-- Walk through any office around 3 p.m. and you’ll find someone munching away on vegetable chips instead of potato chips in an attempt to satisfy hunger while eating healthily.
Industry reports show vegetable snacks growing at a rate of 22 percent yearly while other snacks languish at a 2 percent growth rate. But how do vegetable chips differ from traditional potato chips? Are they a better snacking choice, as many believe?
I ask nutritionist Maya Feller what’s in these chips that make them a source of vegetables? As she reads the ingredients of the Sensible Portion Veggie Straws, her answer is a surprise.
"So in here we’ve got potato flour, potato starch, tomato paste," Feller said.
We look at veggie chips from the brands PopChips, Daily Crave, Sensible Portions, and Better Chip. Pop Chips has 3 grams of fat per serving but the others are in the 6-7 gram range. None have significant vitamins or minerals listed, except Better Chip, which has 60 percent of your Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of vitamin K, but I’ll get to that later.
While images on the packaging shows whole vegetables like tomatoes and leafy greens, these chips tend to look a bit washed out with tints of green and red.
Maya says the coloring is often the result of vegetable powders.
“The average consumer is going to think they’re having broccoli, spinach, non-starchy vegetables when in fact they’re having a starchy vegetable, potato and potato starch," she said. "While many do have other vegetable ingredients, they are not whole.”
Maya reads off the ingredients from one popular veggie chip package, “Beet powder, spinach powder, pumpkin powder, pea fiber, tomato powder, red bell pepper powder."
Better Chip Kale and Spinach has marketing materials that read, “Inside this brilliantly green chip lives both spinach and kale. Using strictly fresh greens, we combine the two powerhouses inside one double thick corn masa chip.”
But taking a closer look at the ingredients, Maya says: "Well, you’ll be surprised because when you look at the nutrition facts label it’s actually quite similar to Tostitos.”
But which one is more fattening? Maya points me to the nutrition labels where I find each have 7 grams of fat per serving.
But the people at Better Chip emphasize there is real kale in there. A look at the nutritional info does show 60 percent of your RDA of vitamin K can be found in the chips, but no significant amount of other nutrients.
In a statement to ABC News, the Better Chip company said: "We offer a simple product, made with non-GMO, farm fresh ingredients and therefore the composition of our chips are always as close to 'whole ingredient' as we can get."
And they say 30 percent of the chip is kale and spinach: that's where the 60 percent of your RDA vitamin K comes from.
So the issue may come down to two things. First, are you trying to minimize fats while still getting that crunch?
If that’s the case, options like Suzie’s corn cakes have zero fat; air-popped popcorn has 2 grams of fat; and Mary’s Gone Crackers have 5 grams of fat, with some of that fat coming from flax seeds which provide Omega-3 fat, the good stuff. Also, Baked Lays and other baked chips get down into the 2 grams of fat region.
If you are trying to add vegetables, there are some vegetable chips that are whole kale cooked with oils or nuts to make them shelf stable, and whole taro or whole sweet potato. Many of those have elevated oils and fats counts, so proceed with discretion.
Maya says it is even better to make your own kale chips at home with minimal oils, or go with the very best choice and snack on fresh veggies.
We reached out to many of the makers of these snacks and here’s what they had to say:
Sensible Portions (Garden Veggie): "Sensible Portions Garden Veggie Chips contain 30% less fat* compared with the leading potato chip. Our Veggie Chips are made with ingredients derived from potatoes, tomatoes and spinach for a great tasting potato and vegetable snack. They are also made with non-GMO ingredients, contain 0 miligrams cholesterol, gluten-free and contain no artificial flavors or preservatives. *Our product provides 7 grams of total fat per 1 ounce serving. The leading potato chip provides 10 grams of total fat per 1 ounce serving."
Better Chip: “Our Spinach & Kale Chip, and all other The Better Chip products, consists of fresh produce straight from the farm. We bring freshly harvested kale and spinach to our facilities, clean and cut the produce on site and then mix the vegetables into the chips. We offer a simple product, made with non-GMO, farm fresh ingredients and therefore the composition of our chips are always as close to 'whole ingredient' as we can get. Our chips aren’t made to taste 'like'” their respective flavor, they are that flavor. The Better Chip was created for people who care about the process behind their food. Our core ingredients are simple -- whole grain corn masa, vegetable, oil and sea salt. The fresh greens for the Spinach and Kale chip make up 30+% of the chip. Because Spinach is a separate ingredient from Kale, we cannot lump the two together into one ingredient (e.g. greens), and therefore we must list them in order of individual weight taking into account transformation in cooking. We conservatively state the NLEA, taking into account vitamin degradation post fry and over the course of shelf life which is not something every brand does, as it is not mandatory. We purposefully do not make “vegetable serving” claims because we believe that would not be in the best interest of consumers, even though we do use unadulterated, fresh vegetables in our formulas. And, all of the above is Vegan, Certified Gluten Free, and Verified Non-GMO.”