Next time you go snack shopping, take a minute to look at the ingredient lists and nutritional information of the most popular chips and crackers. Chances are you won't be able to pronounce many of the ingredients, and you'll find that most of them are packed with sugar, salt, fat and preservatives. You don't have to ditch the crunchy snacks, though - you just need to know how to identify the ones that are worth eating. Use these tips to choose the best chips, then check out some of GirlsGoneSporty's favorite brands.
Tips for choosing chips and crackers
Like any other food, you want your chips and crackers to benefit you nutritionally, rather than clogging your system with empty calories. This means looking for snacks that carry a significant amount of a required daily nutrient, like fiber, protein, unsaturated (healthy) fat, omega-3s or a vitamin or mineral. That may sound pretty cut-and-dry, and a little label-reading can go a long way toward helping you make a smart purchase, but it's important to recognize that many snack companies are now fortifying their products with nutrients. While this certainly isn't a bad thing, as the consumer, you need to be aware that just because a box or bag says "Vitamin Fortified" or "Whole Grains" on the side, doesn't mean it's automatically good for you. So, here are ways to separate the "good" from the "potentially detrimental":
- Before reading the nutritional information, read the ingredient list. You should be able to recognize and pronounce just about everything on the list (ideally, everything). Also, you want to be sure the first few ingredients don't include the words "unbleached enriched flour" or "enriched flour," both of which are basically code for "simple carbs" - the type that's best to avoid. If possible, look for snacks that don't include high fructose corn syrup or monosodium glutamate as ingredients as well.
- Avoid snacks high in saturated or trans fats. Saturated and trans fats are the "bad" fats that can negatively affect your cholesterol - eat too many, and you can set yourself up for heart disease. Look for snacks with zero grams trans fat and one gram or less of saturated fat.
- Look for snacks that contain fiber. Most Americans don't get enough fiber, but if you choose the right snack foods, you can help boost your daily intake; plus, if a snack doesn't have any fiber, it's a pretty clear indication that it's not worth your time.
- Avoid crazy seasonings. Some snacks are seasoned naturally, but others get coated in a film of chemical seasonings (again, if you can't pronounce the ingredients, this is probably why). These seasonings taste fantastic (snack companies spend a lot of time and money making sure they do), but it's best to keep things simple. Stick with simply flavored chips and crackers and jazz the snack up at home with sauces, dips and toppings.
- Respect the serving size. No matter how healthy or natural a snack is, it's important not to go overboard. Always check the serving size before making a snack purchase so you can be more conscious of your total consumption when you get home.
Our Top 3 Picks (in no particular order)
1. Pretzel Crisps, Original
For the pretzel-loving sister, Pretzel Crisps are where it's at. Unlike most pretzels that are made of enriched flour, Pretzel Crisps always have "wheat flour" listed as the very first ingredient. And, you know the company is committed to keeping things simple because the Original Pretzel Crisps is made from only four ingredients: wheat flour, sugar, salt and malt syrup. You can't get much more simple than that! We also love that a serving of 11 crisps has three grams of protein and a gram of fiber, and their flat shape make it easy to turn them into all sorts of interesting snacks.
2. Mary's Gone Crackers, Black Pepper
For anyone who is looking for a wheat free, dairy free, gluten free, kosher or vegan cracker that actually tastes good, pick up a box of Mary's Gone Crackers in the Black Pepper flavor. As long as you don't expect them to taste like your average saltine, you're bound to be satisfied with the experience. All of the Mary's Gone Crackers varieties have a hearty, rich, healthy flavor, and the ingredient list backs that up - they're made from things like organic short grain brown rice, organic whole quinoa, organic brown flax seeds, and more! And, with three grams of protein and fiber for every 13 crackers consumed, you'll be well on your way to achieving your daily requirements.
We suggest pairing them with slices of cheese and a glass of red wine for a delicious evening treat.
3. Food Should Taste Good chips
For a more "traditional" chip experience, pick up a package of Food Should Taste Good chips in any of their 22 flavors. Think of them as the healthy alternative to your average Dorito. Every seasoning is 100% natural and their ingredient lists are short and easy to read. While their stone ground corn chips deliver three grams of fiber and two grams of protein, we suggest trying their Original Sweet Potato chip - a single serving of 15 chips has three grams fiber, one gram protein and 175% of your daily vitamin A requirement.
The opportunities are endless
If none of these options sounds like your cup of tea, just keep reading labels. There are lots of healthy, tasty chips and crackers available as long as you know what to look for. Even Original Triscuits (offering 5 grams of fiber per serving) are an excellent choice.
You tell us - what's your favorite healthy chip or cracker, and why?