Earlier this week we looked at healthy snack options. Today I read an interesting article about the way snack foods are marketed, and how the label on the box is often worded to make it sound a lot better than it really is. One of my favourite misleading labels is “90% fat-free”. Sounds great, doesn’t it? But all it really means is that the product contains 10% fat – and whole milk only contains 4%! So today I thought I’d look at one of the most popular and varied snack foods – crisps in the UK, better known as chips in the US.

food-268511_640Using popular UK brand Walkers (the same company as Lays in the US; though the flavours are different) ready salted as a reference, standard potato chips contain around 526 calories, 32g of fat (2.6g saturated fat), 51.5g carbohydrate, 4.3g fibre, 6.1g protein and 1.4g of salt per 100g (3.5oz). A regular sized 32.5g bag contains a more reasonable-sounding 10.4g of fat, but that’s still 15% of the recommended daily amount for the average adult. So what alternatives are out there?

Firstly, and fairly simple to find, we have potato chips that are baked instead of fried. As a straight comparison, Walkers ready salted baked crisps contain 409 calories, 8g of fat (0.8g saturated fat), 74.9g carbohydrate, 4.9g fibre, 7g protein and 1.16g of salt per 100g. So they score highly for less calories and less than 1/3 the fat of regular crisps, but they have 50% more carbs. So baked crisps are less UNhealthy that traditional chips, but they certainly aren’t a healthy choice.

So how about vegetable chips? Tyrrells hand cooked beetroot, parsnip and carrot chips sound like they must be healthy – that’s three different vegetables for a start! But a closer look at the nutritional data reveals the following: 492 calories, 35.3g of fat (4.1g saturated fat), 37.4g carbohydrate, 14.2g fibre, 4.7g protein and 0.6g of sodium (sneaky – because that equates to 1.4g salt!) per 100g. These supposedly healthy chips are a great source of fibre…but look at the fat content! Also, vegetable crisps don’t count as one of your five a day, no matter how many you eat, and a lot of nutrients are lost during their preparation. Not such a great choice then, though I do admit I enjoy them once in a while! If you’ve got the time, you can try making your own vegetable chips with this great recipe.

What about Popchips? I must admit I hadn’t even heard of these, but the website sounds great – instead of frying or baking in oil, they use high pressure and heat to create a light, airy snack. And indeed, the nutritional info does look somewhat better. 408 calories, 14g of fat (1.3g saturated fat), 61g carbohydrate, 4.2g fibre, 5.4g protein and 2.9g salt per 100g. But the lower calories and fat are counterbalanced by the massive salt content – a 23g serving contains 0.66g of salt which is over 1/3 of the daily value for adults and more than half the DV for children between the ages of 4 and 8. So while popped chips are better than regular fried potato chips, they’re still not exactly a healthy choice.

Other chips stand out for one or two unique ingredients – quinoa chips, black bean chips, brown rice chips, for example. Unfortunately, the refining and cooking processes often strip some of the benefits from these healthy ingredients, and if you opt for the more heavily seasoned varieties then the salt and additives content is likely to be higher.

So the verdict is – if you really love crisps, enjoy them as an occasional treat, but try to stick to healthier fruit, nuts and wholefoods when you’re craving a tasty snack!