4/5 experts say no.
You might think pretzels are the best nutritional choice from the vending machine, since they’re typically free of (or low in) fat. But here’s a twist: pretzels aren’t a healthy pick, according to most of our experts.
“Pretzels are a snack food made from enriched flour which provides very little fiber and overall very little nutritional benefit,” says Kate Patton, a registered dietitian in the preventive cardiology nutrition program at the Cleveland Clinic. They might be low in fat, but they’re also low in protein, low in fiber and high in sodium—a typical one-ounce serving has 352 mg of sodium, almost 15% of the total daily limit recommended by the Food and Drug Administration. For snacks that are more nutrient-dense, Patton says, nuts, seeds, roasted edamame or popcorn would be better choices.
Another thing pretzels have in abundance are carbohydrates and they're high on the glycemic index, says David Katz, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center. High-glycemic index foods spike blood sugar levels more quickly than foods sitting lower on the glycemic index. Moul Dey, PhD, associate professor in health and nutritional sciences at South Dakota State University and a researcher of flour, agrees that eaters can do better than pretzels. “Pretzels are not in my preferred list of snacks,” she says.
But Kristi King, senior clinical dietitian at Texas Children’s Hospital, says it's all relative, and if the options are pretzels or certain other salty snacks, then pretzels would be the healthier pick. “Pretzels are a great alternative to full-fat chips”—though you should watch the sodium.
And if you really love pretzels, there are some people are on a mission to make the snack healthier. “We have developed a ‘nutritional’ soft pretzel as a functional food,” says Yael Vodovotz, PhD, professor at the Ohio State University department of food science and technology. It’s a high-soy pretzel with a lower glycemic index and a higher amount of protein derived from plants, and Vodovotz hopes it will help people manage their weight. “We are comparing these functional pretzels to ordinary ones and preliminary data looks very promising,” she says.
But since the kind you’re most likely to buy is still far from a health food, for now, it’s best to limit the twists.