Pretzels are a simple, salty snack you can find in nearly every vending machine or convenience store. This widespread availability is a perk because they do provide some nutritional benefits and are a low-fat snack option that pairs well with healthy foods like fruit or low-fat cheese.
That said, you should take caution to not overeat pretzels because they can quickly put a dent in your daily sodium intake and may even lead to weight gain.
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Here are the nutritional benefits (and health risks) to keep in mind before diving into your next package.
Pretzel Nutrition Facts
One ounce of pretzels (about a handful) is equal to a single serving. One ounce of hard salted pretzels contains:
- Calories: 109
- Total fat: 0.8 g
- Cholesterol: 0 mg
- Sodium: 352.2 mg
- Total carbs: 22.8 g
- Dietary fiber: 1 g
- Sugar: 0.6 g
- Added sugar: 0 g
- Protein: 2.9 g
- Total fat: One ounce of pretzels has 0.8 grams of total fat, which includes 0.3 g of polyunsaturated fat, 0.2 grams of monounsaturated fat, 0.1 grams of saturated fat and 0 grams of trans fat.
- Carbohydrates: One ounce of pretzels has 22.8 grams of carbs, which includes 1 gram of fiber and 0.6 grams of naturally occurring sugars — the rest of the carbs come from starch.
- Protein: One ounce of pretzels has 2.9 grams of protein.
Vitamins, Minerals and Other Micronutrients
- Manganese: 13% of your Daily Value (DV)
- Folate (B9): 12% DV
- Thiamin (B1): 10% DV
- Iron: 7%
- Riboflavin (B2): 7%
- Copper: 5%
- Zinc: 3%
- Phosphorus: 3%
- One ounce of pretzels is not a good source of selenium (2% DV), magnesium (2%), pantothenic acid (B5) (2% DV), choline (2% DV), vitamin E (1% DV), vitamin K (1% DV), vitamin B6 (1% DV) or calcium (1% DV).
Health Benefits of Pretzels
Pretzels are a low-calorie, low-fat snack that may pair nicely with a number of nutritious foods. They also provide some B vitamins and iron. A handful of pretzels along with healthy whole foods like nuts or fruit can make for a delicious snack with a place in a balanced diet.
1. Pretzels Are Low in Saturated Fat
With only 0.1 grams of saturated fat per serving, pretzels may be a healthier option than several other packaged snacks. "They can be a better alternative than crunchy snacks like potato chips, which are typically fried and can be high in saturated fat," says Mia Syn, RDN.
Only about 5 to 6 percent of your calories should come from saturated fat — that's a maximum of 120 calories (13 grams) of saturated fat per day for a 2,000-calorie diet, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). Replacing foods high in saturated fat with healthier ones can help lower your blood cholesterol levels.
Although some of the research is mixed, the AHA notes that decades of science points to saturated fat raising "bad" cholesterol and your risk for heart disease.
However, pretzels aren't necessarily high in healthy fats, either. With less than 1 gram of fat per serving (and a relatively low amount of protein and fiber), pretzels won't keep you full for long.
A healthy trifecta of fat, fiber and protein is needed for optimal satiety: Fiber makes you feel full, protein helps you stay full for longer and fat works with your body’s hormones to tell you stop eating, per Harvard Health Publishing. That’s why a whole-food snack like walnuts can help you stay full for longer than pretzels.
2. Pretzels Provide B Vitamins and Iron
The flour in your favorite pretzel snack is likely fortified with B vitamins and iron to make up for some of the nutrients lost during processing.
"Pretzels are made with refined flour, which is usually enriched with certain nutrients, which can make pretzels a beneficial snack," Syn says. "For instance, B vitamins are typically found in whole grains, so they're added back into the refined flour. B vitamins help break down food into energy, so they're important for metabolism and digestion."
Pretzels provide folate (B9), thiamin (B1), riboflavin (B2), pantothenic acid (B5) and vitamin B6. In addition to playing an important role in metabolism, B vitamins help form red blood cells, per the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Meanwhile, pretzels offer 7 percent of the daily value of iron, which makes up hemoglobin, the protein that carries oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body, per the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Without enough iron, you can experience iron deficiency anemia, which young children and people who are pregnant or have periods are particularly prone to.
3. Pretzels Pair Well With Healthy Foods
Pretzels can easily be paired with healthy foods that contain nutrients they lack. This may help you eat more fiber and vitamins, which will give pretzels a healthier place in your diet.
"I would recommend pairing pretzels with a healthy fat or protein source like nuts, peanut butter or hummus," Syn says. "That will help you have a snack with staying power."
If you're aiming to get more healthy nuts into your diet, mixing pretzels into a trail mix can be a great way to add flavor to unsalted pecans, walnuts and more. You can also pair pretzels with low-fat cheese for protein and calcium, or even fresh fruit like a fiber-rich apple or pear.
Although pretzels do pair well with healthy foods, you’ll also often find them combined with more indulgent options — like rich dips high in saturated fat (French onion or cheese dip) or yogurt-dipped pretzels high in added sugar. Aim to eat those in moderation.
Pretzel Health Risks
1. Allergies and Intolerances
If you experience certain symptoms like a rash or stomach ache after eating foods like pretzels that contain wheat, you could have a wheat allergy.
Generally, you have a greater likelihood of developing an allergy to any food (including wheat) if your family has a history of allergies or allergic diseases like eczema or asthma, per the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.
Wheat allergy symptoms include:
- Hives or skin rash
- Stuffy or runny nose
- Nausea, stomach cramps, indigestion, vomiting or diarrhea
- Anaphylaxis (a potentially fatal life-threatening reaction that can send the body into shock)
If you think you might have a wheat allergy, speak to your doctor or an allergist. You may need to have epinephrine available at all times in case of anaphylaxis.
Keep in mind that a wheat allergy is not the same as a gluten intolerance, which may be a symptom of celiac disease and requires a diagnosis by a board-certified gastroenterologist, not an allergist.
Pretzels contain 352 milligrams of sodium, or 23 percent of the ideal daily limit. The daily limit for sodium is no more than 2,300 milligrams, with an ideal limit of no more than 1,500 milligrams daily for most adults (especially those with high blood pressure), per the American Heart Association.
It's especially important to be mindful of your pretzel consumption, since packaged, processed foods are the largest source of sodium in our diets.
"A serving of pretzels is definitely going to make a dent in your daily allotted amount of sodium," Syn says. "Because sodium is found in all foods, you want to limit your sources of added salt."
In the United States, most people consume too much sodium, which can elevate blood pressure, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That, in turn, increases your risk of heart disease and stroke.
High sodium intake is also associated with several other diseases, including osteoporosis, cancer and chronic kidney disease, per the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
In fact, people with chronic kidney disease who had high sodium intakes of greater than 4,600 milligrams per day were more likely to experience progression of the disease compared to those who consumed less, per a 2014 review in the American Journal of Hypertension.
Low-sodium or unsalted pretzel varieties are available at many supermarkets. You may also be able to scrape visible salt off packaged pretzels to lower their sodium content, per the Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service.
3. Weight Gain
Because pretzels are typically made with refined flour, which is stripped of its nutrients and fiber for a more stable shelf life, they are more quickly digested by your body. This can lead you to overeat and gain weight as a result.
"I would consider pretzels an empty-calorie snack because they're mostly just carbohydrates," Syn says. "They have a high-glycemic index, which means the carbohydrates are broken down and absorbed into the bloodstream quickly. This can lead to an energy spike followed by a crash."
It's important to pair pretzels with healthy fats or protein, so your brain receives signals that you're full and satisfied. This will lower the likelihood of you reaching for more than the serving size.
Pretzel Drug Interactions
There are currently no known drug interactions. Be sure to discuss any medication and food interactions with your health professional.
Pretzel Preparation and Helpful Tips
When eaten in moderation, pretzels can be part of a healthy, balanced diet. Follow these tips to get the most value out of your pretzel snack.
Use pretzels as a base for healthy foods: Pretzels come in traditional twisted shapes and also flatter crisps that are particularly handy for scooping or holding healthy staples.
Pair your pretzels with:
- Low-fat cheese
- Fresh fruit, like apple or pear slices
- Peanut butter
Look for healthier pretzels: In addition to low-sodium varieties, pretzels made with an ingredient other than refined flour may be a better choice than traditional pretzel snacks.
"Look for pretzels in which the first ingredient is a whole grain, so you know you're getting the fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals that come with whole grains," Syn says. "Some pretzels are also made with cauliflower now, which could be a good choice."
Alternatives to Pretzels
Whenever possible, try to fill your diet with whole foods for the most nutritional benefits.
Lightly-salted nuts, air-popped popcorn, roasted chickpeas and roasted edamame are good pretzel alternatives that provide heart-healthy fiber.
- My Food Data: "Snacks Pretzels Hard Plain Salted"
- American Heart Association: "Saturated Fat"
- Harvard Medical School: "Extra protein is a decent dietary choice, but don’t overdo it"
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "B Vitamins"
- U.S.. National Library of Medicine: "Iron"
- American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology: "Wheat Allergy"
- American Heart Association: "Shaking the Salt Habit to Lower High Blood Pressure"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Sodium"
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "Salt and Sodium"
- American Journal of Hypertension: "Sodium Intake and Renal Outcomes: A Systematic Review"
- Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service: "Planning for Snacks"