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Are Pita Chips a Better Way to Snack?

Should I put down the bag of potato chips, or eat them smugly, knowing that they are no worse than their pita brethren?

One of the cool things about growing up in Southeast Michigan is the exposure to the assorted cultures brought to that region by the many immigrant families who originated from the Middle East. Not only did that cultural proximity enable me to casually learn enough Arabic to order a footlong chicken sub with no tomatoes at a Lebanese-owned Subway by the time I was in college, it also left me well-versed in pita bread, which my friend’s parents used to serve with kafta, fattoush and hummus whenever he was crushing me in Street Fighter II Tournament Edition.

In fact, even though I’m now decades removed from those days, I’m still incapable of purchasing Sabra Hummus at the grocery store without feeling a niggling pang of guilt for not purchasing pita bread alongside it.

Enough about pita bread. How about pita chips? Are they healthy?

You’re asking a loaded question that’s set at least a mile past the line we need to start from if we want to get to the heart of the matter. So, much to your chagrin, let’s bring things back to pita bread. Namely: Is it healthy? The answer: Certainly not if you eat it the way I do. 

If you eat one pita of average size, you’re usually eating a bread item containing about 150 calories. So if you’re planning to fashion that pita bread as a trap to ensnare some slices of deli meat with lettuce and a few benign vegetables, it’s certainly of no grave dietary consequences. In my case, however, I tear that pita bread to shreds, scoop up the hummus with it, stuff it into my gaping maw and repeat that sloppy process until all of the pita bread or the hummus has disappeared. And heaven forbid that the pita bread disappears first, because then I’m going to walk to the local co-op market and purchase another bag of it from the baked goods section.

Basically, I’ll devour 600 to 800 calories of pita bread in 15 minutes simply by using it to scoop up another 700 calories worth of hummus — and that’s just a mid-Saturday snack! The point is, pita bread can be downright deadly to your diet depending on the foods you select to convey with it, and also if you’re like me and lack even one iota of self-control.

Got it. But I’m still gonna ask it again: Where does this place pita chips on the healthy-to-unhealthy spectrum?

We’ve already discussed why you should be wary of pita bread in a snackable form. Well, pita chips are pita bread that’s been either baked or fried in oil, often with herbs and seasonings added to it, along with a touch more salt. Because pita bread is usually fortified, it generally administers a respectable dose of iron, manganese and B vitamins to your body (e.g., thiamine and niacin). However, you destroy much of the vitamin content of the pita bread by frying it, so if you’re into preserving micronutrient content, you should strive to consume ordinary pita bread, or search for baked variations of pita chips.

If you can limit yourself to one serving of pita chips at a time while prohibiting yourself from dunking those chips into foods that you might find addictive, then the pita chips could hardly be considered unhealthy. But if you consume them in a custom that results in an entire bag disappearing in the space of 30 minutes or less, now you’ve stuffed nearly 1,000 calories worth of chips into your body (to say nothing of what you might be using them to sop up).

It sounds like pita chips are as healthy as I decide to make them.

Or as healthy as your self-restraint level enables you to be. 

A man’s got to know his limitations. Unfortunately, I surpass those limitations every time I’m within arm’s reach of any form of pita bread and a bowl of hummus. If you consume pita chips individually with something healthy, there’s no cause for alarm. If you wolf them down like Cracker Jacks at a baseball game, then they’re no better than another Michigan staple — Better Made potato chips.