Satisfy Your Cravings for Crunch and Salt
Susan Bowerman, MS, RD, CSSD
Take a stroll down the snack chip aisle in the grocery store, and it’s pretty clear that we love our crunchy, salty snacks. There’s something about the combination of crispy texture and salty taste that’s practically irresistible. One reason is that many snack foods have their flavor amped up. They’re not just salty, they’re spicy, oniony, vinegary, and even a touch sweet - and all those flavors put your taste buds into overdrive. The other reason we love snack foods so much is the crunch - chomping on hard, crispy foods acts as a stress-reducer.
Most people know that most snack chips are more a guilty pleasure than a health food. But you may see products that try to convince you otherwise. It’s not hard to be swayed when the packages feature nutrient-rich ingredients like fruits, veggies or whole grains.
And what could be more tempting than a guilt-free chip; one that provides spinach, or carrots, apples or tomatoes. But before you dig in, take a closer look at the ingredients list. Most of these chips are made from potato or corn flour, which are just starches, with some powdered or pureed vegetable tossed in. Then, they’re shaped and fried just like other snack chips. Aside from the fact that most have very little vegetable in them to start with, with the exception of chips that are actually made from vegetable or apple slices, the heat of the frying process destroys many beneficial nutrients, like vitamin C.
Even if chips do contain a little bit of vegetable the label will also tell you that you’ll get no vitamin A or C from a tiny, one-ounce serving that will also cost you 140 calories. And, you’ll be downing a couple of teaspoons of fat at the same time.
A whole carrot, on the other hand, has only about 25 calories and provides more than twice your Daily Value for vitamin A. Not only that, you’ll get the benefit of all the other vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and fiber it contains. And if you’re swayed by the words ‘whole grain’ on the label thinking you’ll get your fiber, you might want to look again. Many chips are ‘made with whole grain’ which is just another way of saying that they actually contain very little.
There are healthier alternatives when you’re craving something crunchy and salty. Baked corn tortilla chips are low fat and whole grain, and there are plenty of 100% whole grain crackers to choose from. You can also try toasting a slice of whole grain toast or a wedge of pita bread with a sprinkle of garlic powder and parmesan. Some snack crisps are made with soy, which gives you a little protein along with your salt and crunch - and the same goes for a handful of nuts or soy nuts. Crunchy vegetables with salsa or hummus might work for you, too.
Keep snack chips in their place in your diet. They’re fine as a once-in-a-while treat, but they’re not going to help you meet your vegetable and fruit needs. Adding tiny amounts of healthy ingredients to a snack food doesn’t transform it into health food. And a carrot should look like a carrot, not a potato chip.