“Better for You” Foods in the Snack Aisle?

popchips-originalMar. 8, 2009 “Lately all this low-fat health talk has been taking the fun right out of snacking, not to mention the flavor,” reads the Popchips all natural bag I’m chomping on from a Costco impulse buy…

Gotta hand it to ‘em, as a copywriter, this verbiage appeals, and, after trying Popchips at the Teens Turning Green summit (where Whole Foods Markets provided the goodies) I found them quite tasty in a “nothing fake or phony, fried or baked” kind of way.

Other than the annoying punctuation, where lowercase sentence fragments pose as complete thoughts, the ‘why to buy’ is compelling, “…we take wholesome potatoes, apply heat and pressure, and pop!”

I have no clue how you ‘apply heat and pressure’ without baking or what not, so I’ll ask our nutrition guru whether there’s any ‘altered state’ we should be aware of, and get back to ya…BUT, I’m always on the look out for ‘better for you’ foods that don’t taste/react like chem cuisine so I can swap them as healthier choices for our ‘switch pitch’ portion of our Dare to Compare Gross Out Game for Good Nutrition with kids…

No preservatives, artificial flavors/colors, sat/trans fat or cholesterol? Cool. Maybe they’ll beat the odds in this research study by Just Kid, Inc. which puts forth the “Six Deadly Sins” of marketing “BFY” (better for you) foods…


Besides, it’s not like snacks and sweets should be totally demonized as “evil food”…

Lately, I’ve been ULTRA-vigilant about re-emphasizing the “M” word…moderation…in media, munchies and meals.

It’s always been important from the get-go in our informal learning approach that we don’t create a “dark side” mindset where kids have the bejeezus scared out of them in ‘all or nothing’ polarized thinking…

Especially NOW when articles like What’s Eating Our Kids? Fears About ‘Bad’ Foods in this New York Times piece (visual by Margaret Riegel, above) questions if all this effort to curb obesity can actually LEAD to disordered eating. Aaaauugh!

Last thing in the world I want is for kids to be able to recite nutrient intake, snack habits and label lingo while stressing out in ‘we’re gonna die’ mode… sigh.

Can’t win. Our counter-marketing works, but gee, make sure it doesn’t work too well…“What did you tell my kid so s/he tells me not to swing through the drive through?” argh.

I think I can safely say I don’t have a dog in that fight, as we DO cover the ‘balanced’ messaging mantra to a farethewell…

fat-blob-coffee-cup.jpgFrankly, Shaping Youth is often dealing with extreme intervention of  ‘at-risk’ kids to begin with, so if I err on the side of  “eat like an ape” or “whole not processed,” and  “stay close to the land,”  when it comes to healthy messaging, I’m not going to “mea culpa” too much on our show-n-tell tactics using some fear factor outcomes to embrace the dramatization and entertainment. (like the anatomically correct pound of fat blob at left)

Still, oh, how I long for the days of common sense, a food supply that was untainted from fillers, additives, and cheap knock-offs to make a buck at the expense of public health, and responsible food marketing so we wouldn’t have to mess with triple sodium intake in kids and caffeine/energy drink/HFCS frankenfoods in the first place…

Thankfully, if for no other reason than healthier choices sought after to gain loyal parent purchase power and ‘BFY’ foods surviving that don’t taste like cardboard, it seems like industry is running the gauntlet of new product rollouts eager to please for profitability…

With the Popchips 2009 expansion to the east coast in just a couple of quick years post-launch, feedback from reviews like Health.com and Coolhunting picks and  The Nibble, plus sales execs recruited from socially responsible companies like eco-friendly Kettle Foods, it seems like companies like this are doing things right to help turn this tanker around…

volleyballI’m going to the county obesity task force meeting tomorrow evening to support our partner org, Starlings Volleyball San Mateo, for at-risk preteen girls (see our video here)Those girls ARE snack fiends, so it sure would be helpful to have a ‘BFY’ once in a blue moon swap out treat now and then…

Yep, Popchips comes at a time when parents and kids long for an indulgence, striking at the heart of the obesity/wellness initiatives with a very sincere, plausible tone, as if to say:

Eat healthy, but eat well…do good, but don’t overdo.

Live a little, and you can still live a lot.

Moderation, not martyrdom. I’m in line with that. You?

Related Resources:

5 Healthy Snacks That Aren’t (Lifehacker)

Congress to Tackle Junk Food in Schools (CSPI)

Will the Feds Finally Boot Junk Food Out of Schools? (EcoChild’s Play)

Nutrition Services for Obese Kids: Change Comin’?

Shaping Youth: Deconstructing the Eat This, Not That Book for Kids

CSPI Olestra Quiz:  Concerns behind ‘fat free and low fat’ chips

YoNaturals: ‘Healthy Student Vending’ Organic Snacks

10 Worst & Best Foods (CSPI)

Bite of the Best (seasoned food writer/RD; culinary blog)

Frito-Lay Tries to Reach Into the Mind and Lunch Bags of Women (NYT)

Whatever Hollywood: UGC (unsolicited popchips ad video by 3 gal pals!)

(For more, see Shaping Youth’s nutrition round-ups under childhood obesity, body image and counter-marketing) —Oh, and the capsulized version of the ‘Six Deadly Sins’ of Better for You Food Marketing according to Just Kid Inc?


Here’s the webinar/play book for media literacy on BOTH sides of the healthy choices & BFY offerings…It was amazing to read that statistically, the BFY launch success teeters in the ‘5% or less’ range…ouch.

‘Six Deadly Sins’ of BFY Foods From JustKid Inc. (a good media literacy lesson for ‘what to watch for’ in the grocery aisle, consumers!)

Sin #1. Taking kids and parents at their word on BFY attitudes

Sin #2. Assuming a “One Size Fits All” new product solution

Sin #3. Stripping out the fun to make way for health

Sin #4. Beware the “reductive” or the “additive” approach (e.g. ‘without’ sugar or ‘now w/added’ calcium, etc.)

Sin #5. Failing to clearly delineate “what the food is”

Sin #6. Trying to improve on mother nature



  1. Amy asked me to “weigh in” on the popchips. I have never tasted them so I can’t comment.

    Are they freeze dried? I can’t tell exactly how they are made. I also don’t care. I have a problem with their misleading marketing.

    We think there aren’t enough meals in the day. We think spoiling your dinner is just fine. And if there’s one thing we know as snack fanatics, if it doesn’t taste good, it’s not a snack.

    “And getting rid of trans fats is just a start. We also think about the other things that give snacking a bad rap — like saturated fats, calories, preservatives, artificial everything.”

    Problem 1: rethink what a “snack” is… I don’t consider these or any chips, pretzels or what not snacks. Most people don’t need snacks if they have healthful meals with enough calories, carbs, protein, fat, and fiber. When you NEED a snack because of HUNGER – not BOREDOM then snacks are fruits and vegetables and maybe a piece of cheese. Those are NORMAL snacks.

    Problem 2: Saturated fats are pretty low in regular chips – about 2g a serving. So stick to ONE serving and the 2 g sat fat is not going to put you on a gourney!

    Problem 3: calories give snacks a bad rap? really? calories? really? Calories do one thing… they provide ENERGY which you should need if you are snacking. Calories don’t give snacks a bad rap. I just don’t get the thinking. If you aren’t hungry, don’t eat anything. If you are hungry, eat a healthy snack that gives calories and good nutrition to satisfy your hunger.

    I just don’t get it… school me!

    Rebecca Scritchfield’s last blog post..Sports Nutrition Interview with Yours Truly

  2. Well…um, let’s see…where to begin.

    I understand as an RD/nutritionist ‘snack’ has a connotation, as in ‘healthy or none’…But for the purpose of THIS piece, snack is merely industry parlance as in ‘snack aisle category’ from the food marketing/packaged goods perspective. (sorry for the confusion, gang)

    The reason I’m focusing on this ‘BFY’ concept is that in reality, it’s where parents hit the wall in terms of knocking balance off kilter (as the article mentions, tipping the scale into forbidden fruit/eating disorder vilified nasties) and also where KIDS hit the wall in terms of ‘I don’t WANT another freakin’ apple, mom, a bag of BFY junk food is NOT gonna kill me every once in awhile’ …

    No one is arguing that chips are chips and junk is junk, we all get that… (well, most of us do…) BUT…this BFY category doesn’t seem ‘misleading’ to me IF in fact it IS a ‘healthier’ option within the junk food category and states it as same.

    The problems that you detailed seem more from their site than their packaging…but I guess I’m immune to as a copywriter, as it seems to me to be clever ‘romance sell’ tapping into the ‘why to buy’ motivations of a chip that tastes good and is less chem cuisine then most…(in other words, the “USP: unique selling proposition’)

    I totally embrace your point to redefine the term snack, in vocabulary/lexicon so that the FIRST thing we think of is a whole food, as in a HEALTHY after school energy boost that does NOT come in any kind of bag whatsoever.

    That said, I’m a pragmatist, and a realist, so I feel strongly that we DO need to encourage food marketers to ‘clean up their act’ by creating more BFY foods regardless, to be consumed once in awhile as a treat, not a norm. (otherwise, marketers can rollout the ‘food police’ school marmish, “choice and voice” what sells free-for-all, which gives carte blance to the product category to go unchecked…rather than work on improving ‘junk food’ in lesser evil mode.

    So I guess I should rephrase my question…

    Are these popchips similar to say a ‘baked Lays’ BFY junk food/snack or are they healthier in that they don’t have the chem cuisine component? I have no clue (and am not aligned in any way, shape or form other than curiosity)

    Again, acknowledging the fact that chips are chips and NEITHER meet our criteria as a HEALTHY choice in general, but for the SNACK AISLE/CATEGORY is it any better or worse than say, a ‘baked’ variation?

    Here’s our other RD dissection of the Baked Lays if that helps poke at the point I’m looking to evaluate on the ingredient/nutrient list and the method used to create them as ‘popped’ vs. baked…again just trying to decipher ‘what it all means’ nutrition-wise!

    Better? Worse? Same as? etc.

    Baked Lays: Deconstruction/Analysis
    (by RD Lita Collins)

    “Lay’s Baked Original flavored potato crisps

      Claims on bag:

    “Smart Choices Made Easy, 0g trans fat. 0 mg cholesterol, 1.5 g of fat per serving”

    Nutrition Facts
    Serving size: 1 oz
    Calories 110
    Total Fat: 1.5g
    Sat Fat: 0g
    Trans Fat: 0g
    Cholesterol 0g
    Sodium: 240mg
    Total Carb: 23g
    Fiber 2g
    Sugar 2g
    Protein 2g

    Dehydrated potatoes, modified food starch, sugar, corn oil, salt, soy lecithin, leavening (monocalcium phosphate and sodium bicarbonate), and dextrose.

    Modified Food Starch: Ordinary starch that has been chemically altered to modify thickening and jelling properties. Babies have difficulty digesting starch in its original form, but modified food starch is used widely in baby food based on the theory that it is easier to digest. It is modified with many extremely dangerous and toxic chemicals, so safety questions have arisen. On top of the FDA’s list to reevaluate since 1980 bu no progress has been made.

    Corn Oil: Irritant to human skin and allergen. Has caused birth defects in experimental animals.

    Lecithin: Used as an emulsifier and an antioxidant in foods. Comes from corn, soy or egg yolk.

    Monocalcium phosphate: Anti-caking additive, gastric antacid, Known skin and eye irritant.

    Sodium Bicarbonate: Baking soda. Safe, but may alter the urinary excretion of drugs, thus making those drugs more toxic or less effective.

    Dextrose: Corn syrup. May cause allergic reactions.”

  3. For context, I should add that Lita is an organic/all natural RD proponent and was given the task to ‘give me the worst case scenario’ in deciphering some what ifs, in order to understand label lingo and see where certain consumer trigger points could present a problem when masked in the marketing veil…so she’s not trying to be ‘alarmist’ here, just thorough in deconstruction of certain ingredients/interactions and such…

  4. Has anyone had an allergic reaction to Popchips?
    I ate two 0.8 oz bags and within 30 minutes got a runny
    nose and scratchy throat. Two days later I still have the symptoms.
    Perhaps a coincidence, but perhaps not. I felt fine prior to eating
    the Popchips and had had no cold-like symptoms.

  5. Not me, but that’s a good question to be posted on a user forum like Wellsphere or a site like yelp or maybe a foodie or medical site to see…People are allergic to all kinds of stuff so there might be something impt. you need to know! There are some new Health 2.0 widgets in the works and some online database sites dealing w/allergies…just ‘Google’ it! And good luck! 🙂

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