By Dr. Mike Roussell
March 10, 2014

Q: Are chips made with "healthy" ingredients like quinoa or beans better for me than regular potato chips?

A: We already know digging into a bag of chips isn't the smartest choice for your 3 p.m. snack. They have essentially no nutritional value, even if they are made from basic ingredients like potatoes, oil, and salt. They're simply a refined carbohydrate product that's devoid of fiber, protein, and any appreciable amount of vitamins and minerals. Plus they're easy to overeat and can be high in fat.

Recently the market has been flooded with chips that sound much healthier, made from wholesome ingredients including quinoa, beans, seeds, sprouted grains, and even veggies like red pepper and broccoli. But despite having ingredients that are considered "healthy," the processing required to make a "chip" can completely strip the health out of a food that would have been nutritious in its original state. [Tweet this fact!]

For example, quinoa is nutritious and loaded with fiber and protein, but quinoa chips have a different nutritional profile. One brand has essentially no fiber (<1 gram per 20 chips), but each serving contains an impressive 9 grams of protein and only 12 grams of carbohydrates. So despite having the fiber processed out of the quinoa, these chips have a good (great, with respects to chips) nutritional profile. Plus quinoa is also the first ingredient listed on the label, so you know that the chip is mainly made of what they're advertising.

Contrast this to a sweet potato chip I saw at the grocery store last week. Its nutrient profile was almost exactly the same as a regular chip. Corn-not sweet potato-was the first ingredient listed. While the idea of sweet potato chips sounds healthy, these chips were no more than tortilla chips with enough sweet potatoes in them to give them the reddish-orange glow we associate with health-boosting beta-carotene.

Finding a truly healthy chip alternative like the quinoa chip described above that actually contains enough of the key healthy ingredient to impact the nutritional profile is rare, while healthy-sounding chips that are really just a dressed up tortilla or potato chip are the norm. These health food chips are basically the nutritional version of the Big Bad Wolf trying to trick Little Red Riding Hood.

However, I recommend you eat whichever you prefer, in moderation. If you like the taste of black bean- or sweet potato-flavored tortilla chips over regular tortilla chips, then go for what you like-but know that the health difference is minimal. If you are looking to fit more nutritionally sound chips into your diet so you can munch on them with greater frequency, check the nutrition label closely and make sure the ingredients match the food advertised on the front. Also look for higher levels of protein and fiber, which are good indicators that you are getting what you pay for. Two brands that are good places to start would be Simply7 Quinoa Chips or Rhythm Superfood Chips.