The real reason potato chip bags are never filled to the top

If you're a junk food lover, you'll know this: No matter where you shop or what brand you buy, when you tear open a bag of potato chips, it's almost always half filled. This can be quite disappointing. I'd always hope for those crispy, crinkle-cut potato chip bags to be filled to the brim. But there's actually a good reason for this—and no, the food company isn't pulling a fast one on you.

The reason you're looking at a bag half-full

In the manufacturing industry, "slack fill" is empty space that's intentionally placed around a product. The idea is that the extra room can as a buffer to protect your Lays, Ruffles or Tostitos from damage. The trip from the production facility to your office's vending machine can be quite bumpy! If it weren't for slack fill, your chips would probably look more like breadcrumbs.

Accidentally crushed your chips? That's OK! Use them in this yummy potato chip side dish.

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Which type of potato chips should you avoid and which leads to smarter snacking?

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Regular Potato Chips

One serving of regular fried potato chips (about 15 chips) contains about 160 calories with more than 60 percent of those calories from fat, making it nutrient-poor. Some potato chips are cooked in partially hydrogenated plant oil, which is a source of unhealthy trans fat. These salty snacks are also high in sodium, which can cause hypertension and lead to heart disease.

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Kettle Chips

Regular chips are continuously cooked in hot oil, while kettle chips are cooked in batches. Adding a new batch lowers the temperature of the oil and lengthens the cooking time, leading to the thick, crunchy texture and caramelized flavor of kettle chips. Many people prefer kettle chips' satisfying “home-style” taste. Many kettle cooked chip brands use all-natural ingredients with no preservatives, artificial flavorings or trans fats. However, these fried snacks are still high in calories and fat. Compared to regular chips, kettle chips retain more nutrients, have fewer calories derived from fat and may be considered a slightly healthier alternative (when eaten in moderation).

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Baked Chips

Looking at calories and fat alone, baked chips have 14 percent less calories, 50 percent less fat and 67 percent less saturated fat than traditional chips. However, baked chips tend to be higher in sodium to make up for lost flavor.

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Popped Chips

A recent addition to the snack aisle is popped chips, where potato ingredients are “popped” using heat and pressure into the shape of a chip, similar to the high-pressure cooking of popcorn and rice cakes. Potato popped chips have no trans fat, less than 0.5g saturated fat and fewer calories than both fried and baked potato chips (about 120 calories per 1oz. serving size).

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Potato Crisps

Far from how we imagine our chips as whole slices of deep-fried potato, some potato chips are made from a blend of potato and other ingredients like rice, wheat and corn. This paste is uniformly molded and fried. These snacks are sometimes referred to as crisps because of their lower potato content. These heavily processed snacks can lose many nutrients during their production.

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Sweet Potato Chips

Sweet potato has a healthier reputation than white potato, and a nutritional comparison between the two reveals that sweet potatoes are slightly lower in calories, are an excellent source of vitamin A and beta-carotene and have a lower glycemic index. One serving of sweet potato chips provides 55 percent of your daily recommended intake of vitamin A, which can prevent eye disease.

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While some varieties of potato chips, such as popped chips and sweet potato chips, are healthier alternatives than others, it is important to remind ourselves that healthy snacking starts with eating in moderation.

Want to learn more about potato chips? Read on to discover more fun facts about America's favorite snack.

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Chips or Crisps?

Many countries, including America and Canada, call these salty deep-fried potato snacks "potato chips," but across the pond in the United Kingdom and Ireland, the popular name for them is "potato crisps."

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Seasoning Sensation

Flavoring potato chips wasn't a thing until the 1950s when a small Irish crisp company called Tayto developed the technology to add seasoning during the manufacturing process. The first flavors they created were Cheese & Onion, Barbecue and Salt & Vinegar.

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How many potato chips do we eat?

The average person consumes six pounds of potato chips, or 96 one-ounce single serving bags, each year.

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But wait, there's more

Thought that your potato chip bag was puffed up with air? The cushion actually is nitrogen gas. Chip manufacturers fill bags with this preservative gas to help keep chips fresh. If it were filled with regular air, the chips would likely turn soggy and spoil. In 1994, scientists found that exposing chips to nitrogen not only helped to extend the shelf life, but also made them taste better! I'll take a tasty, fresh snack over spoiled any day.

Psst! Nitrogen is a natural gas and completely harmless. Find out why potato chips are so dang addictive.

Still feel deceived by the empty bag?

There's a way to tell how much is in your snack bag before you break it open. In 1966, Congress passed the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act, which requires manufacturers to disclose the net weight of their product's contents to prevent fraud or deceit. When shopping for your next bag of cheese puffs, pay attention to the net weight that's printed on the bag. This way you'll be able to discern if you're getting the most bang for your buck.

Better yet, learn how to make your own chips. No nitrogen necessary. Or try one of these 30 healthy snack foods you won't feel guilty for eating.

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Read on for more facts about potato chips.

Originally called Saratoga chips, potato chips were invented by George Crum in 1853.

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The story goes that a disgruntled customer sent his potatoes back to the kitchen for being too thick. Crum, the chef, sliced the potatoes so that they were unusually thin. Then he fried and salted them. They were a hit!

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Potato chips have been available in grocery stores since 1895 when William Tappenden started delivering his homemade potato chips to his stores in Cleveland via horse-drawn wagon. Tappenden then opened one of the first potato chip factories in his barn.

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Now Americans eat about 1.2 billion pounds of potato chips each year!

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To make 3,500 pounds of potato chips you need 10,000 pounds of potatoes!

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The average person eats about 6 pounds of potato chips a year. That's 96 one-ounce bags!

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During the Super Bowl about 12 million potato chips are consumed!

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Chipping potatoes are the most common variety for potato chips. These mostly come from North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Florida.

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Americans spend over $7 billion dollars a year on potato chips.

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In England 'chips' are French fries and 'crisps' are potato chips.

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Potato chips are one of the most popular snacks in the world beating out tortilla chips.

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