Snack wars – Tortilla Chips vs. Pretzels

Yesterday, I was on a Grocery Store Training Field Trip with a client who had a big “Aha” moment that I thought was worth sharing in the blog.  During a training field trip, we spend about two hours in a grocery store or Whole Foods learning how to make healthier choices within each food category and discovering new foods to try at home. We usually spend most of our time in the produce, meat, organic, and dairy sections but we make our way up and down the center aisles as well.

When the “aha moment” occurred, we were walking through the Salty Snack aisle and she’d just told me she doesn’t often buy chips, but does buy pretzels. She was interested in knowing if I recommended a particular brand or variety. I think my answer surprised her!

I pulled a bag of pretzels (any brand will do) off the shelf and then a bag of tortilla chips. And we read the labels together.

And a one-ounce serving of pretzels provides:

  • 100 calories
  • 0 grams fat
  • 680 milligrams sodium

A one-ounce serving of tortilla chips adds up to:

  • 140 calories
  • 7 grams fat (1 gram saturated)
  • 125 milligrams sodium

If you grew up in the “Low Fat = Healthy” era like both of us did, you’d choose pretzels every time. Right? C’mon, you know you would! But that’s only a piece of the story. Reading the ingredient lists reveals the rest.

Pretzels are made of mostly white flour and a LOT of salt; plus the rather lengthy ingredient list also includes stabilizers and yeast and sugar. Pretzels, nutritionally speaking, are basically mini loaves of white bread.

Tortilla chips, by contrast,  have just three ingredients: corn, oil, and salt (and usually far less salt than pretzels). They are essentially vegetables cooked in oil.

Why does this matter? Because our bodies metabolize pretzels as white bread but we metabolize tortilla chips as vegetables (corn) cooked in oil. Which do you think is healthier?

Note that I did not say that tortilla chips are lower in CALORIES than pretzels. Ounce for ounce, they’re not. But the fat in them helps to create a feeling of fullness and satisfaction that naturally regulates appetite. Said another way, we’re satisfied with fewer chips because they contain some fat.  And we often eat them with salsa which really is health food –  it’s almost always made entirely of vegetables – low calorie and fat free.

So, while pretzels are a favorite snack in many homes, and most parents readily feed them to children thinking they’re a healthy choice, there are actually far better options in the snack aisle. Tortilla chips are one of them. And plain potato chips are another (three ingredients again – potatoes, oil and salt!)

I’m certainly not saying you should never eat a pretzel, but when you do choose them as a snack,  it’s best to combine them with something  that will provide a little protein or fat to help make them more satisfying (e.g. cheese, peanut butter, even sour cream).

The best news is that if you or your kids love chips and salsa, it’s a choice you can feel good about, as long as you keep portions within reason. Now go get busy making plans for tomorrow’s happy hour…

One thought on “Snack wars – Tortilla Chips vs. Pretzels

  1. Linda

    Having a party this weekend and my snacks will include lightly salted taco chipa and a good fresh salsa. How does that sound?


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