In Pursuit of the Perfect Chip

Every body loves chips! And the good news is: Your choices are no longer restricted to potato or corn. Now it's easy to find great tasting chips made from taro root, sweet potatoes, soybeans, black beans, pinto beans, adzuki beans, pita bread, rice, or even apples. They're baked rather than fried, or cooked in olive oil. They're sprinkled with sea salt and flax seeds. They're all-natural, gluten-free, and trans fat-free. The question is: Are they actually good for you?

The only way to judge is to read the package label and compare different brands and different types of chips to see which ones score highest on the nutrition chart. Look for "whole grain" or the name of a fruit, vegetable, grain, or bean as the first or second ingredient. Chips are processed foods and, for the most part, are not going to help you meet many of your nutritional needs, even when you choose healthier varieties. But check the fiber content. A serving of chips, which is usually 1 ounce (oz) or 28 grams (g), can provide as much as 5 grams of fiber if made with beans. That's 20 percent of the daily recommended amount, and quite a healthy contribution for a snack food. Any type of chip provides at least 2 or 3 g of dietary fiber is among the better choices.

The nutrients to watch out for are sodium and fat, and the best way to decide which chips are healthier in this regard is to compare types of chips and brands. Most range from 3 to 8 percent of the daily value for sodium. A good goal is look for chips that provide less than 5 percent (less than 120 mg) of your daily allotment of sodium per serving. The lower, the better, especially since government nutrition experts now recommend we all try to consume less than 1500 mg of sodium a day.

When it comes to fat, traditional potato chips average about 10 g fat per serving and are not necessarily made with healthier types of fat. Look for chips that contain less total fat—no saturated or "trans" fats. Whether they are baked or fried, they may still contain added fat. Choose chips that use healthier oils such as olive, safflower or canola oil.

Often, what makes a food unhealthy is not so much the food itself or any of its ingredients, but the amount you eat.  Snack foods like chips are certainly no exception and can play a devastating role when it comes to weight control. Stick to the recommended serving size on the package, and you'll be able to tell from the nutrition label just how many calories you're consuming.

And remember—your chips are only as healthy as the dips you enjoy with them. If you take a healthier chip and dip it into a sour cream mix, you may be canceling out some of the benefits. Better to choose a bean, yogurt, low-fat cheese, or fresh vegetable dip, and it's usually best of all if you make it yourself, from scratch, so you can control the amount of fat or salt, as necessary.  Search for "healthy dips" on the internet and you're likely to come up with great recipes for guacamole, fresh salsa, spinach and yogurt dips and many more ideas for perfect—and perfectly healthy-chip and dip combos.



U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Lowering Salt in Your Diet

Harvard Health Publications: Fats Resource Center