Delish says, that’s actually a version of buttery flavored oil (so not real butter at all) made with beta carotene (an organic pigment found in vegetables like carrots and spinach), polydimethylsiloxane (an anti-foaming agent also used in cosmetic products), tertiary Butylhydroquinone (a synthetic antioxidant that extends the shelf life of food) and soybean oil.

As for the soybean oil, depending on the brand of buttery topping used, it may or may not be partially hydrogenated. At least one popular topping maker, Odell’s, has switched to refined soybean oil, which makes its topping free of trans fat, the kind of fat that lowers good cholesterol and raises bad cholesterol.

If you can’t fathom giving up your movie theater popcorn, you could forego the buttery topping altogether — just be aware of the salt. At AMC Theaters, which provides nutrition info online, a “Cameo” size popcorn without any topping contains 300 calories and 13 grams of fat (it’s still popped in canola oil), plus 740 milligrams of sodium, That’s about a third the amount of sodium you should have in a day, according to the FDA Dietary Guidelines.

If you want to get that movie theater popcorn experience at home (but a healthier version), check out this method! And if you’re curious about what’s in the rest of your food, check out LIVESTRONG.COM’s free MyPlate Calorie Tracker.

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