Crisps, potato chips-no matter what we call them, our love affair with them is all the same. Some of us crave an endless list of flavours and varieties; whether they’re baked, deep fried, or kettle cooked … how healthy are they? …And if this is your savoury snack of choice, are you aware of its nutritional consequences?
Crisps are notorious for contributing to our daily recommended fat and salt intakes and it’s been shown in a UK government poll that 1/3 of British children (8-15 years) consume crisps on a daily basis; children are led by our example remember?!
That’s a rather disturbing thought considering the current rise in childhood obesity and how many packets people probably consume per year. Having a standard pack of crisps every day equates to having nearly 3L of oil per year!
High intakes of salt can lead to raised blood pressure and cause bloating, whilst high intakes of fat can cause raised cholesterol levels, obesity and other chronic diseases. Those with existing underlying health conditions, or those that are very young or even pregnant have even more of a reason to adhere to healthy eating guidance; for you constipation suffers, excessive intakes will only exacerbate matters. For help on how to distinguish high fat and salt contents on food labelling, check out my other article on ‘5 Steps To Cut Down On Sugar & Why You’ll Be Happier for it! for FSA links.
So how have companies responded to increased health warnings? Some have created alternative snacks in their range, e.g. popcorn, whilst others have come out with supposedly healthier varieties, e.g. ‘baked not fired’, ‘70% less fat’, or ‘vegetable-based crisps’ etc. You can see why some companies may be reluctant to do this at first; it would mean that they would have to admit that there current product is inferior…perhaps not so healthy after all??
There are various types of crisp sold in the U.K. Some example include:
- Kettle cooked
- Preformed & processed crisps
- Baked crisps
- Corn based crisps
- Root Vegetable crisps
So is there a ‘healthy’ option when it comes to crisps?
Let’s review some current brands and see…
An Average ‘Brand Name’ Serving And How They Weigh Up!
The Walkers ‘Baked’ and ‘Pop’ varieties in addition to the ‘POP’ brand & the Plain ‘Doritios’ chips (in a 25g portion) …and perhaps arguably the ‘SunBites’ seem to run ahead of the game as ‘healthier’ (and lower fat) options go, but as with any food its best to eat it in moderation- which doesn’t necessarily mean, every day, every other day or a once a week. NB: The Walkers ‘POP’ & ‘POP’ brand sells their product in a slightly smaller bag/portion size than other name brands.
This also exposes the circulating myth of ‘kettle crisps’; although the cooking method may technically be ‘healthier’ as conventional cooking methods for crisps oxidises the cooking oil (creating free radicals)… but all you have to do is look at the nutritional information. Kettle crisps do not seem to be any healthier than the traditional crisps.
At the end of the day, potato crisps may provide a source of vitamin C, some B-vitamins and also potassium and vitamin E (from the cooking oil)… but on the other hand they provide us with fat, salt and calories.
If you can’t get on with the ‘healthier’ crisp options, try having your favourite type in ‘moderation’ or maybe you could give one of the healthy snack alternatives a try?
Healthier Savoury Snack Options
- A portion of unsalted almonds, pumpkin or sunflower seeds, or some mixed nuts.
- Pretzels (unsalted).
- Baked and seasoned chickpeas, wasabi peas or any other type of legume.
- Homemade dip, houmous or a savoury yoghurt, e.g. plain yoghurt with fresh herbs and lemon juice, maybe garlic served with crudités or crackers/wholemeal pitta slices etc.
There are so many types of dips and houmous to choose from, e.g. butter bean, black bean, chickpeas, beetroot, sweet potato, sun dried tomato, artichoke etc!
- Homemade popcorn with seasoning, e.g. a little salt or pepper, cumin, turmeric, paprika or whatever takes your fancy instead of a tonne of salt, sugar, oil or butter.
- Homemade black bean salsa with toasted pitta wedges.
- Homemade (low-fat) vegetable crisps.
- Celery sticks with a low-fat cream cheese or some natural(unsalted) nut/seed butter.
- Some low-fat/salt flavoured rice cakes/crackers.
- Low-salt corn cakes.
- Some plain (low-salt, unsalted) rice or oat cakeswith a natural nut butter or low-fat cream cheese with slices of cucumber/tomato.
—>Add apple, grapes, pineapple, strawberries if you prefer a sweeter version!
- A portion of low-fat cheese(30g/matchbox size) and (low-sodium) crackers.
- Cheese on toast! Use some low-fat cheese on multi-grain toast.
- A portion of olives (approx. 10, depending on type). If in brine, rinse before eating.
- ‘Mini pizza to go’! Use ½ an English muffin, a small pitta bread or a toritilla wrap with a 1 tsp. of tomato sauce or puree, fresh or dried herbs, some veggies and 15g of low-fat cheese.
- 2 pieces of sushi or ‘faux ‘sushi (tofu and/or vegetable).
- A healthy homemade version of ‘egg or tuna mayo’ on wholegrain crisp breads/wheat crackers.
- A small portion if cherry or baby plum tomatoes, feta cheese, balsamic vinegar, oregano or basil, seasoning and olive oil.
- A small portion of tuna or seasoned tofu, white beans, e.g. butter, kidney, cannellini etc and a homemade vinaigrette dressing.
- Small, homemade, grilled stuffed mushrooms (a little low-fat spread and cheese, green onions, herbs of choice, diced red pepper and bread crumbs) or try a nut or meat version if preferred.
- 2-3 homemade bilinis with a little horseradish paste, smoked mackerel or tofu and a slice of red pepper or cucumber.
*For help with healthy portions, check out my portion sizes article !
It’s like they say with anything, keep to eating in ‘moderation’, have suitable portion sizes and realistic views about your food!
Whenever you pick up a packet of standard crisps, think about the 100-150 empty’ calories you’ll be consuming; of which 72+ will come from fat! Whilst eating an apple will provide you with much needed vitamins, some minerals, soluble fibre and lovely anti-oxidants.
The choice is yours; just make it an informed one!
Article written by: Lynn Risby BSc Nutritionist
Feature image by: Loay Tattan_Flickr