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Posted at 07:00 AM ET, 09/27/2011

Picking a better snack chip

To commemorate the passing of Doritos inventor Arch West last week, let’s take a closer look at his famous snack chip -- and its nutrition profile.

Since it was introduced in 1964, the first nationally distributed tortilla chip has been festooned with various flavorings (not to mention colorings), from the iconic Nacho Cheese to the more recent, but beloved, Cool Ranch flavor. To keep things simple, though, let’s just look at the plain, Toasted Corn version.

As I write in this week’s “Eat, Drink and Be Healthy” column about the value of processed, packaged foods, finding the most nutritionally sound foods on the grocery shelves is a matter of reading Nutrition Facts panels and ingredient lists and comparing wisely. So let’s see how a Doritos corn chip stacks up against a plain potato chip.

Here’s the nutrition data for Doritos and for Lay's Classic potato chips. (Both products made by Frito-Lay.) A quick glance at the ingredients lists suggests the two are on even footing: Doritos are made from whole corn, vegetable oil and salt, with no preservatives. Lay’s are made from potatoes, vegetable oil and salt, also with no preservatives. That’s one sign of a relatively healthful packaged food: In general, the fewer ingredients, the better.

On to the Nutrition Facts panels. The two chips are similar as to number of calories per one-ounce serving (140 for 13 Doritos, 160 for 15 Lay’s) and percent of those calories that come from fat (60 vs. 90). Doritos have a bit less total fat (7 grams vs. 10 grams), but since both are made with healthful vegetable oils, that’s not a big deal. Each has a gram of saturated fat and no trans fats.

Neither chip has much fiber to speak of (1 gram per serving each). But while Lay’s have a bit more sodium (170 mg versus 120 mg), by virtue of being made from potatoes they also contain 350 mg of potassium. Doritos contain none of this mineral, consuming adequate amounts of which may be as important as reducing sodium in managing blood pressure.

Each chip has a smattering of vitamins and minerals; here again, the potato chip prevails, providing 10 percent each of Vitamin C and Vitamin B6

This blog was meant to be kind of a tribute to Mr. West’s invention. But I’d have to say potato chips look to me like the better nutritional bargain.

Of course, we don't eat chips for their nutritional value; we eat them because they're yummy. But comparing these two brands is a good label-deciphering exercise.

Do you read the numbers the same way?

By  |  07:00 AM ET, 09/27/2011

 
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