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Are fruit and veggie chips healthy to eat

Veggie chips on a cutting board
September 27, 2018
Lily Moran

Table of Contents

The grocery store snack aisle has gotten a major makeover in the past decade. Sure, you have your standards – potato chips, pretzels, tortilla chips. But some unseemly snacks are taking up an increasing amount of shelf space – snacks that would seem more befitting for the produce section or a specialty health food store.

Beats, kale, carrots, turnips, sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts, green beans and a host of other vegetables have been “snack-ified” into chips or crisps. Same goes with apples, bananas, plantains, figs, pears, pineapple, jackfruit, and more kinds of fruit from across the globe. Not only that, but a simple Google search will provide you copious amounts of DIY fruit-and-veggie-chip recipes.

These snacks are billed as healthy alternatives to traditional chips and pretzels but are they actually healthy? Let’s find out by taking a closer look at the labels and the how these snacks are made.

How Veggies are Snack-ified

Pretend you are staring at three choices: pretzels, potato chips, and kale chips. Most pretzels are made from enriched wheat flour (i.e. processed), blasted with salt, then baked. Most potato chips are fried in vegetable oil and also blasted with salt. Like pretzels, potato chips are just carbs and salt. Nutritionally vacant, for the most part. Kale chips are kale leaves dressed with oil and seasonings, baked until crisp, then sprinkled with salt to preserve.

Clearly, kale chips are the healthiest option of the three. But that’s mostly because the bar that pretzels and potato chips set is so low that nearly anything else is healthier. In its raw form, kale isn’t just a superfood. It’s the superfood. A one-cup serving has well over your daily value of vitamins A, C, and K. It also has ample amounts of calcium, protein, copper, potassium, magnesium, vitamin B6 and antioxidants. All of this for 33 calories and 7 grams of carbs.

But some of that nutrition is lost during the baking process – mainly, the vitamin C and some of the antioxidants. Much of the remaining vitamins and minerals are still there, but their nutritional value is diminished and offset by the addition of oil and salt, the very ingredients that make potato chips unhealthy. Those additives pile on an unhealthy amount of fat and sodium (as much 15% of your daily recommended intake) and as many as 150 calories.

Keep in mind this is just one serving of kale chips. Most people (yes, myself included) do not measure one even serving and eat only that. Compared to a cup of raw kale, it’s very easy to eat a serving of kale chips quickly, especially when hanging out with your friends or watching your favorite TV shows. This is where the slope gets slippery – where a healthy snack becomes a greasy sodium bomb.

In terms of vegetable snacks at the store, this is your best-case scenario. There are a lot of other snacks with labels that say something to the effect of “made with real veggies.” Those are major deceptions. Take a closer look at the ingredients to see what vegetables these chips and crisps are really made of. Potatoes or corn are often the first ingredients. Technically, yes, they are vegetables, but extremely starchy ones. The end result is a snack as unhealthy as potato chips – just with a healthy sounding name.

A Dangerous Ingredient in Snack-ified Fruits

The same nutritional transformation happens when fruit is snack-ifed but there’s something else lurking in fruit snacks that is equally as dangerous as oils and salts, if not more dangerous: sugar.

When fruit is baked, it loses its water. This is very important to consider when snacking because the absence of water does two things.

First, it concentrates the amount of sugars in the fruit, making it more calorically dense. Case in point, raisins and prunes. A cup of raisins is about 500 calories, but a cup of grapes is only 150 calories. A single plum is about 30 calories; six prunes (officially one serving) has 137 calories and almost 22 grams of sugar.

Second, unlike raw fruit, dried fruit does not add to your body’s hydration, which is why eating an apple makes you feel fuller. A raw apple takes you longer to chew and digest, which gives time for your brain to realize that your stomach is full.

Like veggie snacks, snack-ified fruits are easy to eat quickly. Servings can pile up and you end up eating a meal’s worth of calories, sodium, and sugars under the assumption that you are having an innocent, healthy snack.

Healthy Snacks That are Actually Healthy

None of this is to say that you’ll never find a healthy snack. Turns out, dozens of them are in front of you every time you walk into a grocery store.

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As a general rule, avoid snack foods that come in bags and boxes. I also suggest that you snack on a single item at a specific time (for example, an apple between breakfast and lunch) as opposed to grazing on a large bag of chips throughout the day.

When eaten this way, a serving of kale chips isn’t really that bad. Or better said, it’s OK once in a while.

But ultimately, the best snacks are raw fruits and vegetables. They have the maximum amount of nutritional value and they are more filling. On top of that, they are devoid of added sugars, salt and oils.

Sounds boring, right? Well, you’re right. I don’t want to eat a plate of raw cauliflower either. So let’s turn those dreary raw veggies and fruits into delicious and exciting snacks.

Mix it up. If an apple all by itself sounds boring, then don’t have an apple by itself. At the beginning of the week, slice up a couple of apples, chop up 3 or 4 bananas, and slice some oranges into eighths. Toss fruits that are going to oxidize (turn brown, like apples and bananas) in lime or lemon juice (or flavored vinegar if you’re fancy). Store each cut up fruit in an individual, air-tight container, and mix it up for a custom fruit salad.

Go nuts. Nuts add filling protein and healthy oils to your snack. Toss a handful into that fruit salad. Just make sure to use un- or lightly-salted nuts.

Make it spicy. Herbs and spices aren’t just for cooking. A few twigs of fresh mint, a couple of shavings or ginger, or just tossing with a tiny bit of a cinnamon stick are great ways to add interest and complexity to your fruit or vegetable snacks.

If you’re not a big fruit fan or cutting them up sounds like too much work, find a savory dip for your raw vegetables. Try a yogurt-based dipping sauce because they tend to have less sodium, oils and additives than traditional sauces and dressings. Make sure to eat a full rainbow of vegetables, as the different colors indicate different nutrients. I love to eat a bunch of colorful mini bell peppers, ancient carrots that come in purple and yellow, and even raw eggplant in thin slices.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. The internet is full of ideas. When surfing around, focus your attention (and appetite) on recipes that stay as close to raw fruits and vegetables as possible. Avoid added sugars, salt and oils.

What about smoothies and juices?

Smoothies and juices have some of the same problems as dried fruit: you’re eating more individual plants, so you increase the calories and sugar, and you’ve removed a lot of nutrition by breaking down fiber. Also, for reasons we don’t entirely understand, when your body is sending hunger signals, it doesn’t interpret drinks as filling, even something as high calorie as a milkshake! So smoothies and juices leave you hungry and reaching for another snack.

If you want to have smoothies as the occasional treat, don’t have a sweet one. Make the base of your smoothie ice plus vegetables, like leafy greens, beets, turnips, snow peas, cucumbers, or carrots. Add only one snack’s worth of fruit to your blender, e.g one apple, one banana, or one orange, not all three in the same drink. And if you want a creamy smoothie, start with frozen vegetables blended into a puree, then add fresh vegetables, fruit, or herbs and spices for flavor.

Snack Right, Feel Light

By snacking right, you can feel full and light at the same time. Veggie and fruit chips are OK to snack on once a while, but raw vegetables and fruits will always be the healthiest.

Reference

Kreiger, Ellie. “It Seems Like Every Fruit and Vegetable is Being Snack-ified. But are These Chips Healthy?” Washington Post. Published May 15, 2018.

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