Are crisps made from lentils, veg and chickpeas as healthy as they sound?

We compared the nutritional info on the labels for new-wave snacks with classic potato chips

13 May 2021 - 06:30
Crisps made from vegetables, grains and pulses are a growing trend.
Crisps made from vegetables, grains and pulses are a growing trend.
Image: Hilary Biller

I’m a sucker for potato crisps the salt and vinegar flavoured ones are my favourite. So I’ve been excited to see more and more chips made from vegetables, grains and pulses creeping onto supermarket shelves.

With words like “multigrain”, “made with 68% peas” and “popped never fried” on the packets, at first glance these crisps seem like a healthier option than their ordinary potato counterparts.

I felt almost virtuous popping a packet into my trolley. That was until I got home and took a closer look at the nutritional information on the back. It was an interesting exercise and one that gave me a bit of a wake-up call.

There didn’t seem to be a marked difference between the kilojoule content of the “healthy” crisp alternative I’d bought and my fave deep-fried potato snack, and it also contained more sodium (salt).

Keen to see if this was a one-off, I scoured the shelves of four big supermarkets for crisp alternatives made from pulses, vegetables and/or grains, and picked up popular types of potato chips for comparison.

I scrutinised the labels and asked a pair of dieticians to weigh in on the results.


The potato chips and crisps made from veg, grains and/or pulses our food editor compared.
The potato chips and crisps made from veg, grains and/or pulses our food editor compared.
Image: Hilary Biller

WHAT WAS IN MY HAUL

Potato crisps:

  • Lay’s Salted Potato Chips, R19.99 for 120g, from Checkers;
  • Simba Salt & Vinegar Flavoured Potato Chips, R16.99 for 120g, from Pick n Pay;
  • Willards Cheese & Onion Flavoured Potato Chips, R13.59 for 125g, from Spar;

Crisp alternatives (veg, grain and/or pulse chips):

  • Eat Real Sea Salt Hummus Chips, R29.99 for 135g, from Checkers;
  • Salgado’s Sweet Potato & Beetroot Crisps, R34.99 for 100g, from Checkers;
  • Spar Spanish Chorizo Flavoured Multigrain Chips, R19.99 for 150g;
  • Woolworths BBQ Flavoured Veggie Puffs, R24.99 for 85g;
  • Woolworths Fruit Chutney Flavoured Mixed Vegetable Crisps, 100g for R22.99; and
  • Woolworths Lentil & Quinoa Creamy Cheddar Pop Chips, R19.99 for 85g.

COMPARING THE LABELS

This comparison is merely stating facts based on the nutritional information on the back of the packets.

I compared the average nutritional values per 100g rather than per serving size, as this may vary from brand to brand.

Kilojoules

Kilojoules - we used to call them calories - is a measure of the energy in the food and drinks we consume. To maintain a healthy weight, the average adult should consume about 8,700kJ per day. This will vary according to age and sex.

All three types of traditional potato crisps clocked in at more than 2,200kJ/100g — that's just under a quarter of the total average that should be consumed in a day.

Compare that to the potato crisp alternatives with the most kilojoules, Eat Real Sea Salt Hummus Chips (2,032kJ/100g), and there’s not much between them.

At 1,655kJ/100g, Woolworths Lentil & Quinoa Creamy Cheddar Pop Chips had the lowest kilojoule count.

Fat

It doesn't matter whether it is “healthy” unsaturated fat or “unhealthy” saturated and trans fats, eating too much of any type of fat can contribute to weight gain.

However, as The Heart And Stroke Foundation of SA’s website points out, “eating a large amount of saturated fat is linked to an increased risk of heart disease and strokes and it can increase your blood cholesterol levels”.

Dietician's tip

To identify a product that's low in saturated fat, look for as close to, or no more than 1g saturated fat per 100g on the label.

The trio of traditional potato crisps were the worst offenders when it came to fat content. Each contains upwards of 34g total fat per 100g, of which more than 13.5g is saturated fat.

Interestingly, the crisp alternative with the highest total fat content — Eat Real Sea Salt Hummus Chips —  was packaged in a bag marked “40% less fat than regular potato chips”. This chickpea-based snack contains 24g total fat per 100g, but the saturated fat content was surprisingly low at 2g.

Spar Spanish Chorizo Multigrain Chips also had a fairly hefty total fat content (20.5g) of which nearly 50% (9.7g) was saturated fat.

Woolworths Lentil & Quinoa Creamy Cheddar Pop Chips had the lowest total fat content (8.1g), and Woolworths BBQ Veggie Puffs the lowest saturated fat content (0.9g). 

Sodium (salt)

The most shocking aspect of this comparison is the sodium (salt) content of the potato crisp alternatives. With the exception of the Salgado’s Sweet Potato & Beetroot Crisps — which had the lowest sodium content overall at 183.45mg/100g — these tended to have a high salt content.

Eat Real Sea Salt Hummus Chips was the worst offender at 1,063mg/100g. That is more than double the salt content of the Lay’s Salted Potato Chips (528mg) and the Willards Cheese & Onion Potato Chips (525mg).

Woolworths Lentil & Quinoa Creamy Cheddar Pop Chips (927mg) came in at second place, with Spar Spanish Chorizo Multigrain Chips (909mg) rounding out the top three. Both contain more sodium than the saltiest of the potato crisps, the Simba Salt & Vinegar (850mg).

According to The Heart And Stroke Foundation of SA’s website: “Eating too much sodium or salt can raise your blood pressure and increase your risk of developing heart disease or having a stroke.”

The official recommendation is to consume no more than 2,000mg sodium a day. That is  the equivalent of a single teaspoon.

Carbs and sugar

It is often assumed that a savoury snack won’t contain sugar, but don’t forget carbohydrates are made up of starches, sugar and dietary fibre.

In addition to this naturally-occurring sugar, the total sugars listed on the label may also include that which has been added to a product, so it is worth reading the ingredient list.

With the exception of the Eat Real Sea Salt Hummus Chips, all the crisp alternatives contain several times more sugar than the potato varieties. 

The Salgado’s Sweet Potato & Beetroot Crisps and the Woolworths Fruit Chutney Mixed Vegetable Crisps — which are made from sweet potato, carrot, butternut and beetroot — are the sweetest, containing 42.66g and 42.4g total sugar per 100g respectively. 

Protein and fibre

You wouldnt think crisps could be a noteworthy source of protein or fibre, but thanks to being made from ingredients like peas, chickpeas and other pulses, some are.

Fittingly, it was the crisp alternative in a packet emblazoned with the wording “made from 68% peas”, “high in fibre” and “source of protein” — Woolworths BBQ Veggie Puffs — that contained the most of both: 20.2g protein and 16.4g fibre per 100g.

Salgado’s Sweet Potato & Beetroot Crisps came second in the high-fibre stakes at 11.16g per 100g, followed by Spar Spanish Chorizo Flavoured Multigrain Chips (6.6g).

Interestingly, the Willards Cheese & Onion Potato Chips contained more fibre (5.7g) than the remaining crisp alternatives.

Two of the potato varieties — Lay’s Salted Potato Chips and Simba Salt & Vinegar Potato Chips — also contained more protein (7.4g per 100g) than all the crisp alternatives with the exception of the aforementioned veggie puffs and the Woolworths Lentil & Quinoa Creamy Cheddar Pop Chips (11.6g).

WHAT THE DIETICIANS SAID

Commenting on the results of this comparison, Omy Naidoo, registered dietician and founder of Newtricion Wellness Dieticians, said: “Both potato crisps and vegetable/pulse crisps should be considered as treats and consumed in small quantities.

“Crisps are never a good option for those wanting to lose weight due to their high energy content. People at risk of, or suffering with, hypertension should similarly avoid them due to their high sodium content, which is shown to increase your blood pressure.

“I advise everyone to start reading food labels, as this will create an awareness of foods which arent going to get to your goals.”

Registered dietician Carly Seager of Intelihealth Dietitians agreed that “chips of any nature should not be an everyday food”.

If you’re going to have a treat, veggie-, legume- and grain-based crisps may be a better alternative for your overall health than regular potato chips.
Dietician Carly Seager

However, she pointed out, “if you’re going to have a treat, veggie-, legume- and grain-based crisps may be a better alternative for your overall health than regular potato chips”.

That’s because despite having a similar kilojoule content per 100g, this comparison showed that some crisp alternatives offer additional nutritional benefits over the potato varieties — they tended to be lower in “unhealthy” saturated fat, and some were higher in fibre and protein.

“Fibre is important for digestive health, keeps us fuller for longer, and plays a role in regulating cholesterol levels,” Seager explains.

“A product must contain >6g fibre per 100g to be classified as being high in fibre — a few of the veggie-, legume- and grain-based chips featured here meet this criteria, whereas none of the potato chips do.”

A little extra protein in a snack can also be beneficial, she said, as this nutrient is important for weight management, lean muscle mass development and satiety.

“A high-protein product should contain >10g protein per 100g; you will see that two of the crisp alternatives featured here meet this mark.”

The bottom line, said Seager, is that not all veggie-, legume- or grain-based chips are created equal, so it’s important to read food labels, enjoy them as an occasional treat, and stick to the recommended portion sizes.

Additional reporting by Toni Jaye Singer.


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