New Survey Reveals Shocking Levels of Salt & Sugar Found in Popcorn

  • Survey exposes misconception that popcorn is a healthy snack
  • Cineworld large salted popcorn contains nearly the MAXIMUM daily recommended intake of salt for an adult! That’s more salt than two McDonald’s Big Mac & fries, and nearly the same amount of calories! [REF 1]
  • Popcorn can also be extremely high in sugar, with some cinema popcorn containing nearly 30 teaspoons of sugar – more sugar than three cans of coca cola [REF 2] 
  • CASH calls for these very high salt and sugar levels in popcorn to be immediately reduced

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According to a new survey by Consensus Action on Salt & Health (CASH), the perceived ‘healthy snack’ popcorn is stuffing us with unnecessary amounts of salt and sugar [REF 3], with over a third (39%) containing as much salt, if not more, as KP original salted peanuts [REF 4].

CASH surveyed the salt content of 154 flavoured popcorn products sold in major supermarkets, cafés and cinemas, and found nearly one in four popcorn products (23%) contained dangerously high levels of salt [REF 5].

The saltiest popcorn in the survey (based on 100g) is Popcorn Kitchen’s Sea Salt & Olive Oil which contained 3.5g salt/100g (over ½  teaspoon of salt [REF 6]) – 40% saltier than seawater! [REF 7] followed closely by Metcalfe’s Skinny Popcorn White Cheese containing 3.45g salt per 100g.

Examples of the saltiest popcorns sold in supermarkets and cafes (per suggested portion size) include:

  • Metcalfe’s Skinny Topcorn Wasabi Glaze – 0.9g salt per 25g portion  
  • McEnnedy Microwave Popcorn Butter Flavour (Lidl) – 0.88g salt per 40g portion
  • Metcalfe’s Skinny Popcorn White Cheese – 0.86g salt per 25g portion
  • Pret A Manger Popcorn Rock Salt – 0.8g salt per 29g portion
  • Asda Chosen by You Toffee Popcorn – 0.78g salt per 50g portion
  • Popcorn Kitchen Sea Salt & Olive Oil – 0.77g salt per 22g portion

When it comes to the ‘Big Screen’, cinema popcorn has shockingly MORE salt with Cineworld’s Large Salted Popcorn (255g) containing a whopping 5.1g salt – that’s nearly an adult’s daily maximum recommended intake for salt, and a staggering 1213.8kcal, almost half of an adult males recommended daily calories [REF 8]! This is equivalent to eating two McDonalds Big Mac’s and a small portion of fries [REF 1].

It is well known that eating more salt increases thirst and therefore is likely to increase the amount of fluid you drink. If part of this increase in fluid intake is obtained from sugar sweetened soft drinks (like those easily obtainable at the local cinema), approximately one extra can would be consumed [REF 9]. This would add unnecessary amounts of calories to the diet, and thereby increase risk of obesity and obesity related disease [REF 10].

Other examples include:

  • Empire Cinemas Salted Popcorn (192g) containing 3.7g salt per pack
  • My Vue large Salted Popcorn (158g) containing 3.1g salt per pack
  • Odeon Salt Popcorn Large (weight not given) containing 3.02g per pack

Sonia Pombo, nutritionist for CASH says, “Popcorn has reinvented itself as a healthy and flavoursome snack but not all brands are delivering on this – with certain products containing dangerously high levels of salt and sugars. Plain popcorn can still be eaten as part of a healthy diet and provides whole grains, fibre and antioxidants, so be sure to read the label and opt for healthier versions. Or better yet, make your own from scratch!”

Examples of savoury popcorn with the lowest amounts of salt (per suggested portion size) include:

  • Waitrose Good to Go Wasabi & Ginger Popcorn – 0.11g salt per 25g portion
  • Butterkist Butter Microwave Popcorn – 0.15g salt per 20g portion
  • PROPERCORN Lightly Sea Salted – 0.15g salt per 20g portion
  • Tyrrell’s Poshcorn Sea Salted – 0.2g salt per 17g portion
  • Morrisons Salted Popcorn – 0.2g salt per 25g portion

Professor Graham MacGregor, CASH Chairman and Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the Wolfson Institute, Queen Mary University of London adds, “This is a perfect example of the food industry taking something that is good for health, and ruining it by adding large amounts of salt and sugar. Salt puts up our blood pressure, leading to strokes and heart disease. Reducing salt is one of the most cost-effective measures to reduce the number of people suffering and dying; the food industry needs to act now!”

Cineworld is the worst offender regarding the amount of sugars, with its Toffee Popcorn containing a shocking 121g sugars per 200g pack – that’s 30 teaspoons sugar!  The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends we limit our intake of free sugars to ideally 5% total energy intake (approx. 6 teaspoons of sugar a day for a woman) [REF 11], so if you were to eat a bag of Cineworld’s toffee popcorn, you would be eating 5 days’ worth of sugar!

Out of the 151 products with labelled information on sugars, 71 products (47%) would have a red (high) colour coded warning on front of pack. Furthermore, 13 products have 24g or more of sugars per portion – more than the daily maximum recommended intake [REF 10].

Examples of the sweetest popcorn sold in supermarkets and cafés (per suggested portion size) include:

  • Morrisons Toffee Popcorn – 32.5g sugar per 50g portion (8.1 teaspoons)
  • Asda Chosen by You Toffee Popcorn – 29g sugar per 50g portion (7.3 teaspoons)
  • Morrisons Chocolate Coated Toffee Popcorn – 21.2g sugar per 35g portion (5.3 teaspoons)
  • Aldi Toffee Popcorn – 19g sugar per 40g portion (4.8 teaspoons)
  • Butterkist Toffee Popcorn (snack pack) – 16.7g sugar per 30g portion (4.2 teaspoons)

And examples with the lowest:

  • Butterkist Sweet Microwave Popcorn – 0.3g sugar per 20g portion (0 teaspoons)
  • PROPERCORN Sweet Coconut & Vanilla – 1.6g sugar per 25g portion (1/2 teaspoon)
  • Marks & Spencer Guilt Free Snacking Sweet Popcorn – 2.5g sugar per 15g portion (1/2 teaspoon)
  • The Co-operative Loved by Us Spiced Ginger Flavour Popcorn – 4.2g sugar per 20g portion (1.1 teaspoons)
  • The Co-operative Cinema Style Sweet Popcorn – 4.2g sugar per 25g portion (1.1 teaspoons)

Kawther Hashem, Nutritionist for Action on Sugar says “Obesity, type 2 diabetes and tooth decay are serious health problems for many of us.  As a nation we should be doing all we can to reduce the amount of unnecessary sugars and calories from our diet, including cutting back on processed snacks. Unfortunately the food industry doesn’t make it easy for us, disguising highly processed snacks like popcorn with a healthy halo. We call on manufactures to stop misleading us and to reduce the amount of sugars in our food and drink immediately.”

Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England, said “There is less salt in a wide range of manufactured foods than 10 years ago. It’s good progress, but people should still check food labels to help them choose lower salt options.”


- ENDS -

Notes to editors:
National PR - David Clarke: 07773 225516
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Popcorn Category
According to data from Euromonitor International, Popcorn has outperformed the overall snacks market in terms of value growth, with sales increasing by almost 60% since 2009. Volume sales have increased by the same proportion - 60% - in the last five years, from 3,700 tonnes in 2009 to 6,000 tonnes in 2014.

REF 1 – Two McDonald’s Big Macs and one small portion of fries contains 1,253kcal and 5.0g of saltREF 1 – Survey Details

REF 2 – Three 330ml cans of coca cola contains 105g sugar (35g sugar per can). This equates to 26.25 teaspoons of sugar (1 teaspoon = 4g sugar)

REF 3 – Survey Details
154 flavoured popcorn products were included in the survey, including those commonly sold in all major supermarkets (Aldi, ASDA, Lidl, Marks & Spencer, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, The Co-operative, Waitrose and online Ocado) as well as Boots, and local eateries e.g. EAT, Pret A Manger and Itsu. In addition, the survey also looked at popcorn sold in cinemas (Cineworld, Odeon, Empire Cinemas, My Vue and Thomas Tucker (supplier for cinemas)). Plain popping corn was not included in the survey.

Nutritional information was collected between 13th April and 15th June using CASH’s food and beverage database, online information and via supermarket visits. 8 products did not have ‘per 100g’ information for salt, and 11 did not have ‘per 100g’ information for sugars.

REF 4 – KP original salted peanuts contains 1.3g salt per 100g 63 flavoured popcorn products out of 153 surveyed (with salt information per 100g available) contain 1.3g per 100g or more of salt (41%).

REF 5 – This is based on guidance for front of pack nutrition labelling. If a product contains more than 1.5g/100g or more than 1.8g/portion of salt, then the product would receive a red colour on front of pack.

REF 6 – One teaspoon contains 6g salt, which is the maximum daily recommended intake for an adult

REF 7 – Atlantic seawater has a salt concentration of 2.5g/100g

REF 8 – Within a healthy, balanced diet, an adult male needs around 2,500kcal a day to maintain his weight.

REF 9 – He F, Markandu ND, Sagnella GA, MacGregor GA “Effect of salt intake on renal excretion of water in humans” Hypertension. 2001;38:317-320

REF 10 – He F, MacGregor GA “Salt and sugar: their effects on blood pressure” European Journal of Physiology. 2015;467:577-586 

REF 11Guideline: Sugars intake for adults and children
Press release ‘WHO calls on countries to reduce sugars intake among adults and children’