Monday, 14 November 2016

The Mail on Sunday Asks: Just How Healthy Are "Healthier Crispy Snacks"?

The Mail on Sunday's Health page decided to take a look at the so-called healthier crisps on sale these days. Ans there's no denying there are plenty of them.

The Mail says: It is the snack trend of the moment: crisps made from root vegetables, beans, chickpeas, egg-whites or, if it must be potato, baked rather than fried. They promise not only to preserve our waistlines but also boost our health. I am not convinced this is correct. Healthy option crisps are an old story and most of them say they are "guilt free" rather than try to convince you they are actively good for you.

So anyway the Mail on Sunday asked nutritionist Fiona Hunter to examine some of the most popular "healthy crisps"... and her verdicts may come as a surprise. Well, maybe, but I hope you've noticed that my sidebar shows "crispy snacks that may be a little more healthy for you than most". They may be slightly healthier but I'm not convinced that any crispy snack is particularly healthy because almost all are chock full of salt (and fat and goodness knows what else) and these days salt is universally agreed to be a bad thing.

So what's the verdict then? Here's my synopsis, and my comments, going anti-clockwise round the page.

Popchips Sea Salt & Vinegar Potato Chips
The packet says "All the flavour with less than half the fat of fried crisps."
Fiona says 3/10
Low in fibre so no positive contribution to your diet.
I think Fiona is a bit optimistic expecting a positive contribution from a crispy snack, but there you go. I tried Popchips Barbecue Flavour and wasn't that impressed. I seem to remember the texture was fine. But not the flavour.

Walkers Sunbites Sun Ripened Sweet Chilli
The packet says "An extraordinarily tasty multigrain snack, 30% less fat than regular crisps."
Fiona says 5/10
Multigrain is one of those terms that sounds good but offers no nutritional benefits whatsoever.
I tried a packet of Sour Cream & Cracked Black Pepper Sunbites and rather enjoyed them.

M&S Eat Well Spicy Chorizo Sweet Potato Snacks
The packet says "Baked not fried."
Fiona says 8/10
Fewer calories and less fat than many other snacks... fibre equivalent to about two oatcakes.
The reluctant taste testers and I haven't tried these. Mostly because I tend to avoid sweet potato snacks. I have to admit this is a pretty good score but I don't terribly like chorizo so not sure about the flavour.

Tyrrell's Mixed Root Vegetable Crisps
The packet says "Hand cooked beetroot, parsnip and carrot crisps with sea salt. No artificial ingredients, Free from gluten."
Fiona says 4/10
The bag contains more fat than a McDonald's cheeseburger.
Frankly I think I'll stick with a cheeseburger! Again, I haven't tried this crispy snack because I don't usually buy vegetable crisps. But there's really nothing to stop me expanding my horizons.

Chirps Free-Range High Protein Egg White Bites Sour Cream & Onion Flavour
The packet says "Made with free-range eggs: high protein, low in carbohydrate, low fat, low sugar, natural flavouring, 30% less calories than other crisps."
Fiona says 3/10
Low in fibre and the highest in salt of all the crisps we looked at.
I have never seen an egg white crispy snack and the concept sounds all wrong to me. What do you think? I mean, what do you have to do to an unsuspecting egg white to come up with a crispy snack? I might try this for the purpose of research but reluctantly.

Yushoi Sweet Chilli & Lemon
The packet says "Baked, source of protein, high fibre, made with 68% green peas, no artificial colours, flavours or MSG."
Fiona says 7/10
Peas are better than a potato-based snack... you should feel fuller for longer.
The reluctant taste testers and I tried Yushoi Snapea Rice Sticks Smoked Salt & Szechuan Pepper. I've got to say we weren't mad keen. I've tried several pea based snacks and honestly? I'll take potato every time. However, the most popular post on this blog is pea-based: M&S Eat Well Green Chilli Lime & Coriander Pea Snaps. Which the reluctant taste testers and I thought were horrid. And that has absolutely not stopped anyone wanting to read about them. Remarkable.

RW Garcia Organic Thai Sweet & Spicy Tortilla Chips with Flaxseed
The packet says "The perfect organic snack. Organic, non GMO, transfer free and gluten free certified."
Fiona says 5/10
The suggested serving size (50g) is far too big for a snack...
This sounds like clutching at straws. I have never seen any RW Garcia products but certainly 50g is about twice the size of a small packet of crisps - which I would usually take as a serving.

Beanitos White Bean Chips
The packet says "Source of protein, high fibre, gluten free... beans are better."
Fiona says 8/10
As much fat as a bag of [Walkers] cheese & onion, but similar protein to a 150ml glass of skimmed milk and the same amount of fibre as two and a half Ryvita Multigrain crackers. But available only as a 170g pack so you might end up eating more than the suggested serving of 28g.
Again, I have never seen a Beanitos product but this crispy snack seems to get the best review (and I have quoted it in full).

The thing is, most people don't expect to get their fibre or protein from a crispy snack; they don't say to me "well, I'm hoping this crisp will lower my cholesterol/blood pressure". No, they expect to get a quick fix of salty yumminess.

I can't help feeling it's going to take a whole lot of education to make your average snacker think about protein in their snacks. And a whole lot of crispy snack manufacturers making completely different crispy snacks.

Of course that would be considerably healthier for all of us, but a miserable prospect for me. I love salty crispy snacks. I know they aren't good for me... OK, they're bad for me. But I can't help loving them. Is it my fault my parents decided sweets and chocolate were a bad thing and gave me and my brother salty crispy snacks instead?

Actually I really do eat fewer crisps and crispy snacks than you think. I have the reluctant taste testers and the Chef to help me out and often try only 1 or 2 crisps. Yes of course, sometimes I eat a lot more, but truly I could be eating a great many more crisps than I do. And the great thing is to understand how bad for you the average crisp is.

So my advice is:

  • Don't feel the need to eat "healthy" crispy snacks that you don't fancy.
  • Eat fewer crispy snacks. Eat crispy snacks as a special treat, as a luxury that you will savour. Save up your crispy snack ration for the weekend or a special occasion. Make a packet of cheese & onion or slightly salted something to look forward to. Try not to nosh down a vast packet of high salt, high fat, low protein, low fibre (which is to say totally normal) crisps every day.
  • And eat them slowly; a small packet lasts longer that way. 

Sounds simple doesn't it? If you think you eat too many crisps why not give it a try?

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