Deliciously salty with a satisfying crunch, it's not surprising that chips are a snacking go-to and sometimes difficult to stop mindlessly eating when served in a sharing bowl or if you're eating them straight out of the bag. But are chips really that unhealthy?
We chatted with registered dietitian nutritionists Jonathan Valdez, owner of Genki Nutrition and media spokesperson for New York State Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and Meredith Price, MS, RD, CDN of Priceless Nutrition & Wellness, to get their input and recommendations for healthier options.
As with everything, eat in moderation. For chips, look out for trans fats and sodium content.
When it comes to chips, "it's the matter of frequency and amount of chips you consume that will make an unhealthy habit," Valdez told INSIDER.
He calls out trans fats or hydrogenated oils as something to avoid. "Trans fat is responsible for increasing bad cholesterol or LDL and decreasing good cholesterol or HDL. High amounts put consumers at greater risk of type 2 diabetes, stroke, and heart attacks," said Valdez.
As Price puts it, "If you see the words 'partially hydrogenated' anywhere in the ingredients list, find another option."
Sodium is also a big one. "The average American consumes greater than 3,400 milligrams of sodium, while the recommendation is lower than 2,300 milligrams by the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans," said Valdez.
Note serving sizes.
"Serving sizes can be deceiving, particularly when there can be two to three servings in a small bag of chips that you will easily consume in one sitting," Price told INSIDER.
"If one serving contains 5-10% of your daily sodium remember that if you eat the whole bag, that's now doubled or tripled to 15-30% of your daily sodium — that's very high considering chips are only a snack and you still have all of your meals to eat for the day."
"Healthier" options like baked chips may be hiding added sugar.
Price pointed out that chips that seem healthier often have sugars added for flavor. She recommended noting sugar content in addition to sodium and trans fats as "Americans generally eat too much added sugar."
"I prefer the regular type of chips because they have less ingredients and although they're higher in total fat, it's mostly unsaturated fats which are the healthier type of fat," said Price.
One registered dietitian likes oven-baked chips for a satisfying crunch with fewer calories.
"Baked chips are the bomb," said Valdez. "They still have that crispiness but at lower calories."
He recommended Lay's baked potato chips. An ounce (about 17 chips) has 120 calories, 3.5 grams of fat (no saturated or trans fat), 160 milligrams sodium (7% daily value), and 2 grams of sugar. Valdez also likes Tostitos oven-baked scoops, with 120 calories, 3 grams of fat (including 0.5 grams saturated fat), 140 milligrams sodium, and 0 grams sugar for every ounce — about 16 chips.
Kale chips are a healthier alternative that's straightforward to make yourself.
"Every time I make these [kale chips], my toddler and husband devour them," said Price. "They're great because you can control how much sodium you add. Plus, they're made out of kale so you're getting extra nutrition like fiber and vitamin K! You can also play around with different seasonings to switch things up and discover new flavors."
For a store-bought chip alternative, Price and her toddler are fans of Trader Joe's Inner Peas pea crisps. "I like these chips because they're low in fat and sodium while being higher in fiber (3g) and protein (5g) than a traditional potato or corn chip," she said.
Skip chips altogether with crunchy fruit, nuts, and vegetables.
"A handful of nuts along with a crunchy vegetable or fruit can provide a lot of the same satisfaction you'd get from chips but with more fiber and protein, which will actually keep you full for longer," said Price.
Valdez recommended pairing hummus with celery or carrots for a satisfying snack.
Or make your own popcorn for more to munch.
Price noted that making your own popcorn allows you to control the sodium and fat content, and has the added bonus of a larger serving size (up to 3 cups) compared to chips, "so you get a bigger bang for your buck."
One of her favorite popcorn recipes to make at home features rosemary-infused olive oil and can be found here.