Make Your Crunchy Snack Work for YOU. Behind the Yellow Door...the RIGHT Snack!
** Editors Note: This post was updated March, 2019
America is a snacking nation. Read any article and you'll read stats about how people look to snacks as 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 all the time. 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/or the snack may be a little "naughty" in another category like sodium or sugar, or calories may be relatively high for the serving size. But we still think Tier Two snacks have value.
Tier Three: These snacks will not "fuel" your body. But that is not to say that the Tier Three snacks are "bad". It is more that the calories may be mostly empty. If you love your Tier Three snack, enjoy it, but keep the portion in check. Words like "natural", or a very short ingredient list, do not guarantee a nutritious snack.
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.
Bada Bean Snacks Crunchy Broad Beans (Sriracha). These are roasted fava beans and a couple of other companies make them. The Good Bean makes a version that also contains green peas, and Nuttee Bean Co. has several flavors. But Bada Bean's Sriracha flavor is hands down our favorite in terms of taste. And just look at the nutrition data! WOW!! Fiber, protein, simple ingredients, low calories. It's a BIG WINNER.
Why Tier One: Even the calories/gram come out good here. 100 calories, 5g fiber, 7g protein, and only 1g sugar. Winner! Simple ingredients.
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 tortilla 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.
Peatos Classic Cheese These crunchy cheetoh style snacks come in four flavors and are uber crunchy. The Fiery Hot flavor really does have some bite. Classic cheese has a true cheddar taste that is more adult in its approach. In terms of the nutrition profile, it barely makes Tier One. It has a little less sugar than the Hippeas but more sodium. Each 28g serving has 130 calories, 3g fiber and 4g protein. We also like that the pricing is friendly and that the snacks are part of Amazon's Subscribe and Save program. In terms of ingredients, it's fairly simple as you can see from the image below.
Beanitos Mac n Cheese Crunch. This is a Team staple and it has been reformulated more than once. The newest version (2019) packs more crunch along with more calories, fiber and protein. The fiber (3g) and protein (5g) put it squarely in Tier 1. However, the calories (140/serving, and sugars, 3g/serving), should be noted. In terms of taste, the flavor is awesome. We are a little turned off by how empty the bag seems once you open it. It is very hard to fathom that 4.5 servings are contained! The ingredients are simple, which we like. Cooked navy beans, long grain rice, sunflower oil, cheddar cheese...The Crunch comes in 4 flavors and our next favorite is the Fuego n Lime.
Julian Bakery ProGranola (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.
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 140 calories, 3g fiber and 4g protein. Salt is on the lower end of our spectrum and black beans is the first ingredient followed by canola oil, rice and seasoning.
Nutter Puffs from PopChips (Peanut Butter). If you like peanut butter...a lot...then give these puffs a try. They are not as crunchy as normal snacking puffs. We'd say these are almost a cereal/snack hybrid. At first taste, we found the peanut butter flavor too much. But over time, the snack grew on us. Each serving has 130 calories (27 puffs!), 2g fiber and an impressive 5g of protein. The sodium is also on the lower side of the crunch snack spectrum. The ingredients are so simple: peanut butter, corn, peanut flour. There are 2g sugar in each serving due to the peanut butter. Two other flavors are available: Peanut Butter and Chocolate and Honey Peanut Butter.
Chunyu Crispy Mushrooms (Sour Cream & Onion). Wow. The crunch. This may be the crunchiest snack of Tier 2. The ingredients tell the story: fresh shiitake muchroom, vegetable oil, maltose, salt, sour cream & onion seasoning. Because the mushroom of choice is shiitake, the fiber amount impresses, 4g per serving. Protein at 2g is not as impressive. We let this snack squeak into Tier 2 because the vegetable base -- real vegetable, not "flour". There are 7g of sugar, not added, but natural. This could be a deal breaker for many. There are 6 other flavors. All are quite mild.
Popped Water Lily Seeds form BOTH Taali AND Bohana. We recently discovered this snack, and we are so happy we did. If you are a popcorn fan, you MUST try. The taste is similar, but different. No kernels will get stuck in your teeth and these puffed seeds stay fresher longer. We tried a number of flavors from both companies. The Soulful Spice and White Cheddar were winners. In fact, we liked all the flavors EXCEPT the plain himalayan salt -- too boring! One serving is 2.5 cups, has 120 calories, 3g protein and a measly 1g fiber. Qualifiying for Tier Two was close, but the protein, super simple ingredients and generous serving size make these crunchy snacks winners.
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.
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 21g fiber, but 21g protein!! No sugar.
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.
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 too bland to be enjoyed alone. 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.
- Enjoy Life Lentil Chips (Dill & Sour Cream). These are so light, airy and crunchy. The flavor is mild and pleasing. We really wish the Plentils packed some fiber. But alas, while the 3g protein is commendable, with no fiber, Tier 2 is not in reach. 140 calories per serving and 1g of sugar. 6g of fats with only .5g being saturated. We like that. The ingredients are fairly simple: lentil flour, potato starch, salt, turmeric, canola oil, paprika followed by the seasonings. Nothing worrisome here.
- 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 solid 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.