"No one can eat just one" was the slogan for Lay's potato chips for many years. Certainly that speaks to the addictive nature of the potato chip and the theory -- held by obesity expert Dr. F. Xavier Pi-Sunyer and others as reported in “USA Today” -- that our present-day obesity rates might be due at least in part to potato chip consumption. However, several easy experiments can help determine which potato chips contain the most fat and have the most delicious danger for the weight-conscious consumer.
Measuring Grease in Chips
Potato chip labels list fat content, but that's not the most reliable method to determine that variable. A simple experiment popular in science classes is to have students select several brands of potato chips, recording the label information both for fat content and the size of a single serving. They measure out this serving in a plastic bag, placing graph paper under the chips inside the bag. Then they crush each bag with a rolling pin and hang the graph paper on a transparency, noting which paper has the largest quantity of grease-sodden squares.
Lipid Extraction With Acetone
A more measured approach is the Institute of Food Technologists' lipid extraction experiment. Students soak different brands of potato chips in acetone solution, keeping the chips in labeled petri dishes. This soaking should be done carefully, using masks and gloves in a well-ventilated area. After drying overnight, students compare weights of food before and after soaking, calculating the weight of the petri dish and the weight of the lipid remaining in the dish. This remaining lipid weight represents the fat content in the foods tested; the higher the lipid extracted, the more fat in the potato chip.
Extracted Lipid vs. Nutritional Label
New York University's science program added a slight change to the lipid extraction idea. Using Erlenmeyer flasks instead of petri dishes, they basically repeated the IFT experiment with one additional fillip: They compared the actual measurement of the lipid they extracted with the information printed on the nutritional label of the potato chips. They repeated the experiment several times to verify how accurate the potato chip labels were in comparison to the actual fat content they found.
Just Paper Towels and Circles
If you're not comfortable with acetone and beakers, try Nicholas Academy's very simple test. Draw circles on several paper towels. Take equal handfuls of chips and place a handful in each circle. After 30 minutes, remove -- or eat -- the chips and tape the paper towels to the window. The circle with the largest stain is the chip with the most fat. It's also probably the tastiest and least recommended by dietary experts.
- The New York Times: Business: The Media Business: Advertising: Crisper Chips, Fresh Slogans
- USA Today: Your Life: Potato Chips Worst Culprit for Weight Gain
- Education.com: Potato Chip Science: How Greasy Are Your Potato Chips?
- Institute of Food Technologists: IFT Experiments in Food Science Series: Unit 2. Lipids, pages 2-2 through 2-5.
- New York University: Experiment 13: Amount of Fat in Potato Chips, Page 4
- Nicholas Academy: This Week's Experiment - #226 Finding Fat
- Pixland/Pixland/Getty Images