Monday, September 17, 2012

Potato Chips: My Health Food

Potato Chips.  Call them what you want:  Junk food, snack food, gut busters, or grease in a bag.  I don't think I've ever heard them promoted as a healthy choice.  As a runner, my goal is to eat as healthy as possible while shooting for a low percentage of body fat.  In the mean time, work, family, and running often leave little time for proper nutrition.  So I need to make some compromises, or at least find convenient ways to eat well.  I have other goals as a runner too, but having Kara Goucher as my personal trainer, is beyond the scope of this article.

Before I elaborate on how Potato Chips can actually be healthy, let me first offer the disclaimer that I am not a dietitian, and as with any food, all things need to be consumed in moderation (Even water can kill you by way of hyponatremia).  In other words, don't flame on me too much if you find holes/fat in my assertion. I also might leave out a few details since I'm going to avoid writing a complete dissertation on the subject.

Now, on to my supporting arguments.  As most of you know, people, and especially runners need to consume about 60-70% of their calories in the form of carbohydrates, preferably complex carbohydrates.   So what foods qualify?  You can take your pick from rice, pasta, beans, fruits, and vegetables.  One of the veggies packed with complex carbs is the potato, and that of course is the main ingredient in potato chips.
Is it considered cheating if Mr. Potato Head
eats another potato besides Mrs. Potato Head?

I admit, just because potato chips are made from potatoes doesn't make them healthy since you could add all sorts of crap to a potato to make it full of fat.  Take a baked potato for instance, which is thought to be a healthy choice.  I see a lot of people loading theirs up with sour cream or butter, not to mention other savory but unhealthy toppings.  In the case of most potato chips, the manufacturers add lots of fatty oil by virtue of deep frying.  The fat you really want to stay away from is the trans saturated fat.  I found a potato chip that avoids the deep fryer and therefore most of the fat that would go along with it.

A few years back, I was browsing the nutrition labels at the supermarket as I do on occasion when I came across Baked Lays potato chips.  To my surprise, I had trouble figuring out how I could go wrong if I included them as part of my diet.  Ever since, I've kept a bag or two at work to snack on or to supplement my lunch.  Let's take a look at the back of a bag of Baked Lays chips.

Baked Lays Potato Chip Bag
My picture isn't the greatest, but here's some of the highlights.  There are 120 calories per 1 ounce serving, and only 20 of those come from fat, no trans fat.  Sodium is a modest 135mg, while sugars are limited to 2g.  Having only 2g of protein isn't anything to get excited about, but it's better than nothing.  (It mentions there are about 15 chips per ounce)

I never eat directly from the bag.  I make a habit of measuring out 1 to 2 servings so that I don't lose track of how many chips I've eaten.  This keeps me from over indulging.

Another thing to read are the ingredients.  One rule of thumb I tend to go by is the fewer the ingredients, the healthier or more natural a product.  There are only 7 ingredients in Baked Lays, and just the fact that I can pronounce them all, and that they are all 2 syllables or less (besides the potatoes) tells me that it doesn't have unwanted chemicals or artificial additives.  Actually they tell you as much on the bag (see to
Baked Lays Potato Chip bag
the left).

For comparison, a bag of regular Lays potato chips, which are fried, contain 70 more fat calories per 1 ounce serving, and 35 more mg of sodium than their baked brothers.

I don't mean to promote Frito-Lay specifically, and they aren't giving me any incentive to.  Likewise, I'm sure there are plenty of other comparable baked potato chips out there.  I'm just trying to pass on some wisdom from personal experience.

So in summary:
  • All things in moderation
  • People/runners need lots of complex carbs.
  • Potato chips = complex carbs
  • Baking potato chips instead of frying them saves you from a lot of extra fat.
  • I could be full of used canola oil, but I don't think so.
  • This article is a feeble attempt of a non-cook to keep up with all the running blogs out there who post pictures of all their gourmet runner meals.
Next time you're in the grocery store or Subway and you walk by the Baked Lays potato chips, think of me.