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Move over, greasy potato chips. Puffed, popped, crisped, and dried snacks are forecast to be one the 2018's healthy food trends, according to Whole Foods' foodie experts. But if you jumped on board with those popular veggie straws only to realize they're no better than the average potato chip (and contain basically no veggies), you're probably a little skeptical about these popped snacks, too. Don't worry—as an R.D. it's my job to vet food for a living. So are these new munchies actually healthier or just for show?
Yep, They Are Healthier Than Potato Chips
These new puffed and popped snacks boast ingredients such as seaweed, brown rice, jicama, lentils, and parsnips, so it's natural for you to assume that these newbies must be way healthier (or at least more nutritious) than the classic greasy potato chip. But there's a little more to it than that. Potatoes get a bad rap, but they're actually a very nutritious root veggie. With tons of vitamin C, potassium, and B6, there's no reason to avoid this spud. It's actually the cooking method—fried in grease with a ton of salt—that warrants the chip reputation. (Related: Easy Snacks Perfect for Short Winter Days)
Luckily for the crunchy snack addict, these new alternatives aren't fried, meaning that they are actually a healthier alternative to potato chips. Not all puffed and popped snacks are made the same way, but most methods require little to no oil. On top of that, many products are made with protein, fiber, and nutrient-rich foods like quinoa, legumes, and veggies.
There's one caveat.
In theory, it sounds great to be able to eat tasty vegetables and grains right out of a bag. But no packaged snack can replace good old-fashioned whole foods. In other words, you shouldn't substitute jicama chips for other root veggies in your diet or puffed quinoa for the real thing in your usual grain bowl. These options definitely make a pretty wholesome snack for when you're on the go or just want some crunch, but make sure you still eat plenty of fruits, veggies, and whole grains in their natural form.
My Top Popped Snack Picks
Many people probably haven't tried jicama in its natural state, much less in a chip. This starchy Mexican root vegetable tastes like a cross between an apple and potato. What I love about this new product is that it's baked, not fried, and each bag contains just 100 calories, but 5 grams of filling fiber.
Try it: JicaChips
Most of the snacks from Seapoint Farms are a healthy alternative to chips, with ingredients like seaweed, edamame and now fava. Fava is a Mediterranean bean, and Seapoint Farm kettle-cooks them in small batches and sprinkles them with sea salt and seaweed flakes to create a sweet and savory crunchy snack. Plus, they're gluten-free and a good source of fiber.
Try it: Seapoint Farms Seaweed Fava Chips
This is one of my favorites because you can find it at your local drugstore, and the ingredients are just fruit—that's it. While these aren't puffed or popped, this freeze-dried fruit snack will satisfy your sweet tooth. You can eat the whole bag as a pre-workout snack or use them as a topping for your Greek yogurt.
Try it: Gold Emblem Abound Mixed Fruit Crisps
Beets have a slightly sweet and earthy flavor, and these dehydrated chips deliver on that taste. Without all the oil from frying, these beet chips contain just 130 calories per bag with 3 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber. Not to mention that they're packed full of good nitrates that increase blood flow, and potassium, which aids in hydration, so these are a good option for before your workout.
Try it: Rhythm Superfoods Beet Chips
If you like popcorn, you've got to try popped sorghum. This whole-grain, gluten-free snack is a bit smaller in size than popcorn, but it's got just as many nutrients and big bold flavor. Each bag of my favorite popped sorghum snack has just 150 calories, and it's a whole-grain option that will definitely satisfy your need for crunch.
Try it: Pop IQ Popped Sorghum
How to Make Popped and Puffed Snacks at Home
If you've made popcorn on the stovetop before, then you can easily make popped sorghum. All you have to do is heat some oil over medium-high heat, drop the sorghum into the pot, and wait for it to pop. Once it's done, top it with some salt and pepper, Parmesan, and herbs—or try cinnamon and sugar for a sweet take.
Parsnip chips are another delicious DIY option. The slightly sweet root veggie bakes up easily into a crunchy chip. It's as simple as slicing a parsnip into half-inch rounds, tossing it with oil and salt, and baking them in at 350°F for about 15 to 20 minutes.