Not So Sensible Portions: A Closer Look at Veggie Straws

veggie straws

There’s a new snack in town.

Have you seen them?  To me, it seems like Veggie Straws from Sensible Portions are every where.  For sure, the company is doing some clever promotions.  They recently conducted a contest with NYU Tisch Film students to create a viral commercial for Veggie Straws.   Here’s one of the student films…

A sensible solution to eating your vegetables? I don’t think so. Nice ad, but these veggie straws are a far cry from a real vegetable.

Sensible Portions has been reaching out to media in a big way.  I agreed to accept free products to review (more about that later), and I’ve seen lots of coverage raving about the snacks.  In fact, the sweet barbecue flavored Potato Straws were just honored as one of the best low-calorie snacks of 2011 by Shape magazine.

“Enjoy the smoky-sweet flavor of barbecue chips for 30% less fat.  One staffer said:  These are so good, I felt like I was being bad by eating them.”

Hence my problem with these  so-called “healthy” snacks.   For starters, why does this Shape staffer feel “bad” when eating real barbecue chips, and why does she feel like she’s getting a free pass by eating these “better-for-you” barbecue straws (or so it seems by her comment: they taste so good that they have to be bad, but they’re not, so I can eat even more?)

These Sensible Portions chips are trying so hard to be good.  The package label includes a long list of boastful claims:  All natural ingredients, 30% less fat than the leading potato chip, 0g trans fat, no preservatives, cholesterol-free, non-GMO and kosher oil.  The Sensible Portions web site touts “next generation in healthy foods,” but I couldn’t find  nutrition and ingredient information any where on the site (which was a big red flag for me).  It was only until I received the product samples could I really tell what these snacks were all about.   And I got to taste them.

That’s where my disappointment comes in.  You would think these snacks were simply dehydrated vegetables the way  the package looks and how glowing the praise has been. Not so.  These fry-shaped chips really have very little to do with real vegetables.  The “Garden Veggie Straws” are a puffed up, extruded mixture of potato flour, sunflower oil and corn starch with some tomato puree, spinach powder, salt, sugar and turmeric.  Do they have the nutrients of  vegetables?  Hardly.  0% vitamin A, 0% calcium, 2% vitamin C, 2% iron, 1 g fiber. And I thought they tasted awful.

So why compare yourself to vegetables?  The clever commercials are misleading. Just be a chip.

And are they really such a better chip?  Heck, if I wanted a chip, I’d have a chip that tasted good. The label claims 30% less fat than the leading potato chip  (7 grams in Veggie Straws vs. 10 grams in leading potato chip).  But you could buy baked potato chips and only get 3 grams of fat!  The Sensible Portions sweet barbecue Potato Straws contain 130 calories and 7 grams of fat per 1-oz. bag, while the same amount of barbecue Baked Lay’s contains 120 calories and 3 grams of fat.  So this “30% less fat” really depends on what chip you typically buy.

To me, this is the “health halo” hard at work. Studies show that people end up eating even more of a low-fat snack because they think they’re being good. And they’re apt to enjoy it even less. When you’re eating a potato chip, you know what it is. And that tends to make people eat more in moderation. With all of these “healthy cues” on a product (even if undeserving), people tend to let their guard down. So people may end up eating twice as many of these Sensible Portion snacks because they’re so “healthy.”

How sensible is that?

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