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Are potato chips bad for you?

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There is no denying that potato chips (or potato crisps, as they are known in the UK and other countries) are super delicious and go well with just about anything. Children love them as a school time snack and adults munch on them at sporting events and at the movies.

Potato chips are very easy to make, both at home and on an industrial scale. Fresh potatoes are washed, peeled and then sliced into paper thin slices. In some cases the slices are also washed, to get rid of excess starch. They are then fried in hot oil for a few minutes, after which salt and flavourings are sprinkled on them. Finally, they are packed into bags.

But just how healthy are they?

Nutritional Information

Potato chips can vary greatly from brand to brand, and the way they are prepared affects their nutritional profile. The table below shows the general nutritional information of a 1 ounce serving, which is around 15 chips.

Calories 152
Fat 10 g
Cholesterol 0
Sodium 140 mg
Carbohydrates 15 g
Fibre 1.4 g
Sugar 0.1 g
Protein 2 g

Are potato chips healthy?

What exactly makes a food “healthy”? In general, foods would be considered healthy if they are rich in nutrients and provide benefits to your body, whilst causing little or no damage. Here are some potential problems with potato chips:

They can cause weight gain

This study investigated the eating habits of 120,887 US men and women. The study found that potato chip consumption was the most strongly associated with weight gain, followed by potatoes and sugar sweetened beverages. Yogurt on the other hand was most strongly associated with weight loss.

Chips are very addictive and it can sometimes be impossible to resist the urge to eat more; studies have investigated why it is so hard to stop eating them. Because they are so addictive, you can overindulge, which leads to excess calories being consumed. Excess calories are stored as fat in the body, causing weight gain.

A 1 ounce serving of almonds has 163 calories, which is only slightly more than what a 1 ounce serving of chips has. However the almonds contain more than twice the amount of fiber and three times as much protein. Both protein and fiber increase satiety, i.e. they make you feel full faster.

So whilst eating the chips and almonds will provide you the same amount of calories, the almonds will leave you feeling more satisfied and less likely to overeat.

They tend to be high in sodium and low in nutrients

You do get varieties of chips that don’t have added salt (sodium chloride), but for the most part, many of them do. Excessive sodium consumption does not do your body any good.

Too much sodium in your body makes it retain water, and this burdens your heart and blood vessels. This in turn can cause high blood pressure. Salt is added to chips to enhance their flavour, and this is what can lead to over indulgence, causing excessive sodium consumption.

Chips, when compared calorie for calorie to fruits and vegetables fall short in the amount of nutrition they provide.

For example, 23 ounces of spinach has around the same amount of calories that 1 ounce of chips do. But for those 23 ounces you get 1,219% of your daily value (DV) of vitamin A, 300% DV vitamin C, 3,800% DV vitamin K, 70% DV vitamin E, 92% DV potassium and 92% DV iron.

The 1 ounce of chips does not come anywhere close in terms of nutritional value. Granted, nobody is likely to eat 23 ounces of spinach, however when compared calorie for calorie, the winner in terms of nutrition is obvious.

They could contain a cancer causing chemical

Asparagine is an amino acid found in many vegetables and some varieties of potato contain it in higher concentrations. When it is heated at high temperatures in the presence of certain sugars, it can form acrylamide.

Acrylamide is a chemical that is used in industrial processes and it is also found in cigarette smoke. Various experts believe that acrylamide is carcinogenic to humans.

Since chips are made by exposing potatoes to oil at very high temperatures, there is a chance of them containing acrylamide.

So what’s the bottom line?

Potato chips are definitely not the healthiest food choice out there. Enjoying them once in a while is fine but eating them on a daily basis is not recommended.

Some manufactures label their chips as “baked”, however it is important to read nutrition labels so you know exactly what you are eating. Baked versions can contain just as many calories and as much salt as those that are deep fried.

There are healthier snacks out there that you can enjoy. For example 1 ounce of air popped popcorn has 110 calories, 1.3 g of fat, 2 mg of sodium, 4.1 g of dietary fiber and 3.7 g of protein. The high fiber and protein content means it is much more filling, for fewer calories.