Mexican tortilla chips are a common snack food found in grocery stores and restaurants. Unfortunately, tortilla chips calories are higher than those in other crunchy snack foods like popcorn or crackers. Most tortilla chips are made from corn tortillas and can be fried or baked.
Tortilla Chips Calories
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, one cup of crushed tortilla chips contains 293 calories, 9.58 grams of fat and 252 milligrams of sodium. The carbs in tortilla chips equate to about 46.2 grams.
Tortilla chips are commonly made from corn tortillas prepared with corn flour, vegetable oil, salt and water. According to an April 2014 study published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, corn itself contains a wide variety of vitamins and minerals, including calcium, iron, magnesium, thiamin and folate. The Mayo Clinic Health System states that corn's high fiber content supports digestive health.
However, when corn is processed, many of its nutrients are altered or removed. A June 2019 study published in Molecules explains that tortillas are prepared with enzyme-treated cornflour and additives, such as xanthan gum and cassava starch, to improve their structure and quality. Adding salt and different flavors may increase their calorie count.
Tortilla Chips and Weight Gain
As the Mayo Clinic points out, tortilla chips contain trans fat, which is considered the worst type of fat you can eat as it raises your "bad" cholesterol and lowers your "good" cholesterol. It usually comes from adding hydrogen to vegetable oil. This is typically done to give food a longer shelf life. Vegetable oil is often used in deep fryers, the most common way tortilla chips are cooked.
In addition to trans fat, tortilla chips can also have a lot of salt added for flavor. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 gram of salt equals 390 milligrams of sodium. Consuming too much sodium can lead to higher blood pressure as well as swelling from your body retaining too much water.
Salt can have a direct effect on body weight due to its high sodium content. A January 2017 study published in Oncotarget states there were greater reductions in body weight in people who consumed less salt than in those who didn't. However, the lost weight was due to a reduction in total body water, not body fat mass or visceral fat mass.
Substitutions for Tortilla Chips
Tortilla chips are extremely popular in party settings (chips and salsa, anyone?) and restaurants. Plus, they're often the go-to choice for a cozy movie night. While tortilla chips are OK in moderation, there are better snacks out there, including:
- Kale chips, beet chips and roasted chickpeas are extremely easy to make — just add some olive oil, lightly season and toss in the oven.
- Dehydrated fruits and vegetables are available in most supermarkets, but if you have a dehydrator, you can sprinkle spices over washed and sliced fruits and veggies and then dry them until they are crispy.
- Baked sweet potato, chickpea or cauliflower chips can satisfy your cravings for a crunchy snack.
- Vegetables are perfect for dipping in guacamole, salsa and other healthy dips.
- Like tortilla chips, popcorn is a corn-based product, but with fewer calories, especially if you skip the butter and other extras.
- Sprinkle some salt, pepper and Parmesan cheese on green beans and toss them in the oven to make green bean fries — an easy way to get your greens in.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: "Snacks, Tortilla Chips, Light (Baked With Less Oil)
- Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences: "Processing Maize Flour and Corn Meal Food Products"
- Molecules: "The Properties and Tortilla Making of Corn Flour from Enzymatic Wet-Milling"
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: ".75 oz Doritos Nacho"
- Mayo Clinic: "Trans Fat Is Double Trouble for Your Heart Health"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "The Role of Potassium and Sodium in Your Diet"
- Oncotarget: "Low Salt and Low Calorie Diet Does Not Reduce More Body Fat Than Same Calorie Diet: A Randomized Controlled Study"
- Mayo Clinic Health System: "Cash in on the Health Benefits of Corn"