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Which crisp is the healthiest? The answer will surprise you

In Europe
June 10, 2024

They’re cheap, they’re tasty and they’re easy to eat on-the-go. It’s no surprise then that the average Briton devours 66 grams, or just over two bags, a week. Delicious and convenient as they are, we are constantly being made to feel guilty for eating them: too processed, too much salt, too high in fat.

Maeve Hanan, a dietitian and the founder of Dietetically Speaking, advises that crisps can indeed be high in salt, fat and saturated fat, which studies have linked to adverse health outcomes such as obesity, cancer and heart disease. The Government recommends that men should eat a maximum of 30g of saturated fat per day, and women 20g. Whilst a standard 25g bag of ready salted crisps contains 7.7g of fat, only 0.6g of this is saturated which would put it in the medium or ‘amber’ category of the Food Standard Agency’s traffic light labelling system meaning ‘OK to eat most of the time’.

On the upside, crisps contain energy in the form of carbohydrates, which fuels our body, and a small amount of fibre. And let’s not forget how delicious they are, as Hanan points out: “Food provides so much more than nutrition alone, and for many people crisps can add enjoyment and satisfaction to eating experiences.”

So are they really that bad for us? And how do our old favourites stack up against some of the newer, ‘healthier’ alternatives? Let’s dig in.

Walkers Cheese & Onion Crisps

Nutrition per 100g (pack size 25g): 514 kcals, fat 29g (of which saturates 2.4g), carbs 54g (of which sugar 2.6g), protein 6.3g, fibre 3.8g, salt 1.2g

Taste: You have to hand it to Walkers, whether it’s simply nostalgia or the 76 years they’ve been making crisps, this is the ultimate cheese and onion crisp, perfect thickness, not overly seasoned and extremely moreish.

Health: These crisps are an ultra-processed food (UPF) and there’s a long-ish list of ingredients, some unfamiliar. Otherwise, there’s nothing too alarming, perhaps a little high in fat and salt, but fine as an occasional snack.

Quavers

Nutrition per 100g (pack size 16g): 536 kcals, fat 30.8g (of which saturates 2.7g), carbs 62.1g (of which sugar 2.7g), protein 2.5g, fibre 1.2g, salt 2.1g

Taste: Having not had a quaver for about 30 years, I was taken aback by how artificial the cheese flavour was, with a strangely sweet, lingering aftertaste. Unpleasant.

Health: Another ultra-processed offering, with the flavour enhancer MSG listed twice in the ingredients for some reason. This crisp was the lowest in protein, second lowest in fibre and second highest in salt of those tested.

Doritos Tangy Cheese

Nutrition per 100g (serving size 30g): 505 kcals, fat 26g (of which saturates 2.4g), carbs 58g (of which sugar 2.7g), protein 6.5g, fibre 5.7g,  salt 1.2g

Taste: You can just about taste the toasted corn of the tortilla chip but there’s far too much seasoning which is reminiscent of smelly socks and not tangy at all, despite the name.

Health: A long list of unappetising ingredients means we are again in UPF territory, but these Doritos are surprisingly high in fibre and not as high in salt as you might imagine.

Pringles Salt & Vinegar

Nutrition per 100g (serving size 30g): 514 kcals, fat 29g (of which saturates 6.3g), carbs 56g (of which sugar 2.5g), protein 5.7g, fibre 3.3g,  salt 1.9g

Taste: The overpowering, almost nuclear salt and vinegar flavour might appeal to younger tastebuds, but for my more mature palate was far too strong.

Health: It won’t surprise you that these are ultra-processed and at the higher end of the scale for sat fat and salt. Not the worst offender, but very little to recommend them nutritionally.

Hula Hoops Original

Nutrition per 100g (serving size 24g): 499 kcals, fat 25g (of which saturates 2.2g), carbs 65g (of which sugar <0.5g), protein 3.1g, fibre 2.6g, salt 1.4g

Taste: There’s something about the ratio of hula to hoop that’s just perfect, and the simple light salting is what makes these a true crisp classic.

Health: A nice surprise to see just six ingredients listed, and although still technically a processed food definitely at the better end of the scale. Also one of the lowest in sugar.

Kettle Chips Lightly Salted

Nutrition per 100g (serving size 25g): 516 kcals, fat 29.5g (of which saturates 2.0g), carbs 53.7g (of which sugar 0.4g), protein 6.5g, fibre 5.0g, salt 0.7g

Taste: These crisps were my favourite, a ‘fresh-from-the-fryer’ taste, enough salt to season without making you pucker, and perfectly crisp.

Health: As they proudly state on the packet, these crisps contain ‘absolutely nothing artificial’, just potatoes, vegetable oil and sea salt. They were the lowest in sugar and salt, better than average for protein and fibre but just a little high in saturated fat. Nonetheless my new go-to crisp.

The ‘healthy’ crisps

Manufacturers have been quick to exploit our ‘crisp guilt’, with many ‘healthier’ crisps now available on supermarket shelves. But as any savvy consumer knows, just because a product purports to be healthier doesn’t mean it is. The ‘health halo’ is a tactic companies use to draw consumers’ attention to one beneficial aspect of a food, for example stating it is ‘high in fibre’, to make the food appear better for you than it actually is. As well as containing some fibre, the same product could also be highly processed and contain lots of sugar, fat or salt.

Popchips Sour Cream & Onion

Nutrition per 100g (serving size 23g): 432 kcals, fat 13g (of which saturates 1.7g), carbs 69g (of which sugar 4.4g), protein 6.7g, fibre 4.8g, salt 1.1g

Taste: I liked the crunchy texture of these popped chips but felt they didn’t deliver enough in the way of sour cream and onion flavour. A bit underwhelming.

Health: The advantage of being ‘popped not fried’ is evident in the lowest fat content of our test crisps by some margin. Unfortunately, the sugar content was the second highest and the list of ingredients contains maltodextrin, a UPF additive. They don’t quite live up to the hype.

Proper Chips Barbecue Lentil Chips

Nutrition per 100g (serving size 20g): 469 kcals, fat 19.4g (of which saturates 2.9g), carbs 63.6g (of which sugar 4.5g), protein 9.5g, fibre 0.9g, salt 2.55g

Taste: I liked the tangy barbecue flavour here, not too sweet, but the crisps had a strange puffed tortilla texture which left a ‘pasty’ coating in the mouth.

Health: No nasties in the ingredients list which is a big plus, but the highest in salt and the lowest in fibre of all the crisps featured, surprising considering lentils are a high-fibre legume.

Tyrrells Sea Salted Veg Crisps

Nutrition per 100g (serving size 30g): 540 kcals, fat 37.9g (of which saturates 4.0g), carbs 40.6g (of which sugar 23.6g), protein 4.8g, fibre 9.0g, salt 1.1g

Taste: For full transparency I am a regular purchaser of these crisps, I love the mix of root vegetable flavours and the slightly chewy texture.

Health: These were by far the highest in sugar due to the natural sugars contained in the vegetables, but no sugar has been added. They also had the highest fibre content of our selection which mitigates any potential sugar spikes. I’ll still be buying them despite the high (natural) sugar content.

Off the Eaten Path Caramelised Onion & Balsamic Vinegar Pea & Bean Sticks

Nutrition per 100g (serving size 30g): 448 kcals, fat 17.2g (of which saturates 1.8g), carbs 59.1g (of which sugar 4.2g), protein 9.6g, fibre 9.1g, salt 2.0g

Taste: Reminiscent of Wheat Crunchies in shape and texture, I enjoyed eating these crisps, although the salt and vinegar flavour could be a little stronger. Extra kudos for filling the bag up to save on packaging.

Health: Nothing too suspect in the ingredients here and impressively low in fat, lots of fibre and the highest in protein at 9.6g/100g. Just a little higher in salt than some of the others.

The conclusion

The upshot is, when choosing crisps, or indeed any food product, ignore any grand health claims on the front of the packet and go directly to the information on the back. Crisps marketed as being ‘healthier’ can often be higher in saturated fat and salt and lower in fibre than regular ones, although the quality of the ingredients also needs to be considered.

Choosing those with minimal processing and natural ingredients without additives is always better for your health. On the upside, crisps contain energy in the form of carbohydrates, which fuels our body, and a small amount of fibre. And let’s not forget how delicious they are. As for Hanan, what crisps does she recommend?

“I always advise going for the type of crisps you enjoy most, as this will be best for your relationship with food.”

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