Popular Chip Ingredients Breakdown

Ingredient Analysis

The Foods we Crave: Chips

Introduction

*note: this is an online review of the ingredients in some popular chip brands, not of the brands themselves, and is just my opinion based on my own research and reasoning process.

Ever wondered what ingredients are in some popular chips? Ever felt like a drug-addict when you ventured into the local 7/11 at 10pm on a Friday night (or is that just me)? We eat these with the general impression that they’re “not good” for us, but most of us have never taken the time to analyze the individual ingredients. This series will do that work for you. I’m starting out with chips (and Smartfood popcorn) because they can be a particularly pernicious craving, and even a periphery analysis made me think twice about consuming two of the the three varieties we’ll be discussing here: Ruffles: Sour Cream ‘N Onion; Smartfood: White Cheddar; and Miss Vickies: Sweet Chili & Sour Cream.

Smartfood Popcorn

Ingredients: Popcorn, Vegetable Oil, Seasoning (Cheddar Cheese [Milk, Cheese Cultures, Salt, Enzymes], Whey, Buttermilk, Natural Flavour, Salt.

A PepsiCo product. For the longest time I thought this was called “Smartpop”, but that name is actually registered to Orville. The big bag is 200g, which contains 1120 calories, 72 grams of Fat (108% daily requirement), 40mg cholesterol, 1640mg Sodium (68% daily), 100g carbohydrate (32% daily)[16g Fiber, 12g Sugar], 24g protein.

Reading those numbers (FDA), you can see that it has about 1/3-1/2 of the daily caloric requirements for the average person, but with a very high amount of fat and salt. the other 2/3-1/2 of your meals would have to be low fat and low salt to stay within those daily guidelines. So it’s a disproportionate meal from that perspective, but let’s consider the individual ingredients.

Popcorn: Could not verify but appears to be GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) seeds. Advertised as whole-grain, but all popcorn is whole-grain.

Vegetable oil: (Company states they use either: Corn, Canola, and/or Sunflower oil (GMO)). It would be impossible to consume the amount of vegetable oil found in many processed foods from a holistic source. The amount of oil in 5 tablespoons of corn-vegetable-oil would require you to eat almost 100 ears of corn to attain. There are two ways to extract oil from a vegetable/seed: mechanical and chemical. The mechanical process, also called “pressing”, involves mills, crushing mechanisms, or centrifugation, and is generally considered “healthy” because it doesn’t require chemicals to extract the oils. Olive oil is an example of a mechanically extracted oil. Vegetable oil in a processed food, such as chips, is almost certainly chemically extracted, meaning it requires a solvent to extract.

Chemical extraction is more cost-effective, but the solvent is most likely petroleum-derived hexane, a toxic ingredient. Hexane is said to be removed by evaporation at a high temperature after the oil is extracted, but there is controversy over whether all of the hexane is removed (there are definitely trace amounts leftover, and it also has environmental impacts). The oil can then be hydrogenated for a higher boiling point and decreased rancidity, which involves a chemical process of very high temperatures, blending the oil with nickel (toxic metal), and the introduction of hydrogen, all of which converts unsaturated fats into saturated fats. If some of the unsaturated fat molecules do not convert into saturated fat in this chemical process, the oil is deemed a “partially hydrogenated oil”, a category which was deemed generally unsafe by the FDA in 2015, because the high heat creates unsaturated trans fatty acids, which are linked to multiple health issues. Most vegetable oils are then deodorized, which involves the introduction of water into the bottom of a high temperature oil mixture; the water instantly converts into steam, carrying up to the top of the oil certain impurities. This process removes trace odors and flavors, but further degrades the oil’s natural compounds and creates more trans fatty acids because of the heat needed.

The end product is an oil with some level of hexane, nickel, maybe other impurities, and hopefully more saturated fats than unsaturated trans fatty acids. It’s one of those ingredients that we consume a lot of in North America, but which is quite far removed from nature.

Cheddar Cheese: “Cheddar Cheese” is a combination of milk, cheese cultures, salt, and enzymes.

Whey: Milk contains two proteins: casein and whey. When making cheese, casein turns into cheese, whey is the liquid byproduct. To make whey, you pasteurize (super-heat) milk, separate the whey from the casein with enzymes, filter to remove fats and carbohydrates, and spray it with cold and hot air to make it into a powder. You’re left with an agglomerated protein extraction, that is likely included to add texture, and to create the impression that you’re getting protein. For every one pound of cheese made from milk, there are 9 pounds of whey produced. Is it possible that societies obsession with protein supplementation is a result of that excess?

Buttermilk: An acidic, fermented milk product.

Salt: NaCl – Sodium chloride.

Natural Flavor: The source of a product’s natural flavor is hidden (unless the company chooses to disclose it), the company is not legally required to present it on their label. All that is legally required is that the ingredient is sourced from a “natural” animal or plant. There are thousands of natural flavors. Some commonly known natural flavors are diacetyl (responsible for the condition “popcorn lung” when inhaled), castoreum (tastes like vanilla, sourced from the castor sacs of beavers), and glutumate.
I’ll just briefly touch on MSG, as it may be the topic of a later article. MSG is Monosodium glutamate. It is the sodium salt of the amino acid, glutamate. Glutumate is found in the proteins of our body, and in multiple food items like tomatoes and mushrooms. Glutumate imparts the flavour of “umami” to foods, and is added to impart an addictive flavor. There is controversy over whether it is an unhealthy ingredient. Based on lists of supposed adverse effects, it seems to cause inflammation, particularly in the chest and head. It seems to also affect neurons and has been attributed to neurological damage, which could have something to do with its simultaneously addictive quality.
But whether MSG is good or bad, the FDA requires it to be present on the nutrition label, so MSG is technically not a natural flavor (it would instead be listed specifically as Monosodium glutamate). Glutumate, however, is a natural flavor, and it can be found in multiple natural sources. Supposedly the body processes glutumate and MSG exactly the same (MSG just has an additional sodium element, so you’re getting more salt; it also contains a high amount of glutumate compared to most other foods that contain it), so you could be getting the same chemistry from a tomato or a mushroom as MSG, but in a holistic form. There’s definitely a lot of controversy over MSG, maybe the quantity is excessive in packaged foods comparatively to a glutumate-rich food, but that’s a topic for another article. For now, I think it’s just a cheap, addictive additive that isn’t good for you in such a concentrated form.
To finish on Natural Flavors, the fact that they’re kept secret should immediately raise alarm bells. But we put up with a lot worse.

 

Miss Vickies: Sweet Chili & Sour Cream

Ingredients: Specially selected potatoes, vegetable oil, seasoning (sugar, salt, maltodextrin, onion powder, modified milk ingredients, spices [including chili pepper], yeast, dextrose, sour cream, garlic powder, paprika extract, natural flavour)
1040 calories, 60g fat, 0mg cholesterol, 1320mg sodium, 116g carbohydrates, 12g of protein.
 
Originally owned by an actual Miss. Vickie who had a popular homemade chip, the brand was purchased by Frito-Lay, a subsidiary of PepsiCo, in 1993. This chip has been my beloved for over a decade, but they’ve cut back on the seasoning significantly in recent years. Once in a while you get lucky and get a bag full of seasoning, which tends to reel me back in. This chip brand has less fat, cholesterol, and sodium than the popcorn brand detailed above, but more carbohydrates. Based solely on the macro-nutrition facts it appears to be a less heavy food than the Smartfood popcorn. But let’s review the ingredients.
 
Specially selected potatoes: The phrasing of this immediately raises suspicion. I’m not sure about Miss Vickies, but another chip brand of PepsiCo is Lays, and in 2019 the company was suing Indian farmers over their sale of a GMO potato variety, FC5, used in Lays chips. They dropped the lawsuit due to political pressure. Seeing that they come from the same parent company, it’s possible that FC5 potatoes are used for Miss Vickies as well, in which case the chips you’re eating are likely grown in India. A different variety may be used, but highly likely GMO.
Vegetable Oil: *See Smartfood Popcorn section
Sugar/salt: We’re used to these two and know they’re usually not great for our health when they’re listed on a package, and that’s true, particularly of sugar. Refined sugar is like a lot of the other refined ingredients on this list- in its refined form it is detrimental to our health. But sugar and salt in and of themselves are not unhealthy.
Maltodextrin: I think this is an ingredient which causes a lot of the health problems we see in the world, particularly in the gut. It’s found in a plethora of processed foods. It is a white powder derived from rice, corn, potatoes, or wheat. Used to thicken/increase the volume of a processed food, improve texture, and increase shelf life. Essentially it’s a heavily processed carbohydrate/polysaccharide/sugar which has a propensity to spike blood sugar levels at higher rates than pure sucrose; and for this purpose it’s ingested by some body-builders to restore glycogen and glucose, and to add some empty calories after a workout. For someone exhausted of glucose it may be an okay idea, but if you’re sitting on your couch eating chips it’ll likely just turn into fat and stress the pancreas. It also has negative effects in the digestive tract, is linked to Crohn’s (inflammation of the bowels), increased bacterial adhesion to the bowels, and suppression of antimicrobial defense mechanisms, leading to inflammatory bowel conditions.
A simple way to explain maltodextrin is that it’s like a heavily processed flour. Most of it is made from GMO corn, similar to how flour is made from wheat, but with even further processing away from its holistic form. Think back to your fifth grade paper mache project where you took flour and water and combined them to make a sticky glue substance. Maltodextrin is a likely more potent form of that glue, ingested on a daily basis, clogging your digestive tract. For a thought experiment, type into google: “what does maltodextrin do to your body” and see what advice comes up.
Onion powder: A fairly innocuous ingredient, but the onion powder used in processed foods is different from a home-made onion powder. There are multiple processes that go into dehydrating it, and most onion powders are likely irradiated. When you irradiate something, you essentially heat it at a high temperature in something like a microwave, where the heating occurs by the speeding of electrons within the onion powder. This increases the shelf-life, but further separates the product from the natural chemical makeup of an onion. 
Modified milk ingredients: This is an umbrella term for an altered form of milk, or any one of its compounds. This could mean: whey, casein, cultured milk products (like yogurt), or some other milk derivatives, usually protein extracts. Whey and buttermilk are discussed in the above section, I’d guess the ‘modified milk ingredients’ is a mixture of whey and something else. Notably there is half the amount of protein in this bag of chips than the cheese-flavored popcorn above, suggesting to me that possibly 12g of the Smartfood popcorn protein comes from cheddar cheese, and the other 12g comes from whey/modified milk ingredients. Whatever the distinction of what the modified milk ingredient actually is, they’re all denatured protein molecules derived from milk.
Spices (including chili pepper):
Probably the healthiest ingredients on this list (even though they don’t tell us what spices), a spice is an aromatic/pungent vegetable substance used to flavor food. If it were an extract (like paprika extract), they would have to designate it on the label as such.
Yeast: A single-celled eukaryotic microorganism. This is a living organism, different types of it are used to make different foodstuffs like beer or bread. Candida is a type of yeast that lives in our bodies.  Either this ingredient is used to aid the production of the chips, or it is added near the end stages of the production process. It adds flavor and contains glutamates, like MSG, but in much smaller quantities. This is an interesting ingredient, and I think it may be responsible for some of the addictive qualities of these foods. As an herbalist, I can tell when someone is full of yeast and needs anti-fungal herbs, by one main indication: they crave breads and sweets (also they’re itchy). What if a food manufacturer could produce a specific type of yeast, which prefers to eat their product specifically, and which takes up in your microbiome? The yeast, like other yeasts, would make you crave that one product because it is the food that yeast likes (theoretical).
Dextrose: This a refined sugar. It’s formulated by taking corn starch and using enzymes to extract the dextrose sugar molecule. We will do an article differentiating between the various sugars at some point. But essentially dextrose is a quickly digested, refined sugar.
Sour cream: The combination of a lactic acid culture and pasteurized cream at a specific temperature creates sour cream. It may also contain thickeners like gelatin (boiled animal matter) or rennin (protein-digesting enzyme).
Garlic powder: See “Onion powder”, I believe the process is the same but with garlic.
Paprika extract: A solvent (could be a variety of different solvents) is used to extract the alkaloids capsaican or dihydrocapsaican / both, and then evaporated out. Relatively speaking, a close-to-natural form ingredient.
Natural flavor: See above section.
 
 

 

Ruffles: Sour Cream 'N Onion

Ingredients: Specially selected potatoes, vegetable oil, seasoning (skim milk powder, whey powder, salt, dextrose, onion powder, monosodium glutamate, spice, vegetable oil, corn syrup solids, citric acid, corn maltodextrin, corn starch, yeast extract, disodium inosinate, disodium guanylate, sodium caseinate, natural flavor).
1040 calories, 64g fat, 0mg cholesterol, 1280mg sodium, 104g of carbohydrates, and 16g of protein.

This is a chip which strongly utilizes the MSG strategy of flavoring, as you’ll see below. Parent company is, once again, PepsiCo.

Specially selected potatoes: See above section.

Vegetable oil: See popcorn section.

Skim milk powder: A vacuum-dried milk product.

Whey powder: See popcorn section.

Salt: See above section.

Dextrose: See above section.

Onion Powder: See above section.

Monosodium glutamate: Also known as MSG. See natural flavor in popcorn section. Notably: of the three brands in this article, this is the only one with MSG in it. The other two surely have some glutumates in them from their natural flavor sections, but MSG is a highly concentrated form of glutumates.

Spice: an undisclosed vegetable spice in its whole form.

Vegetable oil: See popcorn section.

Corn syrup solids: A sweetener derived from corn starch. Corn syrup can contain between 20-98% sugar, depending on what manufacturing process was used; but corn syrup solids have been concentrated, where there’s very little water left, and contains at least 88% sugar content. Essentially it’s a highly concentrated corn syrup (as if corn syrup wasn’t bad enough). This is different from high fructose corn syrup, which goes through an additional enzymatic process to convert glucose molecules into fructose.

Citric acid: Used to boost flavor, provide a sour taste, increase acidity and act as a preservative. Although citric acid is found naturally in many fruits and vegetables, the manufactured form is derived from the black mold Aspergillus niger. There are some reports of negative health consequences from the consumption of manufactured citric acid, particularly if a person has sensitivity to mold/fungus.

Corn maltodextrin: It’s interesting that the Miss Vickies chips ingredient is listed as “maltodextrin”, even though it’s very likely derived from corn; but this chip specifically states that it is “Corn maltodextrin”. Possibly some shoppers with gluten allergy look out for maltodextrin (both have labels stating gluten-free directly beneath the ingredient list), and this brand chooses to distinguish. Other than that, appears to be the same as maltodextrin but verified as derived from corn.

Corn starch: A thickener made from the white endosperm at the center of a corn kernel.

Yeast extract: This is yeast after their cell walls are destroyed and removed. It’s a glutumate-rich ingredient, often used in place of MSG. To create yeast extract, the yeast is heated until their cell walls rupture, and the yeast cells’ own digestive enzymes further break down its structure (autolysis). The cell wall is centrifuged out (high vibration machine which separates matter of different densities), and the remaining product is spray-dried to create a powder. This has an alternate use as food for living yeast, so additionally to having glutumates it may feed starch-craving organisms in your microbiome.

Disodium inosinate & disodium guanylate: The combination of these two ingredients is called disodium -5’ribonucleotides (E635).  These ingredients enhance the flavor-giving capacity of MSG or other glutumate-rich ingredients. By combining 98% MSG with 2% of this combination, the flavor enhancing capacity of MSG is increased by 4x. If you see one of these ingredients listed, then there’s almost certainly either glutumate-containing ingredients or MSG somewhere in that food. Both are derived from the fermentation of yeast, tapioca starch, mushroom, seaweed, and some animal sources. There doesn’t appear to be much health concern over their use, although there are some reports of inflammation.

Sodium caseinate: This is made by treating casein (the protein derived from milk which can produce cheese, see whey in popcorn section), with an alkaline solvent, sodium hydroxide, and heated at a high temperature for 15 seconds. That process makes the casein soluble. It’s used as a thickener and to add a protein value. Once again, this is a denatured form of protein far from its holistic origins and bereft of all natural buffers and sequence with evolution.

Natural flavor: See popcorn section.

 

Analysis

There’s a game being played by food manufacturers, regulators, and marketing agencies around the terminologies of salt, protein, sugar and carbohydrates. “Protein is good”, “Sugar is bad”. It’s a shifting landscape that is difficult to traverse because we are playing a game set by made-up rules. When we step back and observe Nature and the natural forms of food, the game dissolves. In simplicity, health is already there. But when you are reaching for protein, or low fat, you step back into a controlled realm of misdirection, greed, and overintellectualization. Sadly, their definitions simultaneously bleed into our impressions of real foods; but their words for proteins or sugar do not befit what a real sugar or protein is, with all of the intelligent structuring and buffering systems imbued by divine creation. This is another field of thought in which humans have gone way off the deep end.

Now that you know all of the ingredients, try comparing the statistics of: carbohydrates, proteins, fats, and sodium, and figure out which ingredients are attributing to each. As an experiment, I weighed Smartfood popcorn and compared it to the weight of air-popped popcorn with no added seasoning. The difference in weight was 57%. That means that of the 200g in a Smartfood popcorn bag, only (roughly) 86 grams are popcorn, and 114 grams are the additional ingredients (“seasoning” (broad term)).

This is series 1 of an ongoing series looking at the foods we crave. Many of the ingredients described above are in other foods like granola bars, soups, etc. At the end of this research I am baffled and brought to an awareness of what I already subconsciously knew. We are consuming dead foods, no better than synthetic chemicals. We might as well be snacking on powder. But then, the soils of factory farms are dead, too. And you could probably make several other comparisons; but there is also a beautiful alternative. In the case of this subject, whole foods, preferably fresh off the tree.

If you've read this entire article, well done! You're well on your way to increasing your knowledge of food and health. Please leave a comment if you have any additional details, comments, or questions. Follow us on one of our social media for video content and updates, and I hope to see you again in a later "Foods we Crave" series edition by Plato's Garden. If you are seeking an herbalist, please take a look at our website. I'd love for you to book an appointment with us.
Justin McArthur
Herbalist, Iridologist

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