The Chip Aisle? It’s all OK.

The short answer:  Yes, it’s OK to eat chips . . . on national holidays.  Chips can be one more reason to look forward to Memorial Day, 4th of July, and Labor Day but don’t make it a habit.  They’re basically fried and salted starch.


As promised I took a close look at the chip aisle in the local grocery store.  Here’s what I learned:

1.  About 80% of the stuff in the chip aisle comes from one company:  the Frito-Lay division of PepsiCo.  Products include Lay’s, Ruffles, Tostitos, Cheetos, Fritos, Doritos, Sun Chips, Rold Gold, Lay’s Kettle Cooked, Tostitos Artisan Recipes, and Chester’s Puffcorn.  Frito-Lay rules the aisle and grocery stores make a lot of money renting shelf space to the chip companies. 

2.  Whether made from potatoes or corn, the nutrition panel reveals the chips are pretty much the same:  A 28-gram serving has about 140 calories, 6-10 grams of oxidized seed oil, 16-20 grams of refined carbs, and a dose of salt.  (Pretzels, made from flour, have little or no oil but a lot more salt.)

3.  The “original” chips are pretty simple: potatoes (or corn), oil and salt.  It’s the flavored versions—cheesy, BBQ, sour cream and chives, etc.—that have the 20+ ingredient list of odd chemicals.  Fewer ingredients is definitely better.

4.  Chips are an unhealthy processed food, but the manufacturers are clever about dressing them up to look healthy.  Potatoes become whole potatoes; salt is sea salt; corn is organic; and one brand uses expeller pressed oil.  They don’t contain trans fats anymore, but the healthiness of the new high-oleic replacement oils is doubtful.

5.  For those trying to avoid commercially fried foods (a good idea), some chips come baked and contain a little less oil.  Or if you’ve figured out that a baked chip really isn’t much healthier, there is now a “popped” chip cooked using heat and pressure.  There’s no end to how food-like stuff can be processed, is there? 

6.  This store had chips in two areas; the newer had a big sign “Wild Harvest Natural Foods” and included chips dressed up to look healthier.  Natural Tostitos, Natural Cheetos, and Natural Lays seemed to have about the same ingredients as the old “unnatural” version but they sported a wholesome looking package and a higher price. 

7.  Best buy in the chip aisle?  There isn’t one, really, you’re paying $3 to $6 a pound for unhealthy factory-processed commodities.  The best buy is in your home: home-cooked popcorn is healthier, tastier, and lots cheaper. 

Two closing thoughts:

First, thinking of popcorn brought new clarity to this principle:  Our health depends on our choice of home-cooked meals over factory-processed foods.  To protect the family health, we must do our own cooking.  The person of modest means actually has an advantage here.  Because eating out is a luxury they must do it less.  And meals cooked at home from minimally-processed and natural foods will always be healthier.  Call it a tender mercy for the humble.

Second, when we think about the processed food business we tend to lose a little of our faith in the goodness of man.  (I’m already on record that women should head these companies.)  So here’s a faith-restoring story:  I have a friend of many years I greatly respect named Ken.  An undiagnosed health condition (high blood pressure) resulted in kidney failure and Ken was facing the prospect of going on kidney dialysis.  Dialysis isn’t easy; it takes a lot of courage and greatly restricts your life. 

The only escape is to receive a kidney transplant, either from a cadaver or a compatible living person (most of us can get by on one of our two kidneys).  There is a great shortage of donor kidneys—most of the people on dialysis will die without getting one.  Cadaver kidneys are typically good for 10 years; living donor kidneys are good for 20-25 years.  So it’s way better to get a kidney from a living donor (though even a cadaver kidney beats life on dialysis). 

So here’s the good news: this past Friday, Ken received a transplant from an unknown living donor who chose to anonymously donate a kidney.  Ken is doing well.  And his anonymous donor has lifted my faith in the goodness of all humans.

Please share your ideas for healthy snacks to take the place of chips, or of kind acts that affirm the goodness of people.  Oh, and Happy Mother's Day.  Eat whatever you wish today, you've earned it.

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Reader Comments (17)

I have read all your posts and look forward to each new one. Thank you so much for the research and well-thought opinions. This is one of my favorite blogs!

Because of our limited resources while raising our family, we fell into the category you described above, and I look back now and count it a blessing to our health. We ate foods from our garden, and more than 90% of the things we consumed were made at home, mostly from 'scratch.' It was a necessity. Interesting to note, though, is that when our grown children come home to Seattle they would rather eat at home (for the most part) than at some of the varied and delightful restaurants around town. So at first, it was of necessity, and now it has become a chosen way of life.

I vow to reduce the amount of chips I eat--and will shoot for the holidays idea mentioned in your post.

May 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterHolly

I love your post . Thank you for the time and effort you put into your blog I really appreciate the information you share. I also love the idea of chips only on holidays. Some of our favorite snacks are frozen cherries and grapes. I get the frozen cherries at costco. I love these especially when I am craving something sweet. The grapes I buy when they go on sell. Hopefully soon. My kids love them during the summer.


May 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAnnmarie

It seems to me that chips have gotten saltier lately (or I've gotten more sensitive.) Every time we buy a bag of chips (which admittedly is often right now), I eat a few and say, "these are SO salty!"

I'm eating more nuts as snacks recently. I roast them myself and eat them without salt. I've heard nuts are best to eat raw, but I'm not sure why, and I sure love the flavor and crunch of roasted nuts.

I love your comments about home-cooked and from scratch foods. It is a goal I work toward--what am I buying already made that I could make myself. Tortillas and salad dressings need to be my next projects there. Home made is more delicious, more nutritious, and more satisfying to eat.

May 8, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterqueenann

i read a blog a while back ago that posted a recipe to microwave potato chips. all you do is thinly slice a russet potato- spray with olive oil and sprinkle some salt on top. then microwave for a few minutes-flipping potatoes halfway through. they need to be nuked until they start to turn golden brown. the look and taste just like a potato chip!

May 8, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteralli

I love, love, love your blog! Have I told you how much I love it? :-) I have 4 children so we do lots of fruit, cut up veggies, cheese, yogart and popcorn for snacks. I make the popcorn on the stove and now my kids tell all there friends about "homemade popcorn" and how good it is. I love that I can contoll how much oil, salt and butter go on it. You really need very little and it goes a long way. I think I spend more money on fresh fruit then anything eles. They love it and I love that they love to eat it. Thanks for all the great info. You are helping me and my family so much!

May 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDora

I pop my own popcorn on the stove top and pour melted butter over it and then sprinkle a spice mixture of nutritional yeast, curry, dill, and a few others. It is out of this world!

May 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterHannah

What are your thoughts on Pirate's Booty and PopChips? My husband and 2 year old are major snackers and while a plate of carrots or popcorn might cut it for me, they doth protest greatly with much wailing and gnashing of teeth.

If I buy chips I usually only buy sunchips or baked chips, but even then it seems stupid and unhealthy. It seems like Costco has a variety of multigrain chip/snack offerings (like popchips). What are your thoughts on those?

May 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKalli

Can anyone tell me how to make popcorn on the stove? What type of oil do you use? Does it taste better than popcorn popped in an air popper? I would so much appreciate any and all information on this subject, as it is the next "healthy change" I am planning on making in my family. Thank you - and I love this blog!

May 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJen

We just started popping corn with coconut oil (over medium) on the stovetop. Add a little salt and it's very tasty.

May 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDee

What kind of pan do you use and do you cover it with a lid? How much popcorn and how much oil? How long does it take? Thanks!

May 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJen

Kalli, if you read the nutrition panel on the various chips you see they are really all the same—salty starch cooked in oil. The real creativity is in the "look" of the packaging. PopChips use a pressurized process that makes me think of the "gun" that makes the puffed breakfast cereals. Is it healthier? They haven't presented any information that it is.

Here is the bottom line on the salty chips: It isn't just that they're unhealthy, but people who develop a taste for processed snack foods, in my experience, lose their taste for natural whole foods. The person who craves chips, doesn't crave a green salad. Have you noticed this?

May 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSkip

I discovered a brand of chips today at the Fresh Market in Columbus, GA (I think they wouldn't be too hard for me to find up in Seattle, either) - Laurel Hill. I picked the "Multi-grain Tortilla Chips: A wholesome mix of quinoa, brown rice, chia & flax seed grains."

The grams of Fiber is 3 to Sugar 1, which meets your earlier requirement for grains. Ingredients: Stoneground Yellow Corn, Sunflower and/or Safflower and/or Soybean Oil, Brown Rice, Corn Bran, Flax Seed, Quinoa, Dehydrated Potato, Dehydrated Can Juice, Sesame Seeds, Chia Seeds, Salt. Sodium is 80mg.

What do you think? Do they pass the test? I've been eating them with a little homemade guac: two ripe avocados, cherry tomatoes, lemon juice, salt and pepper. They say avocados are a superfood, so I've been trying to get them in often.

May 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJoy Fisher

i am surprised that "food should taste good" multi-grain chips didn't make the cut. i love them. i felt okay about eating them but now, i'm doubting myself. dang it! lol.

May 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEmily


I make popcorn weekly on the stove top, and I've got it down to an art. Start with a pot with a lid, doesn't really matter what kind (though it's nice when they have a glass lid, so you can see what's goin' on in there!). I coat the bottom of the pan with olive oil, then sprinkle popcorn seeds to cover the bottom of the pan. I turn it on high and stand there with it, shaking the pot about every 20 seconds at first.(make sure to hold the lid down as your shake it, or you'll have to learn the hard way like I did, cleaning up trillions of pieces of glass up from every corner of your house.) Once it starts to pop, I shake it about every 5 seconds. Once the pops slow down to a few seconds apart, I take it off of the heat immediately and pour into a bowl. It only takes about 5 mins total. Enjoy!

May 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterHannah

Skip I love the point y make. That the problem with chips and crackers is that they replacemcalories in our diet that we could be devoting toward fiber, vegetables and protein. They are all different configurations of salty starches.

We stopped buying all forms of chips about a year ago. At first it was so hard, and I felt really deprived. I thought i *needed* them. Now I realize how I was playing into the marketing schemes of big companies like Frito-Lay and I am happy to be in a new place.

If you are going to quit the chips, I suggest doing it in the summer when fresh fruits and vegetables (particularly if you visit a farmers market) are most delicious and abundant.

May 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJenna

Thank you! That is exactly the kind of directions I needed. I am excited to try it out. I appreciate you taking time to type up your directions.

May 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJen

kale chips are AMAZING. my girls (8, 6, and 2) scarf them down and then beg for more! you just tear the kale into bite-size pieces and put on a large pan, then spritz with oil and sprinkle with a small amount of salt and pepper. bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes-- you want them to get crispy.

also, you can put popcorn kernels in a brown paper lunch bag and pop them in the microwave with ZERO oil!

May 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMeredith

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