Are Banana Chips Really Healthy? Here’s What You Need to Know
Unless you've been living under a rock, you've probably heard of the new chip that's making waves in the health food aisle. Yes, we're talking about banana chips. The indulgent snack seems to be taking the clean eating world by storm, and its health halo shows no signs of fading away. But the question that everyone keeps asking is: are banana chips healthy, or is there something hiding between those nutrition label lines? Well, here's what science has to say.
What Are Banana Chips?
As the name implies, banana chips are crispy slices of banana, which are usually fried in oil and are coated with sugar or honey for a sweeter taste. Some companies even season the chips with salt and/or spices for a flavor kick.
Considering the processing they go through to reach our table (or better yet, bowl), it's fair to say that banana chips are nothing like raw bananas. But, since we shouldn't compare and contrast different types of food (i.e., fresh vs. processed), let's see how the various kinds of banana chips stack up against one another.
Are There Multiple Kinds of Banana Chips?
Before we delve deeper into the snack's nutritional value, you should know that all banana chips aren't created equal. While most of them are highly processed, one type doesn't undergo the intense processing that others do (except, perhaps, for freezing and dehydration). This type is known as freeze dried bananas.
What's the Difference Between Processed & Freeze Dried Banana Chips?
• Processed Banana Chips
Made from slices of under-ripe bananas, processed chips(1) are deep-fried and soaked in a sugary solution. Between frying and sugar-coating, the snack loses most of its original nutritional value and ends up being more of an indulgent candy than a healthy treat.
• Freeze Dried Bananas
Unlike their processed "cousins," freeze dried bananas aren't subjected to drastic cooking methods that alter their nutritional profile in a heartbeat. On the contrary, they are just freeze dried under the lowest temperatures possible, a technique(2) that helps them retain most of their nutrients and bio-compounds. So, by default, freeze dried bananas are almost as nutritious as raw bananas. They also don't contain any additives (i.e., sugar or flavor enhancers), which is always a plus.
The Nutritional Value of Banana Chips
The nutritional value of banana chips depends on the processing they go through before they hit the shelves. Below we list the nutrition ‘deets’(3) on the variety you're most likely to run into while shopping (a.k.a. processed).
So, a one-cup serving of the snack (72 g) provides you with:
- Calories: 374
- Protein: 1.6 grams
- Carbs: 42 grams
- Fiber: 5.5 grams
- Sugar: 25.4 grams
- Total Fat: 24.2 grams
- Saturated Fat: 21 grams
- Vitamin B6: 0.187 mg (that's about 11% of your RDI)
- Potassium: 386 mg (that's about 8% of your RDI)
The Downsides of Consuming Processed Banana Chips.
Before we list the reasons why you shouldn't consume the snack all too often, we should mention that these downsides refer solely to processed banana chips, a.k.a. the kind that is deep-fried and sugar-coated before hitting the shelves.
• High in Saturated Fat & Harmful By-Products
Even though they start off healthy, store-bought banana chips lose their "clean eating" status as soon as they hit the frying pot. According to experts(4), the most common oils used for this process are coconut and palm oils(5) (both known for being high in saturated fats).
Research(6) also shows that frying banana slices in coconut oil triggers the production of PAHs(7) (Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons), a complex group of chemicals that are linked to several diseases, including cancer. These compounds are also described as "lipophilic," which means they tend to cling onto fat cells. So, unless metabolized, they linger around in the lipid tissues (with whatever health issues this may entail).
• High in Sugar & Calories
Besides frying, most banana chips are also coated with sugar, honey, or syrup to acquire a slightly sweeter taste. This step helps make the snack more flavorful and, thus, irresistible. Now, we all know that sugar is high in carbs(8), so the snack becomes an instant calorie bomb. What's also troubling is that, given the chips' addictive crunch, it's hard to stop at just a handful and keep the calorie count at bay.
The Benefits of Consuming Freeze Dried Bananas
Before we check out why this snack can be a solid snacking choice, note that these benefits refer to the freeze dried variety that's minimally processed and handled.
• High in Nutrients
When it comes to nutrients, freeze dried bananas are almost as dense as the real deal. And that's because freeze drying(9) doesn't strip the chips off of their original contents. In fact, the technique removes 99% of the food's moisture, allowing the chips to retain the water-soluble vitamins and minerals that'd otherwise be lost throughout the process.
• Low in Sodium
Compared to potato (and even veggie) chips, freeze dried bananas are considered a much healthier option – and that's mainly because of their low sodium content(10). Since the snack doesn't contain or use salt as a flavor enhancer, it's an excellent choice for anyone who wants to keep their sodium intake in check but can't resist the crunch of a chip.
• Long Shelf Life
One of the most convenient benefits of freeze dried bananas (and chips, in general) is their long shelf life(11). Since they contain very little water, these bites don't oxidize as quickly(12) as raw bananas, sparing you from throwing them away almost a week after you bought them.
• Easy to Carry Around
Given their small size and portable nature (along with the fact that they don't require a cooler), banana chips are an excellent snack choice for people on the go and hikers.
So, Are Banana Chips Healthy? The Takeaway
Of course, they are. But ONLY IF there are prepared the right way, a.k.a. not dried-and-fried in saturated fat. That said, when you need something sweet and crunchy to tame your sweet tooth, reach for a handful of freeze dried bananas rather than the processed kind. The fruity snack contains the same nutrients as raw bananas and tastes just as great (without the use of saturated fats and added sugar). Or you could go for plan B: Eat a banana!
If you want to explore more sides of the fruit (other than its chip form), these banana recipes won't disappoint.