Make Your Crunchy Snack Work for YOU. Behind the Yellow Door...the RIGHT Snack!
America is a snacking nation. Read any article and you'll read stats about how we now look to snacks to be a main source of nourishment for the day. No more breakfast, lunch then dinner. Nope. Instead it's more snack, snack and snack. And there are a bevy of snack options out there...the selection puts the cereal aisle to shame.
Here's the thing. Most snacks don't nourish. And that's a problem. If there isn't a balance of nutrients, you will eat more and more and more. Hello extra pounds and declining health. BUT darn it, those crunchy snacks just taste sooooooo gooooooood. And all that crunching is relaxing, almost meditative.
We are here to help. We've been analyzing and testing crunchy snacks for the last few months. We have taken a similar approach as we do for energy and protein bars. The goal is to maximize nutrients (protein, healthy fats, fiber, real food ingredients) and minimize the "crap" (sugar, sodium, weird ingredients).
To make things easy we have ranked snacks into THREE Tiers.
Tier One: Snacks that will fuel the body and hopefully taste good to you too. These are the winners. They have protein, fiber, healthy fats and a short list of ingredients.
Tier Two: These are the snacks that are still pretty darned good, but likely fall short in one of our key categories. For example, protein and fiber may be too low and the snack may be a little "naughty" in another category like sodium or sugar. Tier two snacks are fine, but they need some real food to go with them.
Tier Three: These are the bad boys of the snack world. And keep in mind that our analysis focuses on snacks that people consider "healthy". But in our minds, empty calories are not healthy. Just because it's "natural" or the ingredient list is short, does NOT mean the snack is fueling your body. We suggest skipping snacks that fall into Tier Three.... OR put it into your "dessert" category. If you can't give it up, enjoy it and savor it. BUT, also know that it is doing NOTHING for you. It's tasty and that's IT.
Let's get down to business!
Our Methodology. Let's be clear; we needed to be able to COMPARE the snacks -- independent of the varying serving sizes and packaging. So we use the gram weight as our base to then evaluate: calories, fiber, protein, sugar, sodium, and fat. These are ALL compared on a gram per gram basis. This method allows us to fairly compare the fiber in a serving of popcorn where one serving is often 3 cups to the fiber in a crackers where the serving is 15 crackers. See the point. What is more subjective in our analysis is the commentary about taste and ingredient purity. However, we take all of these factors into consideration for our rankings.
Drum Roll Please....
Tier One Characteristics: Based upon the serving size in grams, these crunchy snacks have at least 10% fiber, 15% protein, UNDER 6% sugar -- again, based upon their serving size in grams.
Enlightened Roasted Broad Bean Crisps (Sriracha). These are roasted fava beans. Other companies make them. We also evaluated the versions from World Peas & Kala Beans. But Enlightened's Sriracha flavor is hands down our favorite in terms of taste. If you want to explore other "flavors", World Peas makes a good version BUT for some reason it lacks the fiber of Enlightened and Kala Beans. We don't get it. We found Kala's crisps too small and almost overcooked.
Why Tier One: Even the calories/gram come out good here. 100 calories, 5g fiber, 7g protein, and only 1g sugar. Winner! Simple ingredients.
Planetarians Sunflower Chips (Fiery Sriracha). Not only are these chips crunchy and tasty, they pack the protein and fiber of real fuel. One pouch is 130 calories, 7g protein and 4g fiber. Sugars? Low. 2g. Another unique characteristic of these chips is that they are made from "upcycled oilcake" -- the dry matter left over after oil extraction from sunflower seeds. This means, you are eating a somewhat recycled product. NO WASTING here! Love it. There are two other flavors available, Sweetly Cinnamon (a little more sugar, but the kids like) and Sweet and Smoky BBQ. We find this flavor to be a little bland.
Biena Snacks Roasted Chickpeas (Habanero). You may be noticing a pattern...Sriracha, Habanero...Yes, we like some spice. If you don't, the "Ranch" flavor is also good. What is great about this snack is that you do NOT have to like garbanzo beans (aka chickpeas) to enjoy the yum factor here. These are a little higher in calories/gram serving than the previous two, but still very sensible. What you get for those 120 calories (1/4 cup) is 6 grams of fiber AND 6 grams of protein. Wow. NO sugar! These are also higher in sodium that the previous two...Watch that. Other honorable mentions in this roasted chickpea category: The Good Bean Favas + Peas (has sugar, less fiber but MORE protein) and Watusee Foods Chickpeatos (some sugar, less fiber, same protein) and Saffron Road Crunchy Chickpeas (a little sugar, about same protein and fiber. We liked their Falafel flavor.).
Chomperz Seaweed Snax (Jalapeno). The BIG difference here is that the FIRST ingredient listed is seaweed. Other seaweed chip/crisps list the rice flour first, and it has a HUGE impact on the nutrition stats. BIG. Chomperz earns its Tier One ranking because 1/2 package (15g) has 40 calories and 4g protein. That's nearly 27% protein per gram. BUT these tasty bites have NO fiber. Sugars are near zero. We let Chomperz into the First Tier despite its zero fiber because we think these are unique and worth a look. But they can be PRICEY at $3-$4/bag! And a bag is a measly two servings.
Beanfields Bean Chips. We tasted MANY MANY MANY toritilla style chips. And these were a nutrition winner. We also know that when it comes to a tortilla chip, people are PICKY PICKY PICKY. So, our advice is to try these because for a 130 calorie serving, you get 4g fiber and 4g protein. NO sugar. And the sodium level is lower for these than any other in this Tier One category. BUT, these just squeaked in because the protein is on the lower end. All flavors have 4g fiber and 4g protein. We just show the Black Bean packaging. Also offering the same nutrition in this tortilla style chip category are the Black Bean Chips from one of our FAVORITE brands, Beanitos. If you are a tortilla chip eater, definitely seek out these chips and Beanitos to see if you can take your snacking game up a nutritional notch.
Hippeas Sriracha Sunshine. This is another one (like above) that was on the cusp of Tier One and Tier Two. It's a little weaker on the fiber (3g) and has more sugar than the others (2g), but the protein is good at 4g and we love the crunch and taste. The Bohemian BBQ has even more sugar; but all the other flavors (Far Out Fajita, Vegan White Cheddar, and Pepper Power) have the same nutritional values at Sriracha Sunshine. Organic chickpea flour is the first ingredient followed by rice flour. There really isn't another brand that makes a "curl" like this one.
Julian Bakery ProGraola (Vanilla Cinnamon). By popular demand, our survey participants demanded that both popcorn AND granola be considered in the crunchy snack academy awards! And so we tested and compared nutrition data for a number of brands. Bottom line is that most granolas are sugar and/or calorie bombs with little protein. So it was easy to say "nope." But a few did rise to the good snack occasion. And only ONE had the nutritional muscle to make the Top Tier. BUT, despite the fabulous nutrition stats, (97 calories per 1/3 cup; 12g fiber; 12g protein, NO sugar), the taste may be off-putting for many. Our group was 50-50 on acceptance. Two hated it, one likes a lot and the other was fairly neutral. The sweetness comes from monk fruit. If you are familiar with monk fruit as an alternative sweetener, you'll know whether it's a yay or nay. IF you are NOT familiar with monk fruit, learn more and possibly try this granola if you are looking for crunch that isn't a chip!
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These are the snacks that have some of Tier One's strength, but they just don't nail it in our key categories of protein, fiber, low sugar and simple ingredients. These are snacks that you should not feel guilty eating BUT you should mentally check in that they lack the body fueling properties of Tier One. These snacks have at least 10% protein by serving, 5% fiber and less than 10% sugar.
Sea Tangle Crunch (Onion). Unlike the Chomperz above, these seaweed crisps are not nearly as sensible and have significantly higher calories per serving, less fiber and protein. We think the reason for the nutritional weakness as compared to Chomperz is due to the first ingredient being glutinous rice flour and NOT seaweed. These seaweed snacks are rather tasty, but salt BOMBS. We've purchased the snack at Whole Foods. And we include it here to make our readers aware that there's a lot of variation in the seaweed snack products. Read the labels!
Harvest Snaps (Mango Chile Lime). These aren't as crunchy as some chips and crackers, so keep that in mind. But they do pack a lot of tasty yum and come in varying flavors. They get Tier 2 mainly because of the sugars, 3g/serving, which is more than many of the other options out there. The 28g serving size has 120 calories, 4g fiber and 3g protein. Salt is on the lower end of our spectrum and black beans is the first ingredient followed by vegetable oil and seasoning.
Simple Mills Almond Flour Crackers (Sea Salt). We first tried the cheddar flavor from this brand and found them dull in taste. BUT then we tried the basic fine ground sea salt flavor and it is much better. These crackers are gluten-free and have pure ingredients that make them a winner for many. We think 150 calories for a serving of crackers is high. However, there are 8g of healthy fats in there that come from the nut and seed flour blend. And we also like that there is ZERO sugar and 3g protein. The fiber is weak at 2g.
Beanitos Mac n Cheese Crunch. This is a Team staple. We only wish it had enough oomph to qualify for Tier One. Sadly, it does not. We even tried giving them up...only to go back. For the cheese snack lover who eschews the garbage ingredients of other cheese snacks, these are for you. The nutrition stats are nearly identical to the above crackers; but the serving size here is 28g versus 30g. So calories per serving are on the higher end and there is 2g of sugar. Fiber is 2g and protein 3g. This is very much a Tier Two snack. The ingredients are simple, which we like. Cooked navy beans, long grain rice, sunflower oil, cheddar cheese...
Off the Eaten Path Veggie Crisps. The nutritional data here is impressive, but the thin crispy chip like cracker missed Tier One based upon weak protein. One serving packs 3g of protein, 3g fiber and no sugars. And what is not to love about this ingredient list: rice flour, sunflower oil, dried green peas, dried yellow peas, dried black beans, sea salt. What may not work for many is the taste. It's different, but we like different.
Boom Chica Pop (Sea Salt). Yes, popcorn is a decent snack. And while it's not "crunchy", it's close. Our survey respondents pleaded with us to include popcorn in our comparative analysis. So we did. And our team does stock popcorn. We love that a cup is minimal in calories, has decent macros and gives the jaw some chewing work. 4 cups is the serving size here. 140 calories, 7g satiating fats, 4g fiber and 3g protein. Also showing just as much goodness, Smartfood Delight in Sea Salt and PIPCorn Sea Salt. Skinny Pop was also considered, but has less going for it than these others -- less nutrients, more calories.
Way Better Snacks (Sweet Chili). Notice anything? Yep, another spicier flavor. And while we tend to highlight snacks with some kick, our goal is also to familiarize you with different brands. Way Better is a good one. The brand relies on simple ingredients such as sprouted seeds and grains and along with good flavor, these chips boast decent nutrition data. The Sweet Chili whole grain tortilla chips are way low in sodium compared to many other crunchy snacks. 130 calories per serving, 3g fiber and 2g protein. Protein is a bit weak and why Tier Two is its home.
I Heart Keenwah Quinoa Puffs (Herbes de Provence). Crunchy with a nice herby flavor is how we'd describe these puffs. Much harder and crunchier than other Puffs like Pirate's Booty for example. We didn't find these very satisfying as a snack. They just didn't hit that salty, crunchy, snack spot. BUT, we do find the puffs to be a fabulous salad topper in place of ordinary croutons. Keenwah's Puffs stand up to salad dressing and with 5g protein per serving, no sugar and a smidgeon of fiber (1g), they beat out nearly any crouton from an nutritional standpoint.
Quest Protein Chips (Sour Cream and Onion). We felt we needed to include a true "protein chip" in our analysis. There are others out there and if you favor one, check the label and steer clear of soy protein isolate as the protein source. It's low quality. Google it to learn more. Quest's version has a much better protein source: milk and whey. However these chips (and most protein chips) pack a sodium punch and you taste it. You definitely know you're eating something manufactured. We'd advise that if you LOVE the nutrition data, try these and see. Serving size is 32g (larger than standard), so calories/gram are on the lower end. Only 2g fiber, but 20g protein!! Minimal sugar (1g).
Trader Joe's Just Beets. Not a chip. But the crunch is there, so we think it qualifies. And if you love beets, do yourself a flavor and try them. The downside from a nutritional standpoint is that there are 17g of sugar in a package which, to be fair, is larger than a standard chip serving of 28-30g or 1 oz. The Just Beets package is 37g or 1.3 oz, and the whole package only has 140 calories. So the calories on a gram for gram basis are LOW, but sugars high. Fiber is also pretty impressive at 7g and protein at 4g. Sodium on the low end too! Sugar is what keeps it from Tier One.
Dang Onion Chips (Salt & Pepper). These crunchy onion snacks barely make Tier Two. Like the above beet chips, the sugar is really high, but not as high. Each 28g serving has 7g sugar. That's a lot. But we like the 4g fiber. Sadly there is only 1g protein. So you're really not getting too much for the 130 calories. On the upside, the ingredients are super simple and pure and we think the flavor is bold and super tasty.
That's it for Tier Two. While we sampled other products that had the nutrition data to qualify for Tier Two, we left them off because there was consensus that the snack did not taste good. So that leaves us with Tier THREE -- everything else. These are snacks that a) really miss the target in one of our evaluation categories, or b) are just empty in terms of ANY nutritional value.
Drum roll again please.
TIER THREE Snacks. These are the snacks that do NOTHING for you in terms of nutritional benefit. BUT, if you LOVE them, just moderate the amount you consume. KNOW that they should be considered a TREAT.
No images. We're going basic here. This is our list of other snacks that we tend to find tasty OR that others have insisted are worthy of our analysis -- meaning some of these losers are the "go to" snacks of family, colleagues, athletes and friends! Hopefully after reading this article, they won't be!
- Blue Diamond Almond Nut Thins. When we sampled these crispy, thin, crackers, our first thought was, "what's the point?" The one major fan of the snack told us that they are the perfect vehicle for hummus or another dip. BUT we are interested in snacks that taste good on their own and these are just plain and bland. We'd rather have a spoonful of the hummus and skip the empty calories of these crackers. Yes, they do have 3g protein, which is decent (Tier 2 decent), but marry that with no fiber, little flavor and a first ingredient of unbleached wheat flour...and we say, do better.
- Open Nature Flatbread. These are crispy and we can see once again that they may work well paired with hummus, turkey or another sort of topping. But as a stand-alone snack, they offer little in the way of taste nor nutrition. This is a Safeway private label brand. The 4 piece serving has 120 calories, 0g fiber and 2g protein. And with the first ingredient being unbleached wheat flour, we were not impressed.
- Vea Mini Crunch Bars (Sweet Potato). No one that sampled these enjoyed the taste. One serving is 30g and has 140 calories. We frown at the 7g of sugar (4g are ADDED), the weak 2g protein and 2g fiber.
- Good Thins Baked Chickpea Crackers (Garlic and Herb). These are tasty, thin and crunchy. We liked them a lot. However, there are better options (Helloooo Tier ONE!), so we were able to happily say "not again" after taking into account the 3g sugar, paltry 1g fiber and 2g protein. Nothing to write home about with respect to the ingredients. We give the folks at Wheat Thins some credit for trying.
- PopChips (Any Flavor). We do like the crunch and especially the new "Ridges" variety in Tangy BBQ. But the chips are just a salty crunch and not much else. There is no fiber, a measly 1g protein, and sodium is on the higher end. If you must, then do. But try and eat real food with them.
- Garden Veggie Straws (Sea Salt). Don't be fooled. Just because "Veggie" is in the name does NOT mean there is any real nutrition in these sticks. Each serving has less than 1g protein and less than 1g fiber. But there are healthy fats...and a lot of sodium. Despite the name, it's "spinach powder" that is the "veggie" ingredient. We suggest a handful of nuts for your healthy fats and skip these.
- Food Should Taste Good (Multigrain Tortilla Chips). And these do taste good. These tortilla chips are on the cusp of Tier 2 and 3. We like the ingredients and lower sodium level and that there is no sugar. But at 140 calories for about 10 chips...that's a lot. And there is only 2g each of fiber and protein.
- Terra Sweet Potato Chips. Simply put, these are calorie bombs. Comparing across all the snacks, these come in at the highest in terms of calories per serving on a gram for gram basis. 160 calories! And then there is also sugar and virtually no protein. On the upside, these chips are tasty, have healthy fats, 3g fiber and pretty much no sodium. So all is not lost.
- Cheeze-it (Original). High in calories, and in some of the Team's opinion, low in taste. But kids seem to love these squares. The ONLY thing going for the cheddar chip/cracker is the decent level of protein. There is no fiber, and sodium levels are HIGH. Ingredients are subpar as well.
- Pirate Booty (Aged White Cheddar). Sorry folks, these are FOR SURE a Tier 3 snack. On a gram for gram basis, the calories are the same as the Cheeze-its, which means on the higher end. Sodium levels aren't quite as bad, but it is fairly high. There is virtually no fiber and an anemic amount of protein. Cornmeal is the first ingredient.
- Stacy's Pita Chips (Simply Naked). We were super disappointed when we realized that these pita chips yielded the HIGHEST sodium level of ALL the snacks we analyzed. These really are salt bombs. A serving has an acceptable 130 calories, no sugar, no fiber and a decent 3g protein. BUT the sodium level is 270 mg. The salty veggie straws, which are also very high, are at 210 mg. Way too much.
- Annie's Cheddar Bunnies. Parents seem to gravitate to these cheesy crackers as an alternative to Cheeze-its or Goldfish. And while they contain organic ingredients, they don't have much to offer nutritionally, unless salt is a desired food category! They have 1g sugar, 3g protein (good), and no fiber.
Whew! How'd we do? Tell us! We love to hear from our Athletic-Minded readers.