No food should ever be demonized. (Can we all agree that foods should not be labeled with moral qualities like "good" and "bad"?) If every now and then a craving for Cooler Ranch Doritos hits, get yourself some stat. But if you are looking for a chip that actually brings something to the table nutritionally because you want something crunchy to enjoy on the reg, it's worth looking into some other options. This being 2021, there are lots of healthy chips you can buy or even make at home if you want complete control over the ingredients list.
What to look for when buying healthy chips, according to a registered dietitian
First, it's helpful to know what exactly qualifies as a healthy chip. There is a lot of clever marketing out there that makes finding nutrient-rich chip options confusing. Walking down the chip aisle, you may have noticed that besides classic potato chips, there are chips made with all sorts of different types of veggies including kale, carrots, or beets. According to nutrition expert Frances Largeman-Roth, RD, these types of chips may make good alternatives to sodium-filled potato chips—just don't assume they can replace your veggie intake. And she emphasizes that doing a quick scan of the ingredients list and nutrition panel is key.
"There are a ton of super healthy-sounding chips options these days, but many of them are mostly starch, with the featured ingredient—kale or carrot, for example—showing up lower down on the ingredient list," Largeman-Roth says. "This doesn’t mean that they’re not a good snack, but you can’t think of them as replacements for servings of vegetables. They’re just snacks!"
If you're reading the ingredients list and see that the veggie chips you're eying are made with starch (aka carrot starch, for example) instead of the actual veg, Largeman-Roth says this means they likely aren't very rich in nutrients. "Starch is generally not a nutrient-dense source," she says. "There are many starches out there, from cassava to carrot to potato. They offer calories and a medium to add other ingredients. Think of it like baking with all-purpose flour and adding zucchini or carrots to it." Again, this doesn't mean they're "unhealthy." It just means you aren't going to get a ton of nutrient value from them.
It's also worth noting that potatoes are veggies too; potato chips are not inherently unhealthy. "There is nothing wrong with enjoying potato chips as long as you don’t find yourself at the other end of the chip bag. That would add up to a lot of calories, as well as sodium," Largeman-Roth says. In fact, she says one health benefit to potato chips is that they contain resistant starch, which is a type of carbohydrate that acts like fiber and helps keep you feeling full longer. What's important when choosing a potato chip is eyeing the sodium amount as too much sodium is linked to increased risk for heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends eating no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium (the equivalent of one teaspoon of salt) per day.
Watch the video below to learn more about the connection between sodium and heart health:
Besides chips made with veggies, chips made from chickpeas, lentils, and beans are also becoming more popular in the chip aisle. Largeman-Roth says she's into these, particularly if you're getting a few grams of fiber per serving. Some, she says, only have one gram of fiber per serving. This (again) isn't "unhealthy," but it's not nutrient-rich either.
When looking for a chip that's truly nutrient-rich, look at the ingredients list to see if an actual plant—whether it's a vegetable or a protein-source, like chickpeas—is listed first. Then, eye the nutritional panel to see if the fiber is over one gram and the sodium content is low. If it checks those boxes, you have yourself a bag of healthy chips. When making chips at home, you can meet these standards by baking your veggie (or chickpeas, beans, and so on) instead of frying them with oil and using a minimal amount of salt. Indeed, there's a whole pantry of flavorful spices to consider instead.
Looking for ideas on both fronts? Rounded up here are healthy chips to buy and to make at home.
5 healthy chips to buy:
Made with upcycled pressed vegetables, the first ingredients listed on the back of this chip bag are celery and kale—so right away you know they’re a win. Each serving has two grams of protein and five grams of fiber, which is pretty impressive for something that’s merely the side to your meal rather than the main event.
Cauliflower has been transformed into everything from rice to pizza, so it’s no surprise the veg is popping up in the snack aisle in chip form. These chips are also made with cassava and chia seeds, which ups the fiber content. They’re not super nutrient-rich—just one gram of protein and two grams of fiber per serving—but everything on the ingredients list are wholesome foods you can feel good about consuming.
5 healthy chip recipes to make at home:
1. Baked zucchini chips
If you have zucchini, olive oil, and salt, you have everything you need to make these baked chips. (Insider cooking tip: add a half teaspoon of cayenne pepper for extra flavor.) Besides fiber, the zucchini is a good source of vitamins A and C, magnesium, and potassium.
Get the recipe: baked zucchini chips
2. Air fryer potato chips
The beauty of the air fryer is that it creates perfectly crispy potato chips without all the grease. This recipe is so simple it's practically foolproof.
Get the recipe: air fryer potato chips
3. Kale chips
Kale chips can be tricky to master. Often, they fall apart too easily, turn out too soggy, or don't have enough flavor. But follow this recipe and you'll have none of those problems. Instead, you'll get a batch that has the perfect balance of crispness and chewiness. They're also full of flavor thanks to smart use of a few pantry spices, specifically paprika, garlic powder, chili powder, onion powder, and protein-packed nutritional yeast.
Get the recipe: kale chips
4. Oven-baked beet chips
Beets have a starchy composition similar to potatoes that makes them perfect for chip-making, but they taste slightly sweeter. Plus, the color is gorg! This recipe shows how to make them in the oven with just a little olive oil and salt—so easy.
Get the recipe: oven-baked beet chips
5. Banana chips
If you want a chip that's a little sweeter, banana chips are an easy snack to make at home. In this recipe, they're baked in the oven, topped with lemon juice and cinnamon—a spice that's linked to fighting inflammation. Make a batch and save 'em to snack on throughout the week.
Get the recipe: banana chips
As you can see, chips can definitely have a place in a healthy diet and can even up the nutrient density of your meal. Whether you're buying your chips or making them at home, the key is going for ones made with plants and aren't loaded with sodium. Keep that in mind and you have yourself a snack or side that dietitians will give two thumbs up.
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