According to a 2020 Statista survey, 85% of the American population eats potato chips. Combine that with the fact that potato chips are the top-selling salty snack in the country, doing over $7 billion in sales in a year, to say that this fried food is popular would be an understatement.
They may be popular, but they're not good for you. In fact, potato chips are number one on the list of The 7 Foods Most Likely to Make You Gain Weight, according to a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine.
With a significant majority of the country indulging in this salty, fatty, fried food on a regular basis, it's highly likely that a good portion of people may be eating too many chips. But how can you tell?
You're eating too many potato chips if you constantly feel bloated and puffy.
Liz Lehman, MD, a board-certified and licensed anesthesiologist and founder of Aluminate Life, tells us that "The number one sign you're eating too many chips is feeling puffy and swollen—especially your hands, feet, and lips. This is due to water retention from excess salt."
You may also feel puffy and bloated due to weight gain caused by eating too many high-calorie chips. "The size of chip bags is getting bigger and bigger. Manufacturers know it's hard to stop eating chips once you start. The more salty, high-fat chips you eat, the more you want," and the more weight you can put on, says Leann Poston, MD, MBA, MEd, a doctor with Invigor Medical.
First, what do you consider to be "too many?"
More than 1 serving a day is too much, shares Dr. Lehman. One serving is 1 ounce or 18 chips.
But even eating one serving of potato chips a day is a lot. Alexis Parcells, MD, a board-certified plastic surgeon and owner of Parcells Plastic Surgery says that you should really be limiting your potato chip consumption to no more than the palm of your hand.
"Most traditional potato chips are seasoned with a large amount of salt and oil. Like any junk food, they can be tolerated in small doses (to fill the palm of your hand). Larger doses are proven unhealthy and will quickly lead to weight gain," Dr. Parcells says.
Why potato chips can make you feel puffy and bloated.
Dr. Lehman tells us that most symptoms of excess potato chip consumption are primarily related to excess sodium intake. The recommended sodium intake is less than 2,300 milligrams a day, but most Americans consume over 3,200 milligrams a day, Dr. Lehman says.
One serving of potato chips is one ounce, but oftentimes potato chips are packaged in single-serve, two-ounce bags. Because who can resist opening a bag of potato chips and not finishing it, that can lead to taking in as much as 660 milligrams of sodium if you polish off the whole bag—that's 29% of your daily recommended intake! Flavored bags, like BBQ, sour cream, or salt and vinegar, are some of the worst offenders. (See: The Unhealthiest Potato Chips on the Planet)
There's also a more subtle, nefarious reason why potato chips can make you feel bloated and swollen: inflammation.
"Potato chips are made with refined oils and processed carbohydrates, which are highly inflammatory. Refined oils are a class of omega-6 oils, which are inflammatory, especially when there is an imbalance of omega-3 anti-inflammatory fats. This leads to inflammation and pain throughout the body along with brain fog, fatigue, and weight gain," says Trista Best, MPH, RD, LD a registered dietitian with Balance One Supplements. (Related: 14 Inflammatory Foods That Cause Weight Gain)
There are also some long-term issues associated with eating too many potato chips.
Most of the dangerous side effects of eating too many potato chips will be felt long-term, and it would be hard to pinpoint potato chips as being the sole culprit. However, if you know you're eating chips every day, it is more than likely that they're playing a role.
One of the worst side effects of eating too many potato chips is also incredibly difficult to spot: high blood pressure.
"Potato chips generally have between 120 and 180 milligrams of sodium per ounce. In the long term, this can cause high blood pressure. Unfortunately, most people with high blood pressure do not have symptoms associated with it, and this can be dangerous as it may not be properly diagnosed and treated. If left untreated, high blood pressure can lead to stroke, heart failure, coronary heart disease, and kidney disease," says Dr. Parcells.
Other long-term side effects of eating a lot of chips are weight gain, trouble sleeping, dry skin, kidney disease, headaches, and inflammation.
Does this mean I shouldn't eat potato chips?
Potatoes are actually decently healthy. (Yes, even though they're "white" and have traditionally been associated with unhealthy carbs.) Most of the time, potatoes get a bad rap because we commonly consume them as deep-fried foods, such as with chips or french fries.
Potato chips on the other hand, are a different story.
"Overall, potato chips aren't a health food. They're low in nutritional value, high in sodium (which can impact blood pressure), and often contain pro-inflammatory ingredients—such highly processed vegetable oils—which can lead to the development of health dysfunction and disease," says Sheri Vettel, RD, a registered dietitian at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition.
But you can't really blame potato chips on all of your health problems.
"Aside from extreme circumstances (such as a primarily potato chip-based diet!), it's hard to look at potato chip consumption in isolation without considering the overall quality of one's diet as a whole," says Vettel
"For instance, if someone truly enjoys potato chips and has a primarily whole foods diet full of quality nutrient-dense foods, then there is less of a negative health impact from occasionally eating potato chips. For those eating the Standard American Diet (or SAD diet), snacking on potato chips even occasionally is taking away from the chance to eat more nutrient-dense foods," Vettel adds.
To determine if you need to cut back on your potato chip consumption, Vettel encourages reflection and listening to your body. Think about healthier snack alternatives, reflect on how you feel physically and emotionally after eating potato chips, and think about whether you have any health conditions (such as high blood pressure) that may require you to reevaluate your potato chip consumption.
What are some healthy alternatives to potato chips?
If you're eating too many potato chips, consider snacking on a substitute: "Alternatives to standard chips include baked vegetable chips, apple chips, and air-popped popcorn. These snacks tend to be lower in salt, calories, and fat than fried chips and also provide fiber," says Dr. Parcells.
You don't even need to have a 1:1 substitute for potato chips to improve your health status. Instead, you can simply focus on adding more healthy foods to your diet that will "crowd out" the potato chips:
"By adding healthier foods to your diet, you will gently crowd out the choices that aren't the best for you. This concept of crowding out can help you create a healthier relationship with food in general, but especially around foods that aren't so nutrient-dense," recommends Vettel, who notes that working with a Health Coach is a great way to get clear on how your food choices make you feel.
For more on these salty, fatty foods, don't miss Ugly Side Effects of Eating Potato Chips, According to Science.
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