Potato chips were invented in 1853 by exasperated chef George Crum, according to the BBC. When a customer complained that Crum's french fries were too thick, he took his revenge by cutting the potatoes so thin that they could no longer be cut with a fork after frying. Contrary to the chef's expectations, the formerly disgruntled diner was delighted. Potato chips and other chips continue to make us smile, but an excess of these salty snacks is unhealthy. Eat them in moderation.
Butylhydroxytoluene, commonly known as BHT, is frequently used by the food industry to prevent rancidity in packaged baked goods and snacks. This fat-soluble chemical is also used in petroleum products, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. Eleanor Ross Whitney and Sharon Rady Rolfes explain in their textbook "Understanding Nutrition" that BHT can cause cancer when consumed in high amounts. The amounts of BHT needed to induce cancer would not be ingested under normal circumstances, but if you want to avoid any exposure to cancer-causing chemicals, choose one of the many varieties of chips that are preservative-free.
Trans fats increase the risk of heart disease by clogging arteries, increasing total cholesterol levels and reducing the level of good cholesterol, or HDL, in the bloodstream. Although trans fats are naturally present in dairy products and beef, the vast majority of trans fats in the diet come from factory-produced partially hydrogenated plant oil. This ingredient is favored by the food industry because it keeps foods crisp. Not all chip manufacturers use this type of fat. Look for nutrition labels that say "Trans Fat 0g" if you wish to avoid it.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010, a joint publication from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, recommends that you get the majority of your calories from nutrient-dense foods, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Americans eat too many foods that are not in their nutrient-dense forms. When you eat foods that are not nutrient-dense, you are either taking in too many calories and increasing your risk of obesity, or substituting empty calories for healthy foods. Nutrient-poor foods are those with a lot of calories from added fats, sugars or refined grains. Chips, which typically derive more than half of their calories from fat, are nutrient-poor. Choose apple slices or raw peppers instead, or reserve chips as an occasional treat.
The salt in chips makes them tasty, but satisfying our salt craving comes at a high price. Salt is a major culprit in hypertension. It contributes to a high blood volume, which causes excess pressure on the blood vessel walls. Hypertension is a risk factor for stroke, heart attack and kidney failure. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010, over half of all American adults have hypertension or pre-hypertension, conditions which can lead to heart disease.
- USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion: Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010: Executive Summary
- University of Maryland Medical Center; Trans Fats 101; November 2010
- "Understanding Nutrition"; Eleanor Noss Whitney and Sharon Rady Rolfes; 2004
- BBC; Potato Crisps -- A History; December 2006