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Choosing Healthier Crackers and Snacks

Snacks are a major component of our daily diet, whether we are eating a between-meal snack or a snack as a meal.  In fact, a recent consumer survey found that we eat an average of 2.6 snacks a day.  And 41% of Americans snack at least three times a day!(1)  With all of this snacking, it is important to choose healthy crackers and snacks.

Healthy Crackers and Snacks Contain:

  • Whole grains as the first ingredient
  • Minimal or no refined grains
  • Minimal or no added sugar
  • Low amounts of sodium
  • No artificial preservatives or artificial colors

What to look for when choosing healthier snacks

1. Look for fiber and whole grains

Healthy crackers are made with whole grainsFoods and snacks rich in whole grains contain more fiber, which slows down the rate the body digests carbohydrates keeping you fuller longer.  

The American Heart Association states that eating foods containing “dietary fiber from whole grains, as part of an overall healthy diet, may help improve blood cholesterol levels, and lower risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity and type 2 diabetes.”(2)

2. Minimize refined grains

Healthy crackers minimize refined grainsRefined grains only contain the starchy component of a grain.  Because the bran and germ of the grain have been removed, refined grains contain minimal natural vitamins and fiber. 

Our bodies are able to quickly digest starchy refined grains.  This leads to a rapid increase blood glucose levels (these are known as high Glycemic Index (GI) foods).(2,3) 

Diets made up of predominantly high-GI foods, like refined grains, are associated with chronic disease and strongly associated with heart disease.(3)

3. Minimize added sugar

Healthier crackers minimize added sugarYou may think salty snacks do not contain added sugar.  However, sugar is a common ingredient in savory processed foods.  

In crackers and other snack foods, typical added sugars listed in the ingredients include sugar, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, malt syrup and dextrose.

Read more on recommended daily intake of added sugar and why you want to minimize added sugar consumption.

4. Look for low sodium snacks

Healthier crackers are not high in sodiumSodium, from salt and other food additives, can be found in almost any processed food.  Salt is added to enhance the flavor of a product and make manufacturing easier.(4) 

More than 90% of us consume too much sodium each day according to the Dietary Guidelines of America.(5)   Read more on the recommended daily intake of sodium and why you want to reduce your daily sodium intake.

5. Avoid artificial preservatives and food coloring

Healthier crackers avoid artificial food colorsArtificial preservatives and colors are  widely used in sodas, candy, and baked goods including crackers and other salty snacks.  

Why it is best to avoid artificial colors and preservatives is covered in other posts, specifically in choosing a breakfast cereal and choosing a granola bar.

Bottom line:  When selecting snacks for yourself and your family, look for foods that are rich in whole grains and fiber, do not contain excessive amounts of sodium, have minimal added sugar, and do not contain artificial preservatives or colors.

Evaluation of popular crackers and savory snacks

Top selling savory snacks (crackers, popcorn and pretzels) were evaluated using the criteria below.(6) 

Many snacks rich in whole grains could not be rated as “wise” simply because they contained too much sodium.  This is a common problem with processed foods.  

It is worth noting that “avoid” does not mean never eat.  It simply means that these are snacks that contain mostly, if not all, refined gains, excessive sodium, and often other junky ingredients.  These snacks should be considered a rare treat, not a daily staple.

Criteria used to evaluate snacks

Healthy snack score card

Since serving size of the snacks ranged from 16 to 43 grams, all information below is for 30 gram servings.  

Types of added sugar are listed in red.  

An asterisk (*) indicates ingredients that are likely genetically engineered (learn more about GMO foods).   

Choosing Healthier Crackers

Most crackers on the market are made entirely with enriched wheat flour.  These crackers provide few nutrients.  Especially since they often contain excessive amounts of sodium and sometimes even added sugar.  

When you choose crackers for your family, try to select some that contain predominantly whole grains.  

How do you know if a snack is rich in whole grains?  Look to see if “whole grain wheat” is the first ingredient on the ingredient list or if the snack contains roughly 1 gram of fiber for every 10 grams of carbohydrates listed on the Nutrition Facts label.

Examples of healthy crackers:

Triscuit Crackers

triscuit crackers nutritional information

Triscuit Crackers Ingredients: whole grain wheat, vegetable oil*, sea salt.

Mary’s Gone Crackers

marys gone crackers nutritional information

Mary’s Gone Crackers Ingredients: whole grain brown rice, whole grain quinoa, brown flax seeds, brown sesame seeds, filtered water, sea salt, wheat free tamari.                                              

Crunchmaster Multi-Seed Crackers

crunchmaster multiseed crackers nutritional information

Crunchmaster Multi-Seed Crackers Ingredients: brown rice flour, sesame seeds, potato starch, quinoa seeds, safflower oil, flax seeds, amaranth seeds, tamari soy sauce powder, salt.                                    

Crackers that are okay for occasional snacking:

Wheat Thins

wheat thins nutritional information

Wheat Thins Ingredients: whole grain wheat flour, soybean oil*, sugar*, cornstarch*, malt syrup, salt, refiner’s syrup, leavening, vegetable color.                                                    

Breton Multigrain Crackers

breton multigrain nutritional information

Breton Multigrain Ingredients: Whole grains (whole wheat flour, wheat meal, purple wheat meal, rye meal, triticale meal, malted wheat meal, barley meal, spelt meal, amaranth, millet, quinoa, wild rice flour), wheat flour, coconut oil, canola oil*, flax seeds, sugar*, salt, barley malt syrup, wheat gluten, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, whey powder, ammonium bicarbonate, yeast extract, baking soda, soya lecithin*, tocopherols, protease, pentosanase, natural flavor, spices.

Whole Grain Goldfish

whole grain goldfish nutritional information

Whole Grain Goldfish Ingredients: whole wheat flour, enriched wheat flour, cheddar cheese, canola and/or sunflower oil, salt, yeast extract, paprika, spices, celery, baking soda, monocalcium phosphate, onion powder.

Crackers to avoid or eat only as a rare treat:

Table Water Crackers

Table Water Crackers Nutritional Information

Table Water Crackers Ingredients: enriched wheat flour, palm oil, salt.

Reasons to avoid Table Water Crackers: no whole grains.

Cheez-It Crackers

Cheez-It nutritional information

Cheez-It Ingredients: enriched flour, vegetable oil*, cheese, salt, paprika, yeast, paprika extract (for color), soy lecithin*.

Reasons to avoid Cheez It crackers: no whole grains.

Ritz Crackers

Ritz Cracker Nutritional Information

Ritz Crackers Ingredients: enriched flour, vegetable oil* (may contain partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil), sugar*, salt, leavening, high fructose corn syrup*, soy lecithin*, malted barley flour, natural flavor.

Reasons to avoid Ritz crackers:

  • No whole grains
  • Contain a small amount of trans fat (hydrogenated cottonseed oil)

Ritz Bits, Peanut Butter

ritz bits peanut butter nutritional information

Peanut Butter Ritz Bits Ingredients: enriched flour, peanut butter (contains hydrogenated vegetable oil), canola oil*, sugar, palm oil, dextrose, leavening, salt, soy lecithin*, malted barley flour. 

Reasons to avoid Ritz Bits Peanut Butter crackers:

  • No whole grains
  • Contains a small amount of trans fat (in the peanut butter)

Toast Chee Crackers

Toast Chee Nutritional Information

Toast Chee Ingredients: enriched flour, peanut butter, vegetable oil*, dextrose, sugar*, salt, leavening, corn syrup*, deproteinized dairy whey, cheddar cheese, yellow 6, soy lecithin*.

Reasons to avoid Toast Cheez crackers:

  • No whole grains
  • Contain artificial food coloring

Cheddar Goldfish Crackers

Goldfish Crackers Nutritional Information

Cheddar Goldfish Crackers Ingredients: enriched flour, cheddar cheese, canola and/or sunflower oils*, salt, yeast, sugar, autolyzed yeast, baking soda, monocalcium phosphate, paprika, spices, celery and onion powder.   

*Note: companies are allowed to state “0 grams” for an ingredient on the nutrition facts label if the product contains less than 0.5 grams of that ingredient.

Reasons to avoid Goldfish crackers:

  • No whole grains
  • 250 mg of sodium per serving

Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies

annies cheddar bunnies nutritional information

Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies Ingredients: wheat flour, sunflower oil, salt, cheddar cheese, yeast, baking soda, paprika, monocalcium phosphate, cultured whole milk, nonfat milk, annatto (color), onion powder, celery seed powder, enzymes.

Reasons to avoid Cheddar Bunnies crackers:

  • No whole grains
  • 250 mg of sodium per serving

Stacy’s Pita Chips

stacys pita chips nutritional information

Stacy’s Pita Chips Ingredients: enriched wheat flour, sunflower and / or canola oil, sea salt, whole wheat flour, sugar, oat fiber, yeast, malted barley flour, rosemary extract, and ascorbic acid.

Reasons to avoid Stacy’s Pita Chips:

  • No whole grains
  • 289 mg of sodium per serving

Choosing Healthier Packaged Popcorn

Popcorn is a naturally fiber rich whole grain snack.  However, packaged popcorn often contains excess sodium and processed ingredients.  

If you are choosing a packaged popcorn, make sure you read the Nutrition Facts label to ensure it isn’t providing an excessive amount of sodium. 

Also, Pirate’s Booty is not popcorn.  It contains highly processed refined corn with minimal whole grains.  Cheese flavored popcorn is a healthier option.

Examples of healthy popcorn snacks:

SkinnyPop

skinnypop nutritional information

SkinnyPop Ingredients: popcorn, sunflower oil and salt.                                                               

Popcorn snacks to avoid or eat only as a rare treat:

Smartfood

smartfood popcorn nutritional information

Smartfood Ingredients: popcorn, vegetable oil*, cheddar cheese, whey, buttermilk, natural flavor, and salt. 

Reason to avoid Smartfood popcorn: 311 mg of sodium per serving.

Pirate’s Booty

pirates booty nutritional information

Pirate’s Booty Ingredients: corn meal*, rice flour, sunflower oil and / or canola oil*, cheddar cheese, whey, buttermilk, salt, natural flavor, sea salt, lactic acid, citric acid, organic black pepper. 

Reason to avoid Pirate’s Booty popcorn: no whole grains.

Choosing Healthier Pretzels

Pretzels are not a healthy snack.  Made with predominantly refined flour and coated in salt, pretzels are nutritionally empty and contribute only empty calories and excess salt to your diet.  This is why I have yet to find a “wise” option for pretzels.  

However, if you love pretzels (like my boys do), try to buy pretzels made with some whole grains and have them in the snack rotation less frequently.

Pretzels to avoid or eat only as a rare treat:

Whole Grain Goldfish Pretzels

Whole Grain Goldfish Pretzel Nutritional Information

Whole Grain Goldfish Pretzels Ingredients: whole wheat flour, enriched flour, vegetable oils*, salt, baking powder, malted barley flour, nonfat milk. 

Reason to avoid Whole Grain Goldfish pretzels: 260 mg of sodium per serving.

Quinn Pretzel Sticks

Quinn Pretzels Classic Sea Salt Nutritional information

Quinn Pretzel Sticks Ingredients: whole grain sorghum flourlong grain brown rice flourtapioca starchpotato starch, palm oilsea salt, evaporated cane juice, apple cider vinegarxanthan gumsodium bicarbonatesunflower lecithin.

Reason to avoid Quinn pretzels: 279 mg of sodium per serving.

Snyder’s of Hanover Pretzels

snyders of hanover pretzel nutritional information

Snyder’s of Hanover Pretzels Ingredients: enriched flour, water, salt, malt, cane sugar, canola oil*, yeast, soda.

Reason to avoid Snyder’s of Hanover pretzels:

  • No whole grains
  • 250 mg of sodium per serving

Snack Factory Pretzel Crisps

snack factory pretzel crisps nutritional information

Snack Factory Pretzel Crisps Ingredients: enriched wheat flour, sugar*, salt, malt syrup, soda.

Reason to avoid Pretzel Crisps:

  • No whole grains
  • 354 mg of sodium per serving

Conclusions about healthier snacks

What prepackaged savory snacks do I keep stocked in my pantry?  Popcorn, whole grain or seed-based crackers, nuts, and dried fruit prepared without added sugar.

I try to mix the more processed snacks (like whole grain goldfish or pretzels) with roasted nuts and dried fruit in healthier snack mix combinations to provide some hunger-fighting protein and fiber.

Find other healthy store bought snacks and foods

Check out these other evaluations of popular foods and snacks!  Learn which products are healthy and those that are best avoided or only enjoyed as an occasional treat.

List of healthy granola bars

List of healthy breakfast cereal

List of healthy fruit snacks

 

Pin article for later:

guide to healthy crackers and snacks

References:

  1. State of the Snack Food Industry, 2015, IRi Website (link)
  2. Whole Grains and Fiber, American Heart Association Website (link)
  3. Always Hungry? Conquer Cravings, Retrain Your Fat Cells & Lose Weight Permanently, David Ludwig, MD, PhD (link)
  4. Salt, Sugar, Fat. Michael Moss, 2013 (link)
  5. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020, Eighth Ed.  (link)
  6. Sales of the leading cracker brands of the United States in 2016, Statistica Website (link) as well as prominent snacks for sale at Costco, Target, and my local grocery store (Harris Teeter).
  7. Triscuit Nutrition Information, Nabisco Snack Works Website (link)
  8. Mary’s Gone Crackers Original Nutrition Information, Mary’s Gone Crackers Website (link)
  9. Crunchmaster Multi-Seed Crackers Nutrition Information, Crunchmaster Website (link)
  10. Wheat Thins Nutrition Information, Nabisco Snack Works Website (link)
  11. Breton Crackers Nutrition Information, Dare Foods Website (link)
  12. Whole Grain Goldfish Cracker Nutrition Information, Pepperidge Farm Website (link)
  13. Carr’s Table Water Crackers Nutrition Information, Carr’s Website (link)
  14. Cheez-It Nutrition Information, Cheez It Website (link)
  15. Ritz Crackers Nutrition Information, Nabisco Snack Works Website (link)
  16. Ritz Bitz Peanut Butter Nutrition Information, Nabisco Snack Works Website (link)
  17. Toast Chee Nutrition Information, Lance Website (link)
  18. Goldfish Cracker Nutrition Information, Pepperidge Farm Website (link)
  19. Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies Nutrition Information, Annie’s Website (link)
  20. Stacy’s Pita Chips Simply Naked, Stacy’s Snacks Website (link)
  21. Skinny Pop Original Nutrition Information, Skinny Pop Website (link)
  22. Smartfood White Cheddar Nutrition Information, Smartfood Website (link)
  23. Pirate’s Booty Aged White Cheddar Nutrition Information, Pirate Brands Website (link)
  24. Whole Grain Goldfish Pretzel Nutrition Information, Pepperidge Farm Website (link)
  25. Quinns Pretzels Classic Sea Salt Sticks Nutrition Information, Quinn Snacks Website (link)
  26. Snyder’s of Hanover Mini Pretzels Nutrition Information, Snyder’s of Hanover Website (link)
  27. Snack Factory Pretzel Crips Nutrition Information, Snack Factory Website (link)

This article was originally published in May, 2017.  The current version has been updated to ensure up-to-date content and enhance mobile readability.

6 Comments

  1. Meredith, what if you are really picky about snacks but LOVE to snack? I don’t like cheese and not very many cracker type foods. The ones that you said to occasionally eat, like pirates booty and pretzels, are one of my favorites! Please help me find more crackery foods to try! I know its later in 2019 but I need some help finding some good foods to try! I need healthy options.
    -Abby

    • Hi Abby! Have you ever tried Mary’s Gone Crackers pretzels? They don’t taste like traditional pretzels, but they are a good, albeit salty, alternative. As for a healthier form of Pirate Booty (which is my youngest absolutely favorite treaty snack!), how about cheesy popcorn? You could easily top plain popcorn with a little parmesan cheese. Also, Whole Foods has a 365 brand white cheddar popcorn that is delicious. Happy snacking!

  2. can you eat oven baked rice crackers made by lifesmart on a keto diet

    • Hi Donald – I am not aware of the Life Smart brand of Oven Baked Rice Crackers, so I can’t evaluate them specifically for you. However, I doubt the baked rice cakes are okay to eat on a Keto diet as rice is a relatively high carb food and a normal keto diet limits daily carb intake to just 20 grams.

  3. I wonder if you’ve checked out the wheat Ritz crackers. I’m going to check them out at the store today.

    • Hi Mary! This is a great question. While the Ritz Whole Wheat Crackers do contain some whole grain flour (5 grams of whole grains per 15 gram cracker serving), the first ingredient is still enriched wheat flour, which means the whole wheat Ritz crackers still contain more white flour than wheat flour. Also, the Whole Wheat Ritz crackers contain more sodium and added sugar than original Ritz crackers. So the whole wheat Ritz crackers may be healthier than plain Ritz Crackers, they would still fall into the “avoid” category outlined above. FYI – this post will be updated in early 2019 to reflect new cracker varieties and recipe changes. Thanks for your question! Meredith

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