Why Are Chips Bad for You?

Potato chips are among the most popular salted snacks in America, and have traditionally been made out of thinly fried potatoes. These days, it's easy to find alternative products like beetroot chips, corn chips or sweet potato chips instead. 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.

Why Are Chips Bad for You? Credit: Lisovskaya/iStock/GettyImages

Potato Chip Nutrition

From cans of Pringles to bags of Lays, chips are one of the most popular snacks worldwide. Despite their popularity, 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 an ounce and has about 153 calories. Chips are high in B-complex vitamins like vitamins B-5 and B-6, as well as potassium. They also contain small amounts of fiber, protein and other nutrients. 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. The sodium in a small bag of potato chips may not seem excessive, but it's important to watch the salt in your diet. According to the American Heart Association, 9 out of 10 Americans consume too much sodium.

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 16 percent of your daily recommended amount of fat, and 15 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.

Read more: The 10 Worst Foods You Can Buy

Harmful Effects of Potato Chips

A lot of the harmful effects of 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 completely 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.

The cooking process used to make chips can also create by-products that are negative to your health. There is one molecule in particular, called acrylamide, that is known to be a neurotoxin and cause cancer. Acrylamide can accumulate in the body and increase your chances of certain diseases. Acrylamide tends to form in starchy foods when they are cooked at high temperatures. Potato, a vegetable well-known for its starchiness, is known to have a very high acrylamide concentration when made into potato chips. The majority of acrylamide in your diet likely comes from some sort of fried potato product, like French fries or chips.

The downsides of frying foods have long been known, but no one really wants to stop eating chips. As a compromise, different methods of cooking chips have been developed. You may find that your supermarket now offers potato chips that are baked, kettle cooked or vacuum fried. Vacuum-fried foods may not use any oil, so this method may reduce the fat content of chips; microwaved chips are starting to become popular and may even be sold as fortified foods in the near future. You should be aware that most potato chips are likely to have some amount of acrylamide, though, as it forms at high temperatures in starchy foods regardless of cooking technique. 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 by-products and may retain more vitamins and minerals.

Read more: 9 Better-for-You Potato Chip Swaps

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