Why To Avoid Potato Chips If You're Vegan

Potato chips got a bad rap because of their high fat and sodium content. This popular snack may taste great, but it's loaded with empty calories. On top of that, it's one of the foods highest in acrylamide, a chemical that may cause cancer, researcher T. Koray Palazoğlu told TIME. The American Cancer Society recommends limiting acrylamide-containing foods, including potato chips, french fries, breakfast cereals, and bread toast.

A 1.5-ounce bag of potato chips can have up to 14 grams of fat and over 220 calories, says TIME. Low-fat varieties are not better either. For example, a medium bag of "fat-free" potato chips still has roughly 12 grams of fat, 38 grams of carbs, 223 grams of sodium, and 275 calories, reports MyFoodData. On the positive side, you'll also get some fiber, potassium, phosphorus, iron, copper, protein, and vitamin C. But even so, this crunchy snack can make you look older and promote weight gain. Sodium, one of its main ingredients, may cause fluid retention when consumed in excess.

Leaving these aspects aside, think twice before reaching for a bag of chips if you're a vegan. Like other processed foods, potato chips may contain whey, cheese, and other animal-derived ingredients. 

Can vegans eat potato chips?

Potato chips can be a better choice than cookies or pastries from a nutritional standpoint, but they're not necessarily vegan. For starters, manufacturers often add milk, sour cream, and other animal-derived ingredients to enhance their flavor. Lay's Flamin' Hot, for instance, contains potatoes, vegetable oil, salt, yeast extract, and all sorts of flavorings made with butter, whey, blue cheese, lactose, and more. Whey, a byproduct of the cheesemaking process, comes from milk and, therefore, it's not suitable for vegans. The same goes for casein, lactose, and other ingredients.

Some brands also contain honey, which isn't a vegan ingredient, notes the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Barbecue-flavored chips, such as those from Lays, don't contain meat but may have whey, skim milk, and cheese milk in their composition. Your best bet is to check the label for animal-derived ingredients like albumin, caseinate, collagen, egg protein, gelatin, stearic acid, and hydrolyzed milk protein.

Generally, plain potato chips are the least likely to contain animal ingredients. For example, Pringles Original Crisps are made with wheat, corn, and rice flour, potatoes, salt, and additives. Lay's Classic has just three ingredients: potatoes, salt, and vegetable oil. Other vegan options are Lay's Dill Pickle Potato Chips, Lay's Baked Original Potato Crisps, Ruffles Original, PopChips Sea Salt Potato, and Kettle Brand Sea Salt Chips. 

Try these vegan alternatives to potato chips

Fried potato chips are the most popular snack among children, according to 2014 research published in the journal, "Nutrition." Scientists warn that acrylamide, a byproduct of frying, can accumulate in the body and lead to cancer later in life. This chemical also promotes oxidative stress and inflammation, putting you at risk for atherosclerosis, a leading cause of heart disease, reports a 2009 study featured in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. However, there's no need to give up potato chips altogether — instead, try to make this snack at home.

Oprah recommends a delicious, simple recipe that calls for just five ingredients: potatoes, garlic, olive oil, salt, and pepper. The potatoes are baked, not fried, which reduces their fat content. You may also add ginger, white pepper, fennel, or anise to reduce acrylamide levels, suggests a 2012 study published in the journal "Chemical Papers." 

Last but not least, seek healthier alternatives to potato chips. Air-popped popcorn, kale or zucchini chips, baked parsnip chips, and mixed nuts are all great choices. For example, there are only 93 calories, 1 gram of fat, and 18.6 grams of carbs in 3 cups of air-popped popcorn, according to WebMD. What's more, popcorn boasts high doses of niacin, folate, vitamin A, vitamin E, and antioxidants. WebMD recommends adding grated cheese for extra flavor, but you may replace it with nutritional yeast, which tastes just as good and packs more nutrients.