The Seach for Salty Crunchy Satisfaction...

I live with a salty-toothed husband. He LOVES his chips... They are the one true "junk food" indulgence that he consumes regularly. As the household shopper, I buy him a bag of chips once, sometimes twice a week. Other than the occasional little fruit nappy bowl of chips that I consume, he eats them all.

He's slim and fit and exercises regularly. He needs adequate salt intake in his life and some additional carbs to address the needs of his cardio exercise. And other than his almost nightly bowl of cereal and milk (organic grains, not too sweet), potato chips are his go-to delivery vehicle for the aforementioned carbs and salt.

For me, the salty/crunchy need (not nearly as intense as my hubby's) was alway met most deliciously by crackers. Especially seedy, well-seasoned, "party" crackers. Preferably with hard cheese on every single piece. I have gone through years of having cheese and crackers as soon as I walk through the door after work, often consuming several hundred calories before I even start to think about actually preparing supper...

It is one taste sensation that starchy tubers and grains are really good at - the ability to be very crispy when baked or fried to dry them out fully. And of course, the snack food industry has spent years and millions of dollars to perfect just the right combination of sugar, salt and industrial fats to make these products extremely "crave-able" (their word, not mine). The food has to have a hard crunch, but then dissolve into almost nothing except an intense taste experience. It's a huge technology, and quite the trick.

I have been looking around for low carb alternatives to provide that salty crunch that make chips so famously addictive - "Bet You Can't Eat Just One." And a wonderful substitute has crossed my path.

Pork rinds (otherwise known as CHICHARRONES) are the absolute best chip alternative that I have found. In my long past, low-fat-spouting dietitian days, the very thought of pork rinds grossed me out - all that saturated fat and cholesterol, and made from an animal - ewwww! Of course, I had never even set eyes upon one, much less tasted them - just believing the low fat dogma of the day.

The dogma is still alive and well, and it's hard to find pork rinds in Canada. They seem to have more of a presence south of the border. In Canada, Frito Lay makes them, called Baken-ets Traditional Pork Rinds. They are sometimes found in the chip aisle of the grocery store, but usually, they don't even have a spot on the shelf with the other snack food products. They are often hanging on one of those vertical hangers - the kind that hold various and assorted doo-dads. I had to go to two grocery stores in my town and even the staff had problems locating them...

Here's what I found out when I looked at the nutritional information for pork rinds and compared them to our favourite brand of chips - Miss Vicki's. Miss Vicki's chips come in a 220 g bag and one serving is called 50g, making the bag hold 4.4 servings - yeah, right! Pork rinds come in a 70g package, and one serving is called 15 grams, making the bag hold a theoretical 4.7 servings.

Reality check! A 220 g bag of chips is over half gone within 30 minutes of being walked into my house, usually by hubby alone. The rest of the bag will be consumed within the ensuing 8 hours - max! That bag contains 1144 calories, 128 g carbohydrate (118 g net carbs), 1144 mg sodium and 13 grams of protein. And of course, this is in addition to a full day of regular eating. Hence, it only happens about once a week in our house.

The pork rinds package is much lighter, only 70 grams, and contains 423 kcals and only 4.7 g carb. Much more protein, 33 g in the package (that's almost 5 eggs worth!) Sodium content is slightly higher.

Here's what's interesting: Hubby found my recently purchased bag of pork rinds this evening and got into them. He couldn't believe that they were so tasty and crunchy, but also that they were so much more filling than eating chips. He consumed less than half the bag (that's only about 35 grams (just over an ounce), and only 2/3rds of what the potato chip bag called a serving (50 g). I ate about one "serving", probably about 15 g, and I feel stuffed.

What I found the most interesting was that the Miss Vicki's chips (Sea Salt and Malt Vinegar flavour) had an ingredient list with 19 items listed! In addition to the starch calories from the potatoes, SIX different sources of sugar were included - corn maltodextrin, brown sugar, sugar, dextrose, wheat maltodextrin and fancy molasses! In salty, highly acidic chips - go figure!!

The ingredient list on the pork rinds? Three ingredients - pork rinds, lard, and salt. Nothing else. As hubby pointed out, "That makes these even healthier than bacon!" He's right, if you take into account that there is no smoking process used for the pork rinds, hence no questionable chemical additives such as nitrites and nitrates... And lard is considered one of the safe fats for high temperature cooking.

Here's a graphic representation of the relative carb content of the snacks. The top baggie shows the total amount of circulating sugar in your bloodstream at any one time, approximately 5-7 g. The middle bag represents the carbs in the full 70 g bag of pork rinds. The bottom bag is a whopping 118 g of carb from the chip bag - 33 sugar cubes!

Pork rinds will still not be an everyday item in my household, but it sure is nice to have a low carb answer to the quest for the ultimate salty, crunch satisfaction.

Reference for chip nutritionals:

Reference for pork rind nutritional: Back of package. Note - the small amount of trans fats listed on the label 0.1g/serving, is likely naturally occuring in the pork fat. Canada's labelling laws regarding trans fats are much more stringent than the US labelling laws, requiring any fats over 0.1g to be listed, where US labelling can record zero grams of trans fats if they are below 0.5g. Not a big concern, especially in the context of the high carb content of the chips. still a healthier choice.

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