The Calories in Potato Chips, and 5 Reasons They're Unhealthy

Fried potato chips do not contain healthy amounts of vitamins and minerals to help compensate for the high fat and salt content.
Image Credit: Lisovskaya/iStock/GettyImages

Potato chips are among the most popular salted snacks in America. They're traditionally made out of thinly fried potatoes, but these days, it's easy to find alternative products like beetroot chips, corn chips or sweet potato chips.

Chips can be made in a variety of ways, from fried to baked. The cooking process plays a major role in whether or not chips are bad for your health.

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Potato Chips Calories and Nutrition

Despite their popularity, greasy potato chips are an energy-dense food with little nutritional value. In general, eating chips and similar fried, fatty foods can lead to an unhealthy diet, resulting in weight gain and negative effects on your health.

A standard serving of potato chips measures about 1 ounce and contains:

  • 149 calories
  • 9.5 g fat
    • 1 g saturated fat
  • 148 mg sodium
  • 15 g carbs
    • 1 g fiber
    • 0.1 g sugar
  • 1.8 g protein

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Chips contain some B-complex vitamins like vitamins B5 and B6, as well as potassium. They also contain small amounts of fiber, protein and other nutrients.

How Many Calories Does a Bag of Chips Have?

Although the sizes and weights of potato chips vary, 11 to 13 chips typically make up 1 ounce. Barbecue-flavored chips have about 150 calories per ounce, while cheese-flavored chips have about 160 calories per ounce.

One 1.5-ounce bag of Lay's Original, which is larger than the standard 1 ounce serving size, has 240 calories.

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Regardless of their flavor, there are about 11 to 14 calories in one single potato.

Tip

If you want a lower-calorie alternative, look for chips that are popped rather than fried. For example, a 1-ounce serving of original-flavor Popchips consists of 23 chips and has 120 calories. As such, individual Popchips have about 5 calories per chip.

Are Potato Chips Bad For You?

Eating potato chips occasionally is unlikely to negatively affect your overall health, but eating them regularly can lead to getting too many unhealthy ingredients and not enough vitamins and minerals. Knowing why chips are unhealthy may encourage you to choose a more nutritious snack next time your stomach growls.

1. They're High in Sodium

Chips are typically served salted or flavored, giving them a high sodium content. Too much sodium can cause various health issues, like increased blood pressure and heart disease, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).

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The sodium in a small bag of potato chips may not seem excessive, but it's important to watch the salt in your diet. FYI, 9 out of 10 Americans consume too much sodium.

2. They're High in Fat

The other main concern about chips is that they're typically fried in oil, making them high in fat. A standard serving of potato chips contains 12 percent of your daily recommended amount of fat, and 5 percent of this comes from saturated fat. Certain fats, like those found in fatty fish, are healthy, but the fats in potato chips are not.

The high fat content is part of the reason that chips are considered to be empty calories — they fill you up and their fat content gives you energy. However, they don't actually have much nutritive value.

3. Their Cooking Method Causes Nutrients to Degrade

A lot of the harmful effects of eating potato chips come from the way in which they are cooked. The perfect chip is fried until it is lightly golden brown. Achieving this technique requires high heat. Chips are traditionally washed, blanched and deep-fat fried until crispy. While fat certainly can make foods tasty, it's long been known that foods that are high in fat are typically not good for you.

Beyond this, frying foods using high heat can affect their nutrient content. This is exactly what happens to chips: The process of washing, blanching and frying causes the potatoes to lose most of their beneficial nutrients, including antioxidants, per a March 2014 report by the Wrocław University of Environmental and Life Sciences.

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4. Their Cooking Process Might Create Harmful Byproducts

The cooking process used to make chips can also create byproducts that are negative to your health. There is one molecule, in particular, called acrylamide, that is known to be a neurotoxin and carcinogen. Acrylamide can accumulate in the body and increase your chances of certain diseases.

Acrylamide tends to form in starchy foods when cooked at high temperatures and fried potato chips have been shown to contain acrylamide, per an October 2014 ​Nutrition​ study.

As a compromise, different methods of cooking chips have been developed. You may find that your supermarket now offers potato chips that are baked or kettle-cooked. But many potato chips are likely to have some amount of acrylamide, as it forms at high temperatures in starchy foods regardless of cooking technique.

Tip

If you’re keen on eating chips but want to avoid acrylamide, you can always try vegetable crisps of a different type. Always look for low-salt, low-fat versions, which are less likely to contain the same type of byproducts and may retain more vitamins and minerals.

5. Eating Chips Every Day Can Lead to Weight Gain

The oil used to fry potato chips contains fat and calories, both of which contribute to weight gain. Controlling your weight means balancing the calories you consume with the ones you burn. An ounce of plain potato chips contains about 150 calories and nearly 10 grams of fat, most of which comes from the grease they are cooked in.

If you must have potato chips, serve yourself a small amount and make the rest of your meal nutrient-dense with whole grains, fruits, vegetables and lean protein, all of which contain nutrients that support overall health and weight.

Read labels and look for potato chips made with healthy types of oil, which will be indicated by a low saturated and trans fat content. Plain potato chips contain less artificial seasonings and colors than flavored potato chips, such as barbecue and sour cream and onion, that could cause health problems.

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