Most parents I know think pretzels are a healthy snack because they are baked and have no fat.

The status of pretzels as a food that is good for you is reinforced when people do what marketers hope they’ll do: compare pretzels to potato chips, the ultimate junk food. I call this The Potato Chip Challenge, as if somehow surpassing the standard set by potato chips makes a food, de facto, healthy.

But does it?

Look at how Snyder’s of Hanover Pretzel Rods stack up against Lay’s Classic Potato Chips.

Let’s start tallying the “wins.”

Ounce for ounce (about 15 chips or 3 pretzel rods):

  • Pretzels win on calories, fat and protein
  • Potato chips win on sodium and fiber.

I concede things are looking pretty good for pretzels; less fat translates into significantly fewer calories. Still, the question remains: are pretzels really the healthier snack? Most pretzels are made from refined flour. At least potato chips are made from potatoes.

Have you heard about NuVal?

NuVal is a nutritional value scoring system that, after calculating more than thirty nutrient and nutrition factors, ranks foods on a scale of one to one hundred. One hundred represents top nutrition.

  • Lay’s Classic Potato Chips=15
  • Snyder’s of Hanover Pretzel Rods=15

In contrast, blueberries score a cool 100.

Of course, if you compare different brands you’ll get different results.

The overall pattern will stay the same.

  • Utz Extra Dark Pretzels=NuVal 8
  • Utz Ripple Potato Chips =NuVal 8

I suppose you could look for a better pretzel, but this won’t solve anything because there are chips out there that score better too.

  • Snyder’s Organic Whole Wheat Pretzel Nibblers=NuVal 28
  • Baked Lay’s Original Potato Crisps=NuVal 25
  • Cape Cod Potato Chips 40% Reduced Fat=NuVal 31

Suddenly chips are ahead!

Not everyone agrees with the NuVal rating system.

Or even with the idea of scoring systems in general. Still, these scores are informative. By applying a uniform calculation to everything they analyze NuVal makes it easy for us to compare the relative healthfulness of different products.

In this case, the NuVal scores illustrate my point: when it comes to salty snacks, you can look for the “best” choice, but nutritionally you’re basically splitting hairs.

Fifteen is the average NuVal score for the entire category of salty snacks.

If you consider habits—eating any kind of salty snack produces a salty snack-eating habit—minor nutritional differences become moot.

Read 10 Ways Improving Your Kids’ Snacking Will Improve YOUR Life.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~

Sources:, accessed 1/22/13;, accessed 1/15/13; Personal email communication with NuVal;, accessed 1/15/13; accessed 1/15/13;, accessed 1/15/13.