Guide to Chips, Pretzels, and Other Snack Foods

by Reed Mangels, PhD, RD

Did you know that potato chips, corn chips, and popcorn rank 11th among all foods in the amount of fat which they supply to US adults? The typical adult gets more fat from these foods than from ice cream, eggs, or nuts and seeds. This suggests that we're eating a lot of chips.

Let's look at the nutrition facts on a typical package of chips. If you're looking at regular potato, corn, or tortilla chips, you'll see that an ounce provides around 140 calories. Pretzels and lowfat chips have around 110 calories in a 1-ounce serving. Just what is a 1-ounce serving? Probably far fewer chips than many of us eat at one time. An ounce is about 6 large tortilla chips, 20 mini pretzels or potato chips, or 2-4 cups of popped popcorn. That 1-ounce serving can supply 10 or 11 grams of fat (as much as a couple of teaspoons of oil) and as much as 500 milligrams of sodium (almost as much as 1/4 teaspoon of salt). Fortunately, there are lower fat and lower sodium versions of many snack foods, and in many cases they are pretty tasty—once you get used to tasting potato or corn and not just grease and salt.

What are the positives about chips? Many are made with unsaturated fats like high monounsaturated sunflower oil, canola oil, safflower oil, or olive oil. They are often a good source of vitamin E. Popcorn provides fiber, although other snack foods, such as chips and pretzels, don't have much. A few chips, those made with dried carrots or sweet potatoes, have decent levels of vitamin A. Although potatoes are a good source of vitamin C, potato chips are not. Chips and popcorn are not especially good sources of other vitamins or of minerals such as iron and calcium.

What about ingredients? A few chips are still made with hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils, a source of trans fatty acids. High intakes of these fatty acids have been linked to heart disease. No chips only carried by the natural foods store contain trans fatty acids; some in the grocery store list hydrogenated oil as a possible ingredient. We recommend purchasing chips which do not contain hydrogenated fats. Olestra, a fat substitute that can be used in potato and tortilla chips, impairs absorption of some vitamins and can lead to stomach cramps and loose stools. Based on these problems, we recommend avoiding snack foods containing Olestra.

Which snack foods have animal-derived ingredients is usually pretty obvious. Phrases like "White Cheddar," "Lite Buttery Flavor," "Honey Dijon," and "Sour Cream 'n' Onion" certainly indicate products which vegans would avoid. In other instances, shoppers will have to pay attention to the ingredient list. We found Barbecue Chips, Nacho Chips, and Chili and Lime Chips with whey, and Pinta Chips and some pretzels that contained honey.

Some chips do use organic ingredients. These include Garden of Eatin', Guiltless Gourmet, Robert's American Gourmet, Skinny Naturals, Bearitos, Newman's Own, and Whole Foods products. These chips can be found in natural foods stores or the natural foods sections of supermarkets. In general, snack foods from the natural foods aisle had less fat and less sodium than their counterparts in the supermarket.

If snack foods are an occasional treat, you may not be too concerned about the amount of fat and sodium in many brands. If, however, you find yourself munching on a regular basis, it seems prudent to choose products with less fat and less sodium. Our top choice snack foods all have no more than 4 grams of fat and 250 milligrams of sodium in a serving and are vegan. They are:

  • Bearitos No Salt, No Oil, Popcorn
  • Garden of Eatin' Salted California Bakes, Hot & Smoky California Bakes, and Roasted Sesame California Bakes
  • Good Health Half Naked Popcorn
  • Guiltless Gourmet Unsalted Yellow Corn Chips, Yellow Corn Chips, White Corn Chips, Blue Corn Chips, and Red Corn Chips
  • Kettle Crisps Baked Potato Chips
  • Robert's American Gourmet Potato Flyers Original, Pretzels with Soy, Nude Food – Original, Popcorn, and Veggie Booty Chips
  • Skinny Natural Corn Chips
  • Stacy's Pita Chips
  • Baked Tostitos
  • Whole Foods 365 Yellow Corn Chips

Serving size is one ounce. Products are ranked from lowest to highest fat, then from lowest to highest sodium, in each category. Products containing some organic ingredients are indicated by "org," while vegan products are indicated by "v." Top choice snack foods (no more than 4 grams of fat and 250 mg of sodium per serving, vegan) are italicized.

Product Calories Fat (gm) Sodium (mg)
Potato Chips:
Robert's American Gourmet Potato Flyers Original, v 100 1 146
Kettle Crisps Baked Potato Chips, v 110 1.5 135
Lay's Baked (contains sugar) 110 1.5 150
Kettle Crisps Honey BBQ 110 1.5 160
Terra Yukon Gold/Onion & Garlic, v 130 5 65-80
Terra Salt & Pepper/Salt & Vinegar, v 130 5 110-120
Cape Cod Yukon Gold, v 130 5 160
Robert's American Gourmet with Soy, v, org 130 5 160
Terra Spiced Taro, v 130 5 170
Tropics Yuca Chips, Barbecue, v 135 6 100
Cape Cod 40% Reduced Fat, v 130 6 110
Terra Blues, v 140 6 115
Terra No Salt Added Sweet Potato, v 140 7 10
Terra Jalapeño/Mesquite BBQ Sweet Potato, v 140 7 65-70
Terra Exotic Vegetable Chips, v 140 7 70
Boulder Totally Natural, v 140 7 75
Terra Salsa Sweet Potato 140 7 75
Terra Spiced Sweet Potato, v 140 7 105
Olive Oil Potato Chips, v 140 7 120-210
Boulder Malt Vinegar/Spicy Barbecue/Herb & Garlic, v 140 7 160-220
Cape Cod, v 150 8 110
Kettle Chips Yogurt & Green Onion/Salsa/Honey Dijon 140-50 8 150-170
Kettle Chips Sea Salt & Vinegar, v 150 8 180
Kettle Chips No Salt, v 150 9 10
Kettle Chips Lightly Salted, v 150 9 110
Terra Stix, v 150 9 110
Good Health Shoestring Potato Sticks, v 160 9 200
Barbara's Natural, v 150 10 180
Lay's Classic, v 150 10 180
Tortilla/Corn Chips:
Guiltless Gourmet Unsalted Yellow Corn, v, org 110 1 26
Garden of Eatin' Salted California Bakes, v, org 110 1 65
Baked Tostitos, v 110 1 200
Garden of Eatin' Hot & Smoky Chipotle/Roasted Sesame California Bakes, v, org 120 2 35-80
Skinny Natural Corn Chips, v, org 120 2 115
Guiltless Gourmet Yellow Corn/White Corn/Blue Corn/Red Corn, v, org 110 2 160
365 Yellow Corn, v 110 2 160
Guiltless Gourmet Mucho Nacho/Picante Ranch/Chili Lime 110 2 200
Skinny Natural BBQ Corn Chips, v, org 120 2 180
Garden of Eatin' White, v, org 140 5 50
Garden of Eatin' Little Soy Blues, v, org 140 6 55
Kettle Little Dippers/5 Grain Yellow Corn/Blue Corn, v, org 140 6 80
Tostitos, v 140 6 80
Barbara's Pinta Chips 130 6 210
Bearitos White Corn Unsalted, v, org 140 7 5
Garden of Eatin' Blue Chips No Salt Added, v, org 150 7 10
Garden of Eatin' Black Bean/Mini Corns/Red/Blue, v, org 150 7 45-65
Garden of Eatin' Red Hot Blues, org 150 7 80
Garden of Eatin' Black Bean Chili, v, org 140 7 80
Bearitos Yellow Corn/Blue Corn/White Corn, v, org 140 7 120
Newman's Own Yellow Corn, v, org 150 7 120
Newman's Own Jalapeño, v, org 150 7 160
Garden of Eatin' Sesame Blues/Sunny Blues, v, org 150-60 8 65-70
Kettle Sesame Moons, v, org 150 8 80
Fritos, v 160 10 160
Natural GH Foods Waffle Pretzels 110 0 400
Whole Foods Minis/Sticks, v, org 100 0.5 300
Robert's American Gourmet with Soy, v, org 102 1 110
Newman's Own Salted Rounds/Salt & Pepper Rounds/Thin/Salted Stick, v, org 110 1 350-400
Wege Sourdough Thin 120 1 560
Wege Honey Wheat with Sesame Seeds 140 1.8 23
Natural GH Peanut Butter Pretzels, v 140 6 160
Robert's American Gourmet Nude Food - Original, v 46 0 0
Good Health Half Naked, v 120 1 140
Bearitos No Salt, No Oil, v, org 120 1.5 0
Whole Foods, v, org 140 5 50
Bearitos Lite Buttery Flavored, org 140 6 140
Robert's American Gourmet Dude Food Popcorn 120 6 220
Bearitos Lite, v, org 140 6 230
Wise Popcorn 150 10 370
Bearitos White Cheddar, org 170 11 230
Good Health Veggie Sticks Baked Potato, v 120 0 360
Robert's American Gourmet Veggie Booty, v, org 120 2.5 137
Good Health Veggie Sticks Baked Potato & Sour Cream/Cheddar 120 3 360
Stacy's Pita Chips, v 140 4 140
Eden Sea Vegetable Chips/Hot 'n Spicy Wasabi Chips, v 130-40 4-5 220-60
Harry's Garden Beet Garlic Chips, v 134 5.1 80
Good Health Potato Onion Veggie Rings/Veggie Sticks Mixed Vegetables, v 140 6 230-310
Maine Coast Sea Vegetable Sea Chips, v, org 146 6.6 65
Harry's Garden Vegetable Chips, Veggie Mix, v 141 7 80
Hain Carrot Chips 160 9 170