Is Popcorn a Healthier Snack Than Potato Chips?

  • Author: Sue Dorrens
  • Published: August 4, 2022
  • Time to read: 4 min.
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Point of view: you’re craving a salty, savory snack that will satisfy your need for something crunchy (we’ve all been there, right?). Often you might wonder, though, is popcorn healthier than chips?

There are many varieties of each (hundreds, in fact). This makes the answer a little difficult to discern without looking at each snack type’s actual health-related numbers. As you’ll see throughout this comparison, popcorn is typically a healthier choice than chips.

There’s more to the story, though. Let’s take a look at each snack individually, then compare.

Is Popcorn Healthy?

Generally, popcorn is a healthy snack. The healthiness of popcorn is greatly determined by its cooking method and the seasonings used, though. For example, popcorn cooked via an air popper and seasoned lightly with sea salt is much healthier than theater-style popcorn cooked in oil, slathered in butter, and coated in salt.

That being said…

There are a lot of factors that come into play when deciding whether or not popcorn (or any snack) is healthy. Looking at its calorie count, macros profile, fiber content, and satiety level are all important factors when making this determination.

Calories & Macros

As stated above, it depends on how popcorn is dressed to determine its calorie levels and, therefore, healthiness, although it is helpful in this instance to make approximations.

Here are some calorie and macro considerations per ounce of finished popcorn:

Air-popped popcorn (no oil)

128 calories
1.3 grams of fat
21.8 grams of carbs
3.6 grams of protein

Made from scratch (add your oil)

140 calories
7.9 grams of fat
16.3 grams of carbs
2.8 grams of protein

Microwave popcorn (common brand)

163 calories
12.2 grams of fat
12.6 grams of carbs
2 grams of protein

Fiber Content of Popcorn

healthy popcorn with no toppings

Popcorn is a great source of fiber! It’s recommended to increase fiber intake when needed, such as throughout pregnancy. It varies based on the type of popcorn you’re eating, but even the less-healthy varieties still have better fiber than many other snacks.

Is fiber that important, though?

Yes, absolutely. Dietary fiber can prevent digestive issues such as constipation and bloat (and help eliminate them when they’re present), help maintain a healthy weight and BMI, and lower blood sugar. It also lowers the risk for heart disease, high cholesterol, and cancer.

Here’s a comparison to consider when looking at the recommended daily value (DV) of fiber for adults (also per ounce):

  • Air-popped popcorn: 16% DV
  • Made from scratch: 11% DV
  • Microwave popcorn: 9% DV

Are Chips Healthy?

Chips are not often considered a healthy snack. There are many different varieties as there are with popcorn; however, even the ‘healthier’ varieties are still mostly empty calories. They don’t provide your body with nutrients or help you feel full.

But remember…

It’s important to consider what type of chips you’re consuming. For example, chips made from cassava root seasoned with sea salt and spices are much healthier than regular potato chips coated in oil, salt, and even artificial flavorings.

Calories & Macros of Chips

Similar to popcorn, many different varieties of chips vary greatly in terms of nutrition. There are healthy varieties, such as those made from cassava root or sweet potatoes. Baked versus fried, naturally versus artificially flavored, etc.

The two most common types of chips consumed are regular potato chips and tortilla chips, so that will form the basis for our comparison here.

Here’s a comparison between regular potato chips and tortilla chips (per ounce):

Regular Potato Chips

152 calories
10.2 grams of fat
14.2 grams of carbs
1.8 grams of protein

Tortilla Chips

132 calories
5.8 grams of fat
18.9 grams of carbs
2 grams of protein

Fiber Content of Chips

Chips are not known for having much fiber content, as they’re typically made from potatoes. They do provide some fiber, although not as much as popcorn does.

Here are the stats as far as fiber is concerned:

  • Regular potato chips: 5% DV
  • Tortilla chips: 6% DV

Making the Healthiest Choice: Chips or Popcorn?

Looking at the numbers and comparisons above, it seems obvious that popcorn is, in fact, much healthier than chips. This does depend on the type of each that you might choose; however, in most cases, it doesn’t even matter. Nearly all types of popcorn (even the microwave variety) are healthier than most types of chips available.

Remember…

‘Healthy’ doesn’t just describe the number of calories a food contains or the amount of fat, carbs, or protein. To make the best decision, you must look at all the factors together. In doing that, you can see that popcorn has many more positive health factors than chips.

Satiety

How much do you need to eat to feel full? Satiety is a great consideration when choosing snacks so you can stay fuller and longer between meals.

Popcorn is pretty filling, thanks to that fiber content mentioned above. Chips are not as filling; they’re usually considered empty calories. For every 1 cup of chips, you can eat about 6 cups of popcorn for the same amount of calories.

Nutrient Considerations

Besides fiber, what other nutrients should you consider when comparing popcorn to chips? The USDA suggests consuming whole grains for at least half of your overall grain servings in a day. These whole grains process better within your body and provide cleaner fuel than more processed varieties.

How do popcorn and chips compare in terms of whole grains?

They don’t compare. Popcorn is a whole grain, so every serving goes towards that daily whole grains goal. Chips are not a whole grain, so a serving wouldn’t count toward that goal.

Popcorn also contains a significant amount of antioxidants called polyphenols. Chips do not contain any antioxidants or other beneficial nutrients.

If you’ve got a craving for something crunchy, salty, and delicious, reach for the popcorn instead of a bag of chips. In nearly every category, popcorn has more benefits and fewer downfalls. Your stomach, taste buds, and overall health will thank you later.

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