8 salty snacks and why they're a danger to your waistline - a visual guide

Written by Catherine Saxelby on Monday, 29 April 2013.
Tagged: BMI, Calories, convenience, fat, fats, healthy eating, healthy lifestyle, healthy snacks, junk food, kilojoules, nutrition, obesity, overweight, salt, snacks, weight loss

8 salty snacks and why they're a danger to your waistline - a visual guide

Meeting up at the bar or pub? Sharing a drink with friends? These are the times when you notice salty snacks everywhere – potato crisps, corn chips, beer nuts, cashews, pretzels and rice cracker snacks. Salty snacks fly under the radar – no one remembers eating them. Yet they’re a big problem for health and may explain why you can’t lose weight. Here’s my take on them.

A nutritional disaster area

Most salty nibbles are loaded with fat (it’s what makes them crisp and crunchy) and salt (to increase your thirst so you’ll drink more), and if you drink more alcoholic drinks they’ll dehydrate you further. They’re highly processed, full of refined starches that are high GI and low in fibre.

Flavoured varieties (think Corn Chips with Chives and Sour Cream, potato crisps in BBQ chicken flavour or Nacho Cheese rice crackers) add heaps of colours and flavours to your intake, not good if you’re trying to eat clean and avoid additives. Read more about avoiding additives here.

Munch on a small bowl or a cup of potato crisps (around 50g serve or a single-serve bag) and it piles on as much as 20g of fat. This is around half of your day’s intake of fat if you’re on a diet and much of that can be saturated fat.  There's also anywhere between 180 and 675mg of sodium (salt), not to mention the kilojoules (around 110kJ / 263 Cals).

So how about switching to pretzels? After all, they seem a healthier option because they’re lower in fat.  However, the downside is they have lots more salt!  So you win in one way and lose in another. 

Rice crackers are similar to pretzels - low in fat but they make up for it with salt. Go for the plain originals, not flavoured types e.g. Salsa, BBQ, Sour Cream and Chives, as they are lower in salt and have fewer colours and flavours.

Handy snack comparison

Here’s how a 50-gram snack-sized portion of the 8 most popular snacks stack up. Why 50 grams? I find I can easily munch down 50 grams of nuts and it’s a common single-serve pack size. They’re listed from highest fat content to lowest. Compare them to this yardstick - the recommended fat and sodium intakes for an average woman:

  • Fat 60g a day (diet level for women) or 80-100g a day (if you’re moderately-active)
  • Sodium tops of 2000mg a day.

Cashews (50g or about 30)

Snacks on white final cashews26 g fat
145 mg sodium

Even though they're salted, the salt doesn’t ‘stick’ much to the cashews so they end up surprisingly low in salt by comparison. And as any nut lover knows, a lot of the salt ends up at the bottom of the pack! Lovely flavour, but like beer nuts, high in fat and hard to resist when fresh and crunchy.

 

Beer nuts (50g or about 50)

Snacks on white final peanuts25g fat
300mg sodium

Nuts have the highest fat count of all these 7 salty snacks - but the fat is a ‘good’ fat with little saturated fat (less than 5 grams or 20 per cent). Plus they offer minerals, fibre and antioxidants. Eating the papery thin skins is a tasty way to get more fibre. .

 

Bhuja Indian Spicy mix (about 1/2 a cup)

Snacks on white final Bhuja212g fat
340 mg sodium

With its spiced noodle bits and dried peas along with a few nuts, Bhuja mix looks healthier but it’s just as oily and salty as crisps and corn chips. Often flavoured with chilli, salt and processed curry-flavoured spices, my problem with Bhuja is that it makes you want to drink more. Not good when we already drink so much alcohol.

 

Potato crisps (about 25)

Snacks on white final crisps216g fat
300 mg sodium*

Look for the ones cooked in high-oleic sunflower oil or labelled ‘kettle’. You’re still eating fat but it’s a ‘better’ healthier fat, with fewer saturates. Most crisps are fried in palmolein (palm oil), a cheap semi-solid fat which is high in saturates. Lite crisps usually have 30 per cent less sodium but the same fat.

 

Corn chips (about 20)

Snacks on white final corn chips214g fat
175 mg sodium*

Their higher fibre count puts them one notch above potato chips – but only just. They come in at 10 per cent compared to only 1 per cent for crisps. But crisps are higher in potassium, an essential mineral.

 

 

Pretzels (about 30 twists)

Snacks on white final pretzels4 g fat
990 mg sodium*

Low fat count of 3 per cent but they make up for it with the highest salt level. One 50g bag takes you to almost half of your recommended day’s intake. Still a low fat choice for dieters and anyone with diabetes who needs to lose weight. One 25g snack pack contains one carbohydrate portion of 15g carbohydrates if you’re using carb exchanges.

 

Rice crackers e.g. Sakata, Fantastic (about 22)

Snacks on white final rice crackers2Less than 2g fat
200 mg sodium*

Almost fat-free. Unlike pretzels, the salt (sodium) levels aren't sky high. However, flavoured types (pizza, salsa, BBQ chicken) have up to 50 per cent more sodium than the plain originals so it pays to buy the plainer flavours.

 

 

BBQ Shapes, Chicken Crimpy (about 10)

Snacks on white final shapes210 g fat
480 mg sodium*

With their loud claiming of ‘Baked not fried’, you may think that baked cracker snacks like BBQ Shapes and Chicken Crimpy are healthier and lower in fat. But at 20 to 25 per cent fat, most flavoured biscuits are slightly less fatty than corn chips but give you an unsuspected hit of salt. You don’t notice the salt as it’s not on the outside as with crisps but is in the biscuit dough before baking. One to limit as well.

Check out your favourite brands

You've heard me mention the Calorie King Australian website before. It's free and has a whole of host of useful facts and figures. You can check out your favourite salty snacks here and see just how much salt, saturated fat and kilojoules you're snacking on with that beer or glass of wine after work.


Note: Figures accurate as at April 2013.

*Sodium (salt) figures are correct at 2013 but being gradually reduced over time so that consumers hardly detect any drop in flavour. This is a result of an industry initiative spearheaded by the Australian Government and AWASH to reduce the overall salt level of the food supply. So the sodium figures may be even lower than what's quoted here.

Catherine Saxelby

About the Author

Catherine Saxelby knows nutrition! She is an accredited nutritionist, food commentator, blogger and award-winning author. Her latest book Catherine Saxelby's Food and Nutrition Companion answers all those tricky questions on healthy eating, diets and supplements. It draws together a lifetime of advice and gives you all you need to know to eat right! It's a complete A to Z. A handy desk go-to reference.