Mexican chips, also known as tortilla chips, are a popular snack food typically made from corn tortillas that have been cut into wedges and fried. They are often served as an appetizer or side dish and used for scooping up salsa, guacamole, bean dip, and other dips. But are Mexican chips actually a healthier snack option compared to regular potato chips? Let’s take a closer look.
There are some key nutritional differences between Mexican chips made from corn tortillas versus regular potato chips:
Mexican chips typically have fewer calories per serving compared to regular potato chips. For example, a 1 ounce (about 15 chips) serving of baked blue corn tortilla chips has around 120 calories. Meanwhile, a 1 ounce serving of regular salted potato chips can have 150 calories or more. The lighter texture and lower fat content of baked corn tortilla chips leads to a lower calorie count.
Mexican chips made from corn have substantially less fat than regular potato chips. Corn tortillas contain no natural fat, while potatoes have some fat. Frying adds fat to both chip varieties, but corn chips absorb less oil overall. An ounce of baked blue corn chips has 4-5 grams of fat, versus 10 grams of fat in potato chips. Lower fat intake has been tied to better heart health.
Corn and potatoes have similar amounts of carbohydrates, around 15-20 grams per ounce. However, corn has less digestible starches, meaning fewer net carbs are absorbed compared to potatoes. This leads to more stable blood sugar levels. Corn also contains more fiber, which slows carb absorption. An ounce of corn chips has 2 grams of fiber, double the amount in potato chips.
Sodium content varies greatly among chip brands. Some Mexican chip brands have reduced sodium options with just around 100-200 mg per serving. Regular salted potato chips often have higher amounts, around 170-290 mg per ounce. Excess sodium intake has been linked to high blood pressure, so lower-sodium Mexican chips may have an advantage for some consumers. However, unsalted versions of both chip types are available.
Mexican chips made from corn have a bit more protein than potato chips. A serving of corn chips contains 2-3 grams of protein, while potato chips have about 2 grams. The protein content is relatively low in both, so neither is seen as a significant protein source.
Vitamins and minerals
Corn contains small amounts of vitamins and minerals like vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, magnesium, and potassium. Potatoes also provide vitamins C and B6, along with potassium. Overall the vitamin and mineral content is quite low and similar between both chip varieties. Neither food is seen as a major provider of vitamins and minerals.
Healthier frying oils
The type of oil used to fry tortilla and potato chips also impacts their nutrition profiles. Mexican chips fried in healthier oils may be superior:
Chips fried in oils high in monounsaturated fats like olive oil and avocado oil absorb less overall fat. These oils also provide heart-healthy fats compared to oils higher in saturated fat. Some gourmet Mexican chip brands tout the use of avocado oil or olive oil.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Corn chips fried in sunflower oil have higher omega-3 content than those fried in vegetable and soybean oils. Omega-3 fats have anti-inflammatory benefits. Potato chips are not normally fried in sunflower oil.
No hydrogenated oils
Many mass-produced potato chip brands use hydrogenated oils high in trans fats, like partially hydrogenated soybean or canola oil. Trans fats raise bad LDL cholesterol and lower good HDL cholesterol. Mexican chips fried in non-hydrogenated oils avoid these risks.
Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is commonly added to potato chips as a flavor enhancer. MSG may cause reactions in sensitive individuals like headaches or fatigue. Most Mexican chip brands do not add MSG.
Are blue corn tortilla chips healthier?
Blue corn tortilla chips have risen in popularity in recent years. Made from a special blue maize variety of corn, they may offer some unique health advantages:
The blue corn used in blue tortilla chips has an especially high content of anthocyanin antioxidants. These natural plant pigments have been tied to lower risk of certain cancers, heart disease, and other conditions. Researchers believe blue corn may have the highest antioxidant activity among all corn types.
Lower glycemic index
Despite similar carb counts, studies show blue corn foods have a lower glycemic index than those made with yellow corn. This means blue corn chips create smaller blood sugar spikes compared to yellow corn chips and other varieties. A lower glycemic food may be beneficial for diabetes management.
The inherent structure of blue corn adds more fiber to blue corn chips. Fiber aids digestive health and gives a sense of fullness. Any extra fiber is usually considered advantageous in the diet.
In addition to anthocyanins, blue corn contains a spectrum of other phytonutrients like proanthocyanidins, p-coumaric acid, and anthoxanthins. Researchers continue to study how these nutrient compounds contribute to health.
Some blue corn chips have a satisfying snap and crunch factor. This texture may lead people to feel more satiated with smaller serving sizes. Crunchy foods require more thorough chewing which improves satiety.
Overall, the unique properties of blue corn give it an edge over yellow corn tortilla chips and make it one of the healthiest Mexican chip varieties. However, moderation is still key with any chip.
Are baked Mexican chips healthier than fried?
Baked tortilla chips are an alternative to fried for potentially greater health benefits:
Chips baked in the oven have significantly less fat than those fried in oil, around 3 grams versus 8 grams per ounce. Lower fat intake benefits heart health and weight management.
The calorie count of baked corn chips is 20-30% lower than fried chips. Baked blue corn chips clock in around 120 calories per ounce versus about 150 calories for fried. Lower calorie foods can help with weight control.
No trans fats
Frying chips can alter oils, creating unhealthy trans fats in some cases. Baking avoids this issue, giving baked chips an advantage.
Baked chips can retain a satisfying crispness, sometimes enhanced by adding lime juice or salt sprinkled on top. Crunch appeals to many snackers.
Frying starchy foods at high heat can produce acrylamide, a potential carcinogen in animal studies. Baking avoids acrylamide formation, making baked tortilla chips a safer choice.
However, most baked Mexican chips still have some oil or shortening added for flavor. Opting for lower fat baked varieties still provides fat and calorie benefits over regular fried chips.
Are organic/non-GMO corn chips better?
Organic and non-GMO corn chips made from heirloom corn varieties may offer advantages:
Organic regulations prohibit use of synthetic pesticides that may remain as residues on conventionally grown corn crops. Eating organic corn chips avoids these pesticide exposures.
Genetic engineering is not allowed for organic corn or ancient corn heirloom varieties used in some gourmet chips. Choosing non-GMO chips appeals to consumers opposed to this technology.
Studies on organic crops have found higher antioxidant activity compared to conventionally grown foods. Compounds like anthocyanins may be elevated in organic blue corn chips.
Chips made from heirloom corn varieties like Hopi blue corn have complex nutty, sweet flavors from those heritage crops. These can be more interesting than generic corn chip flavors.
However, some nutritionists argue that mainstream non-organic corn chips are still perfectly healthy. The advantages of organic corn chips may not be significant enough for all consumers to justify their higher cost. But they appeal to shoppers looking for the purest food sources.
Beyond the corn chip ingredients, other factors influence their health profile:
Salt, lime juice, and chili pepper are commonly added to corn chips for flavor. These extras boost taste but also sodium and fat intake. Checking labels to find low-sodium, low-fat options is advised.
What you eat with corn chips also impacts their nutritional value. Pairing them with salsa, bean dip, guacamole, or Greek yogurt dip provides more vitamins, minerals, protein, and fiber compared to fatty dips and cheese sauces.
Any chips can contribute excess calories, fat, sodium, and carbs if overeaten. Sticking to reasonable serving sizes around 1 ounce is best, no matter how healthy the chips. Measure portions to avoid overdoing it.
Frequency of consumption
Chips of any kind remain a snack food, not a health food. Eating them occasionally in moderation is better than making them a daily habit. Rotate in plenty of fresh fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, etc.
The healthiest Mexican chip picks
Based on all the nutritional considerations covered, here are some of the top options for healthy Mexican-style corn chips:
Food Should Taste Good Blue Corn Tortilla Chips
– Baked blue corn chips
– A touch of sunflower oil, no GMO
– 140 calories, 5g fat (0.5g saturated) per serving
Xochitl Totopos de Maiz Azul Corn Chips
– Non-GMO blue corn, stone ground
– Organic, non-GMO sunflower oil
– 130 calories, 7g fat per serving
Trader Joe’s Baked Blue Corn Tortilla Chips
– Blue corn, stone ground
– Baked with sunflower oil
– 150 calories, 3.5g fat per serving
Que Pasa Organic Yellow Corn Chips
– Organic non-GMO corn
– Cooked in expeller pressed oil
– 150 calories, 7g fat per serving
Garden of Eatin’ Blue Corn Tortilla Chips
– Organic blue corn
– Baked with sunflower oil
– 140 calories, 5g fat per serving
In the end, moderate portions of Mexican corn chips made from wholesome ingredients can be part of a balanced diet. Blue corn, baking, and healthier oils create more nutritious options. But no matter what brand you choose, moderation and smart accompaniments are key for any tortilla chips.
Mexican corn chips have some advantages over regular potato chips when it comes to nutrition. Key factors that can make them healthier include:
– Fewer calories and less fat, especially in baked blue corn chips
– More fiber and protein from whole corn versus potatoes
– Lower glycemic index, benefiting blood sugar control
– More stable, heart-healthy frying oils like olive and avocado oil
– Unique antioxidants like anthocyanins in blue corn
– No trans fats or MSG
Baked blue corn tortilla chips fried in better oils are arguably one of the healthiest forms of Mexican chips. But moderation is still important, no matter how nutrient-dense the chips. Healthy dips and reasonable serving sizes keep Mexican chips as a sensible snack option within a balanced diet. In competitive taste tests, many find corn chips to have a satisfying crunch and flavor that compares favorably to potato chips. This winning taste and texture combination helps explain the mass appeal of Mexican chips as a go-to snack around the world.