"Healthy" Chips: New Packages, Old Flaws

Potato chip companies products are limiting fat content for health reasons, but the lingering ingredients still make the chips extremely unhealthy

Chips and other salty snacks are under renovation.

Of course, you can still buy a bag of Lay's, Tostitos, Doritos or dozens of other old standbys. But now you can also find dozens of new varieties-with whole grains, vegetables, soy, less or no salt, less or no fat, or O grams trans. And many are tucked into sleek designer packages worthy of a spot on your coffee table.

The question is: are the snacks inside any better for you? Most aren't. With a few exceptions, their underlying flaw isn't salt or bad fat. It's the same problem that has dogged salty snacks since day one: they're calorie-dense, hard-to-resist foods with few redeeming nutrients.

That's why we handed out no Best Bites and only a handful of honorable mentions to chips made from sweet potatoes. At least they supply some vitamin A and a bit more fiber to help offset their potential to expand your belt size.

The bottom line: a?1 oz. serving of chips--typically 12 to 20--won't hurt you. But even if they come without salt or fat or with whole grains or sweet potato, you've got to watch the calories. Here's the latest in salty snacks.

Whole, Not Multi

Multigrain Tostitos have "Four Wholesome Grains!" Sun Chips have "Great Multigrain Taste!" And Nabisco Wheat Thins Multi-Grain Toasted Chips are "made with Whole Grain-5 g per serving."

Multigrain claims are multiplying, but they don't mean much. A?one-ounce?serving of Multigrain Tostitos (eight chips) has more sugar (one gram) than any of its "Four Wholesome Grains"--whole oat flour, whole buckwheat flour, toasted corn germ and whole wheat flour. So what if Sun Chips have other grains added?

Wheat Thins Toasted Chips are mostly white flour. Their?five grams of whole grain are only about a quarter of the grain in a one-ounce (12-chip) serving. And while Athenos Whole Wheat Pita Chips have more whole wheat than white flour, 100% whole wheat they ain't.

News flash: Most Doritos, Tostitos and other tortilla chips are made of whole-grain corn. Tostitos Natural Organic Blue or Yellow Corn Chips with some vitamin E and just 80 or 100 mg of sodium-are two of your best bets. But whole grain or not, calorie-dense chips are no health food.

Holy Terra

"Half Serving of Real Vegetables in Every Ounce," says the Flat Earth Garlic & Herb Field Baked Veggie Crisps bag.

Frito-Lay is pulling a fast one. Its crisps are mostly rice flour and potato flakes (that's the "real vegetable"), with a smidgen of pumpkin, onion and tomato paste. If Flat Earth's potato flakes are half a serving of veggies, an ounce of regular potato chips must be a whole serving. Who needs salad?

Likewise, Robert's American Gourmet sells Veggie Booty that boasts about its "blend of Spinach, Kale, Cabbage, Carrots and Broccoli." But the Booty is mostly cornmeal and rice. (Robert adds vitamins A and C to make it look more veggie-rich.)

Pringles new Select Cinnamon Sweet Potato Crisps--geared to an upscale market judging by the tasteful new packaging--are better. At least their first ingredient is sweet potato flakes (followed by oil, cornmeal, potato flakes, oat flour and rice flour). Each serving has enough sweet potato to give it 40 percent of a day's worth of vitamin A.

But why bother with all those flours and flakes when you can get fried sweet potato slices like Terra's Sweet Potato Chips? Terra sells some dozen kinds of root vegetable chips, like Parsnip, Sweets & Beets, and the Original mix of sweet potato, parsnip, batata, taro and yuca.

A one-ounce serving of the Sweet Potato Chips delivers 50 percent of a day's vitamin A. And all the Terras deliver honest-to-goodness vegetables, not spinach-powdered potato-flour chips or pressed flakes.

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