Are protein-packed veggie puffs *really* healthy?

By: Megan Falk

Puffed snacks have long been synonymous with the vibrant, tangy cheddar spheres that stained your fingertips orange, during after-school picnics and soiled your pajamas at fifth-grade slumber parties. The excessive salt content inevitably brought stomach pains and regret, and the beloved munchie slowly slipped out of your life. But thankfully, as you grew up, so did the cheese puff.

With the global healthy snack industry being valued at $23 billion, these childhood favorite pops are making a comeback in equally light, yet highly nutritious varieties: protein puffs. Made from ingredients like chickpeas, quinoa, and edamame, these fresh munchies offer the same satisfying crunch as your favorite kettle-cooked chips. These puffs boast up to six grams of protein, fewer than 140 calories, and an average of 18 grams of carbohydrates per serving. This ideal pairing of nutrients provides short-term energy and long-lasting stamina, which Jessica Redmond, M.S., R.D.N., F.A.N.D., says can make the robust puffs an adequate addition to a healthy eating plan — under some conditions.

One Powerful Puff
To Redmond, protein is key to providing the best satisfaction, helping to deter eaters from future binge eating. Unlike popcorn or baked chips, which only momentarily fulfill your salt cravings, nutritious pops like Crunch-a-Mame’s nearly naked edamame puffs will both hit the spot and keep you fueled for hours to come. The 140-calorie snack is made from organic edamame and rice flours, providing six grams of protein and eight percent of your daily fiber needs in just one cup. Like it’s sage green counterpart, Jùs by Julie’s Pea Puffs don’t skimp on the protein: Each 1.1-ounce helping wields four grams of protein.

These hip snacks further knock out their baked chip rivals in their serving size. When scouring the pantry for an afternoon snack, most people want a food that has a larger portion size or volume per serving, Redmond says.

By choosing to wolf down a 20-piece helping of bohemian barbecue Hippeas chickpea puffs over a bag of 15 baked barbecue chips, you’ll get more mouth satisfaction for your calories. And if you’re going to snack on processed food, Redmond says its best to keep the ingredient list as short as possible and consider if those ingredients are what you’d expect to see. Oftentimes, these veggie puffs deliver on these guidelines. I Heart Keenwah’s sea salt truffle quinoa puffs are prepared with quinoa flour, rice flours, sunflower oil, and spices — wholesome ingredients and no surprise appearances from sugar, dextrose, or fructose.

The Puff’s Pitfalls
While these powerful puffs offer a lot of bang for their buck, Redmond says they’re still processed, and the snacks’ superfood ingredients don’t make them equally as nutritious as the foods in their natural states. For puffs that are made by drying and grinding the primary legumes or veggies into flour, the ingredient’s natural water content that would fill you up and keep you hydrated is stripped away, along with beneficial fiber, vitamins, and minerals, she says. This is the case for Snacklins puffed chips, which are concocted with yucca and mushrooms. While yucca root is naturally loaded with vitamin C and lends seven percent of your daily fiber needs, these nourishing qualities are absent in the snack, as only parts of the food are used in the finished product.

Snacking Smart
While Redmond notes that swapping a can of Pringles for a bag of pea puffs is an improvement, she says it’s best to eat the ingredients in their natural state. If you have a hankering for edamame, skip the flavored puffs and chomp on a few pods sprinkled with sea salt instead. But if you’re going to chow down on processed snacks, beware of the Costco-sized containers. We often ignore our hunger cues and have the tendency to keep eating until the bag is empty, no matter how much protein or fiber the snack contains, Redmond says.

“You have to be careful that you’re not using a healthy food, but then overeating that healthy food,” she says. “It’s the same concept that if you’re eating an avocado, that is a healthy food, but if you eat the entire avocado in one sitting, that’s actually a lot of calories and fat that you just took in.”
To keep an unintentional binge at bay, Redmond recommends snacking from single-serve bags or portioning out a helping or two. While you munch, take some time to evaluate your hunger and satisfaction levels and recognize when your needs have been met.