18 Apr 2005, 04:31:39 PM

Reporter: Helen Wellings

Aussies' love affair with hot potato chips is still sizzling. We crave those irresistible French fries, crinkle cut, chunky, straight cut, shoestring - endless shapes and sizes, but in the nutrition stakes, chips have a very sleazy reputation.

We consume huge quantities, around $140 million worth a year, just from the supermarket, making them Australia's most popular snack after sandwiches.

Two years ago, a Choice study found some hot chips had more than 5 times the fat of other healthier brands and most were cooked in bad-for-you saturated fats, the animal fats like beef or palm vegetable. "Saturated fat is the type that clogs the arteries, leads to heart disease, increases your risk of stroke and heart disease," says Dietician, Sharon Natoli from Food and Nutrition Australia.

She adds that says some chips are also laden with salt. "The high intake of salt leads to increase in blood pressure and so minimizing salt is recommended."

So, are chips still potential killers? Today Tonight had the most popular supermarket brands tested, along with hot chips from fast food outlets.

How much fat do they have? What type of fat are they cooked in? Also how much salt and kilojoules or calories? "We wanted to separate the saturated fat because that is considered harmful to the human body," explains Analytical Chemist, Roger Mooney, who conducted the tests.

We had all the chips tested once they were cooked, measuring the amount of salt they're sold with.

The results for our fast food chips:

Lowest in total fats, Red Rooster -- 7.3%, but half of that is the bad saturated fat, 3.7%.

Compare that with McDonalds, 16% total fats, but only 1.8% of that is saturated.

KFC, 11.6% fat, 5.7% saturated.

Worst in our test is Hungry Jacks with 16.7%, and a big whack, 7.4%, is unhealthy saturated fat.

"We're ranging from one and a half teaspoons up to just over 3 teaspoons of fat and that's just per 100gm of chips. From Red Rooster to Hungry Jacks we're looking at twice as much fat in the Hungry Jacks compared with Red Rooster. So it's very important to know how much you're getting and where it's coming from" demonstrates Sharon Natoli, with relative teaspoons of fat.

McDonalds are the only ones that give nutritional information on the pack. They now use mainly canola which gives them the lowest saturated fat. But fast food chips are still cooked in a blend of oils. Sharon Natoli explains, "Most of them are still using animal fats which are high in saturated fats and that's the bad fat we need to be avoiding."

Salt. All our fast food chips contain less than 1% salt, but in just an average serve, that's a disturbing half to three quarters of our daily salt needs.

But we shouldn't only focus on low fat and salt. Watch those kilojoules. "An average serve of chips from a fast food outlet will give you 1800 to 2000 kJs in one go. If you're trying to lose weight that's about one third of what you need for the whole day," says our Dietician, Sharon.

Supermarket frozen chips. They can be more healthily cooked, oven baked or grilled, because they already have fat added.

How much? In our selection,

McCain's Healthy Choice is indeed a healthier option... just 3 grams of total fats and only 0.3% is saturated.

Logan Farm Golden Gourmet Straight Cut 3.2%, 1.7% saturated beef fat. Birds Eye Crinkle Cut Canola 4.5%, just 0.4% is saturated,

Coles Straight cut 4.9%, 0.8% saturated.

Homebrand Shoestring 5%, 0.6% saturated.

And Farmland Canola has the most fat of the bunch, 5.8% fat, but less than 1% is saturated.

That's good news! Supermarket chips have only around one third to one fifth of the fat and kilojoules of most fast food chips. Also they're much lower in salt.

Even so, any chips are a relatively high kJ food, because of the kJs in potatoes, and the additional oil content. The more oil, the more kJs or calories. And, if you fry, rather than oven bake or grill, supermarket chips, the fat levels could skyrocket .. five times more.

Sharon Natoli's advice, always drain and blot chips in absorbent paper. "Keeping hot chips from fast food outlets to once a week or less is a good guide for people and if they're wanting chips to go to the supermarket and get the frozen ones in healthy oil and pop them in the oven at home or better still make your own from whole potato."

For further information visit the website at:

And The Dieticians' Association of Australia on (02) 9262 1211 or (02) 6282 9555