When you’re in the mood for a crunchy, salty snack, there’s nothing quite like pretzels, potato chips and popcorn. While high-calorie chips and buttery popcorn are widely known for being less-than-ideal snack choices, are pretzels healthy?
Because most pretzels are made with mostly refined wheat flour, a good deal of salt/sodium, and some processed oil and sugar, they’re not the best options. However they are generally low in calories and can be decent nutritionally depending not the specific type, especially if they’re homemade or contain wheat flour alternatives.
So are pretzels healthy or not? Below we look at how pretzels are made, the pros and cons of indulging in them, and some healthier alternatives if you find yourself snacking on one too many.
What Are Pretzels?
First and foremost, what are pretzels exactly, and what are they made of? Pretzels are a type of salted baked good made from dough that is traditionally twisted into a knot. They have origins in German baking, although today there are many types made across the globe.
The most popular types of pretzels are those that are simply baked and salted. However, many other tastes and seasonings can also be incorporated, such as:
- sesame seeds
- and others
The two main varieties of pretzels are soft pretzels, which are usually larger and more doughy, and hard pretzels, which tend to be crispy and smaller.
Hard pretzels are the types that are made commercially, packaged and have a longer shelf life compared to soft pretzels. You’ll most often find soft pretzels at German bakeries, farmers markets, street fairs, outdoor festivals and events, etc. They should be eaten shortly after preparation since they don’t contain the preservatives that hard pretzels usually do.
Another distinguishing factor between hard and soft pretzels is that hard pretzels are treated with sodium hydroxide before they are baked, which helps turn the dough shiny and dark and contributes to their signature texture and taste.
A one-ounce serving of hard pretzels has about:
- 110 calories
- 22 grams carbohydrates
- 2–3 grams protein
- 1–2 grams fat
- 1 gram fiber
- 1 gram sugar
- 350 milligrams sodium
Because soft pretzels tend to be much bigger and are often made with lots of dough and butter, they are usually much higher in calories. A freshly made soft pretzel can have up to 400 calories and 80 grams of carbohydrates, but they usually has less sodium than the packaged, hard kinds.
Are Pretzels Healthy? (Pros/Cons)
In terms of their nutrient content, are pretzels healthy for any reason, or are pretzels junk food? Overall, they’re not exactly healthy and may contribute lots of “empty calories,” sodium and carbs to your diet without you realizing it.
Here are some of the major pros and cons of including pretzels in your diet:
- Hard/packaged varieties are generally low in calories, especially compared to other snacks like chips.
- Can satisfy cravings for crunchy, carby, salty snacks.
- Don’t have much fiber, so they are often tolerated by people following a low-fiber diet for digestive reasons.
- They are high in simple carbs, so they can provide a quick source of energy before or during a workout.
- They provide sodium, which is an electrolyte that can be beneficial in small amounts after a sweaty workout or when you’re sick.
- Don’t offer any real nutritional value in terms of vitamins or minerals.
- Can be easy to overeat since they’re not very filling.
- Can affect blood sugar levels negatively due to refined carbs. They have a relatively high glycemic index score since their refined carbohydrates are readily absorbed into the bloodstream.
- Can add lots of sodium to your diet, which can impact blood pressure and bloating. Adults are advised to consume less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day, and pretzels can contribute a decent amount to your daily intake.
What happens if you eat too many pretzels? It depends on your overall diet and current health, but you may find that you experience cravings for more carbs shortly after, a bloated stomach, and changes in blood pressure and digestion due to the high sodium intake.
How to Make Healthier Pretzels
When it comes to maximizing the nutritional quality of your diet, you want to keep baked goods made with wheat flour to a minimum. However, there are some ways you can enjoy pretzels in moderation, such as by following these tips:
- Keep an eye on portion sizes. Stick to a single serving — for example, a small handful of pretzels daily. Buying a small, pre-portioned bag of hard pretzels is another good option.
- To keep your blood sugar in check, try combining pretzels with some protein and healthy fats. You might want to dip them in nut butter or hummus or have them in place of bread with some rolled-up turkey or lox slices.
- Opt for pretzels made with less sodium, no added sugar and whole grains. Check the sodium content of different brands, and compare ingredients. For example, look for pretzels made only with whole grain flours (such as spelt, sorghum or brown rice flour), organic oil and sea salt.
- Try gluten-free pretzels, which are usually made with cassava and cauliflower flour, along with grain flours like tapioca and potato flour.
Which is better for you, popcorn or pretzels?
Potato chips, popcorn and pretzels all tend to be high in carbs and salt and mostly empty of valuable nutrients. Some popcorns can be better options over pretzels, considering they contain some fiber, protein and other nutrients, but you want to be careful to choose those without lots of added sugar, oil or butter.
When choosing chips, opt for those that are baked and made with simple ingredients like sweet or regular potatoes, olive oil, and salt.
If you’re looking for healthy snacks, here are some better options compared to standard pretzels:
- Trail mix that is low in sugar, such as those made with nuts, seeds, dried fruit and coconut. (This can make a great low-carb snack if you’re following a low-carb diet like keto.)
- Homemade popcorn, topped with seasoning like salt, pepper, a bit of grass-fed butter, cinnamon or nutritional yeast.
- Whole grain crackers, such as those made with gluten-free flours, herbs, nuts and seeds.
- Hummus with veggies sprinkled with some sea salt.
- Avocado or cauliflower chips.
- Homemade baked sweet potato French fries.
- Celery with almond butter.
- Cauliflower tots.
- Energy balls made with dried fruit, cocoa, nuts and seeds.
- Are pretzels healthy for weight loss? Do they provide any nutrients? Overall, they’re not exactly healthy and may contribute lots of “empty calories,” sodium and carbs to your diet without you realizing it.
- The two main varieties of pretzels are soft pretzels, which are usually larger and more doughy, and hard pretzels, which tend to be crispy and smaller. Smaller pretzels contain more sodium but are also lower in calories and usually fat than the soft varieties.
- Some potential pros of including them your diet include that they are generally low in calories; can satisfy cravings for crunchy, carby, salty snacks; and they can provide a quick source of energy.
- However, they are also low in nutrients, not good for people following low-sodium diets and can be easy to overeat.
- To make pretzels healthier, try low-salt brands made with whole grains. You can also opt for gluten-free pretzels and those made with flour alternatives, such as potato, cassava or cauliflower flours.
- The answer to the question are pretzels healthy is a little complicated. Ultimately the healthier versions are fine in moderation, while it’s best to avoid processed, high-calorie varieties.