On Nutrition by Ed Blonz

No Clear Winners in the Chip Wars

DEAR DR. BLONZ: Are corn chips, bean chips or any of the other types of fried vegetable chips any better for you than plain potato chips? There is a definite split on the answer in my group of friends. The Nutrition Facts panels on the packages are not much help. Who is right? -- G.G., Claremont, California

DEAR G.G.: Sorry to confound your quest for an absolute winner, but among the contenders you cite, this one is a bit of a draw. The chip family continues its population explosion, perhaps because it represents such a “value added” enterprise for the manufacturer. There is some nutritional progress, in that all these products must now reveal any trans fats along with the other substances and ingredients. With few exceptions, however, the new members, at least those in the fried-chip family, do not stray that far in terms of nutritional assets.

Corn or bean chips will be slightly higher in some nutrients, while potato chips will have more of others. But neither would be considered good sources for any of the essential vitamins, minerals or fiber. As such, neither should claim to be “better” for you. These are snack foods, not items that deserve consideration for the center of the plate.

Aside from potato and corn chips, you can now find chips that are made from vegetables such as black beans, carrots, spinach, taro, plantains, bell peppers and beets. These vegetables are usually present in small proportions, and usually in combination with corn. Their strong colors lend eye appeal and a novel marketing angle. Fruit chips are also available: apple, pear, peach, banana and more. If these catch on, bits of the entire harvest may find their way into the deep-fat fryer.

All chips share a large surface area, so regardless of their lineage, a deep-fat fry will leave them with that caloric residue -- discernable on your hands when you eat them. If there isn’t any nutritional information available, you can estimate 7 to 10 grams of fat per 12- to 15-chip serving. If you find yourself drawn to chips, opt for those made with a non-hydrogenated canola oil, peanut oil or high-oleic safflower oil.

Fried chips remain the most popular kind, but there are new lines of baked chips to consider. When made from whole foods, they may be worth a try. Whenever dealing with chips, be sure to check the level of sodium per serving.

As always, I recommend the whole food over a chip made from its parts. The whole food provides the fiber and all the phytochemicals the plant produces to assure its continued survival; with chips, we get an extract formulated to provide an attractive appearance, taste and texture that holds together as a thin layer. To see what you are missing, visit the USDA database for any given whole food (ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb), then compare that with the equal weight of the chips you are considering.

Send questions to: “On Nutrition,” Ed Blonz, c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to questions@blonz.com. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.