If I’m being honest, chips & salsa are one of my favorite snacks. Now that I’m feeding a growing family who also loves tortilla chips, finding the healthiest chips & salsa has been a priority. Mamavation investigated over 100 products to satisfy this growing question–which brands have the safest non-GMO chips & salsa? You’ve trusted Mamavation to cover topics like best organic milk, safest cookware, & best organic mattresses, now join us for our investigation on one of America’s favorite snacks.
Reaching about $19.2 billion dollars in sales (by 2020) shows that the desire for chips and dip has gone nowhere. Salsa just took over ketchup as America’s favorite condiment, and anyone who’s gone to a cookout, or barbeque knows full well that tortilla chips are edging out the containers full of potato chips. While potato chips do still outrank tortilla chips in terms of pounds sold per year, sales of tortilla chips are increasing at a far faster pace, especially during the summer months. So what are the bad ingredients to look out for when purchasing our favorite summer snack? Stick around for those answers and an investigation of over 100 brands at the end of this post.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links and was fact-checked by Rebecca Elizabeth Sherrick Harks, Registered Nurse.
The Dangers of Artificial Colors in Food
For as long as we can go back in history, food dyes have been making our food look more appetizing. Humans eat with their eyes more than their taste buds, so the food needs to look appetizing. Over history, processed food has been rife for sinister surprises, like adding color to change the appearance of freshness. Today, most food dyes are made from petroleum–the same chemical that powers your automobile–and they are linked to cancer, hyperactivity in children, and decreases their ability to learn.
Recently, thousands of pediatricians from the American Academy of Pediatrics came out against artificial food dyes and also challenged the way the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) evaluates chemicals for the safety of children. They argued that the FDA needs to step it up to protect pregnant women and children.
There are over 10,000 additives used to preserve, package or modify the texture, taste or nutrients in food. Many of these additives were grandfathered in as “Generally Recognized As Safe” (GRAS) in the 1950s when the regulation was created to evaluate food additives. During this time over 1,000 additives were grandfathered without FDA approval or testing.
Food dyes add nothing whatsoever to the foods we eat, but do pose some serious risks. The most popular – comprising over 90% of all food dyes used in the US – are Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6.
Modified starch is a food additive created from starch that is treated (or “modified”) using harsh chemicals. Seeing “modified starch” on the back of a label, is likely to have been treated with other ingredients, including chlorine, sulfuric acid, and other dangerous chemicals. One ingredient that can hide inside “modified starch” is Monosodium Glutamate (MSG), which is another chemical commonly added to boost flavors. Some people may be reacting to MSG when they get allergic reactions, chest pain, irregular heartbeats & “the wiggles” where you can’t stop moving your legs.
Artificial and Natural Flavors
Natural flavors are a misnomer that, in reality, only make one feel good about ingesting it. There is no such FDA regulation in the word “natural” as there is in the word “organic,” so don’t be fooled.
Natural and artificial flavors are created in labs. Artificial flavors are created using petroleum and other toxic ingredients, while natural flavors come from anything that has an edible source (fruit, vegetables, or meat). It’s important to note that these vague-sounding natural flavors are chemically no different from artificial flavors.
Is your head spinning? Welcome to the world of flavors. Just note that it’s also a catchall phrase that can hide hundreds of other chemicals they don’t have to tell you about. It’s irresponsible at best and dangerous at worst. It’s also completely legal.
Sodium benzoate is a natural sodium salt found at very low levels in berries, apples, plums, cinnamon, as well as other natural foods. However, lab-created sodium benzoate (and its close relative, benzoic acid) are a different story entirely. Adding these preservatives to foods, the combination of sodium benzoate, citric acid and/or ascorbic acid can be disastrous. When these ingredients mix, they form benzene, an incredibly dangerous cancer-causing chemical associated with leukemias and other types of cancer of the blood.
The biggest challenge in seeing the word “spices” on a label is that it is not clear what exactly is meant by “spices.” While most mixed spices contain both “spice” and “non-spice” ingredients, we don’t always know what the unlabeled components are composed of. This means that we’re ingesting something unlabeled that could have potentially serious effects. It’s another catchall phrase that hides ingredients they don’t want to tell you about. In a world of increasing food allergies, this is irresponsible.
It’s hard to go to the store and find any food that doesn’t have added sugar, and even pops up in foods that one would never expect. Most people know by now that adding sugar to their food is bad for you. The long-term forecast for people who eat a lot of sugar isn’t great. In fact, high levels of sugar (or low levels over time) are linked to obesity, type II diabetes, and heart problems.
Mamavation Investigation on Non-GMO Chips & Salsa
Starting with tortilla chips and following with salsa, Mamavation went through over 100+ products to evaluate where they should go on our three-part scale: bad, better or best. We hope you enjoy our investigation and encourage you to pick up some chips & salsa on Amazon in the best section as we have linked them for your convenience.
Bad Tortilla Chips
These tortilla chips may contain GMOs, hidden MSG, artificial colors, preservatives or undisclosed natural flavors.
- Calidad Yellow Corn Tortilla Chips
- Donkey Brands Salted Donkey Chips
- Doritos Nacho Cheese Chips
- El Ranchero Tortilla Chips With Salt
- Kroger Tortilla Chips, Restaurant Style (Whole White Corn)
- Kroger Traditional White Corn Tortilla Chips
- La Tol Teca Blue Corn Tortilla Chips
- Manomasa Cantina White Corn Chips
- Mission Brown Bag Rounds Tortilla Chips
- The Snack Artist Restaurant Style Tortilla Chips
- Tostitos Original Restaurant Style Tortilla Chips
- Tostitos Scoops
- Utz White Corn Tortilla Chips
These salsas contain artificial and natural flavors, sodium benzoate, GMOs, or other ingredients to avoid.
- Bobby Salazar’s Medium Salsa
- El Pato Mexican Hot Style Tomato Sauce Salsa de Chile Fresco
- Frontera Roasted Tomato Salsa
- Goya Salsa
- Herdez Guacamole Salsa Medium
- La Mexicana Mango Peach Salsa
- La Victoria Mango Habanero Medium
- Mission Salsa Con Queso Medium
- Old El Paso Thick & Chunky Medium
- Rojo’s Salsa Homestyle Mexican Style Fresh Salsa
- Sabra Medium Homestyle Salsa
- Santa Barbara Mango Peach Salsa
- Signature Cafe Traditional Salsa Fresca
- Signature Select (Safeway) Medium Chunky Classic Salsa
- Tapatio Picante Hot Sauce
- Valentina Salsa Picante Mexican Sauce
Better Tortilla Chips
These items use some, but not all, organic or GMO-free ingredients but may still contain undisclosed flavors or seasonings. Organic chips in this category do not disclose all their ingredients.
- 365 Everyday Value White Corn Restaurant Style Tortilla Chips
- Beanfields – Nacho Bean Chips
- Beanitos Nacho Nation White Bean Tortilla Chip
- Bearitos Yellow Corn Tortilla Chips
- Cabo Chips Original Tortilla Chips
- Chirps BBQ Cricket Protein Chips
- Cornitos Quinoa Chips
- Doritos Organic Nacho Tortilla Chips
- Eat Smart Whole Grain Sea Salt Tortilla Chips
- El Milagro Tortilla Chips Sea Salt
- El Sabroso Cantina Thin & Crispy
- Food Should Taste Good Multigrain Tortilla Chips
- Fresh Is Best Yellow Corn Tortilla Chips
- Frontera Authentic Taqueria Tortilla Chips
- Garden of Eatin Blue Corn Chips
- Green Mountain Gringo White Corn Organic Tortilla Chips
- Guiltless Gourmet White Corn Tortilla Chips
- Herr’s Blue Corn Tortilla Chips
- Huskies Tortilla Chips Restaurant Style
- Late July Snacks Nacho Chipotle
- Laurell Hills Sea Salt Restaurant Style Tortilla Chips
- Los Cantores Original Traditional Tortilla Chips
- New Seasons Market Restaurant Style Tortilla Chips
- Old Florida Gourmet Products Tortilla Chips
- On The Border Tortilla Chips
- Pacqui Haunted Ghost Pepper Tortilla Chips
- Pan de Oro Blue Sesame Tortilla Chips
- RW Garcia Blue Corn Tortilla Chips
- Sabor Mexicana Homemade Thick Tortilla Chips
- Siete Sea Salt Grain Free Tortilla Chips
- Sonar Organic Grain Free Tortilla Chips
- Sprouts Farmers Market Tortilla Chips
- Stonewall Kitchen Blue Corn Tortilla Chips
- Sun Harvest Organic White Corn Tortilla Chips
- The Better Chip Salsa Verde Tortilla Chips
- The Good Bean Sweet Chili Tortilla Chips
- The Real Deal Blue Corn Tortilla Chips
- The Whole Earth Really Seedy Tortilla Chips
- Tortilleria La Nina White Corn Tortilla Chips with Sea Salt
- Traveling Snax Everything Tortilla Chips
- Vista Hermosa Totopos Tortilla Chips
- Way Better Snacks Thin & Crispy Roasted Poblano & Lime Tortilla Chips
- Xochitl Premium White Corn Tortilla Chips
Better Salsa Brands
Salsas on the better list are free from artificial flavors and preservatives, but may still have undisclosed “natural flavors” or “spices.” Undisclosed ingredients are irresponsible in a world with so many food allergies, so we marked them down. These brands may be organic, but if they are, had other issues. Organic is saved for the best category because tomatoes are some of the dirtiest crops sprayed with pesticides.
- Clint’s Mild Texas Salsa
- Thrive Organic Medium Salsa
- Kroger Traditional Salsa
- Tostitos Chunky Salsa
- Donkey Brand Mild Salsa
- Trader Joe’s Pineapple Salsa
- Que Pasa Mexican Mild Salsa
- Newman’s Own Black Bean & Corn Salsa
- Newman’s Own Mango Salsa
- Concord Foods Mild Salsa (mix)
- Casa Martinez Fire Roasted Habanero Salsa
- Jardines Heatstroke Habanero Salsa Hot
- Mrs. Renfros Ghost Pepper Salsa
- Pace Smokey Honey Chipotle Salsa
- Desert Pepper Salsa
- Green Mountain Salsa
- O Organics Medium Black Bean & Corn Salsa
Best Tortilla Chips
These options are organic and contain no natural or artificial flavors.
- 365 Everyday Value Organic White Corn Restaurant Style Tortilla Chips, Lightly Salted
- Cadia Organic Yellow Corn Tortilla Chips
- Jackson’s Honest Lime & Sea Salt Tortilla Chips
- Kirkland Signature Organic Tortilla Chips
- Lundberg Family Farms Organic Sea Salt Bold Bites
- Made With Organic Blue Corn Tortilla Chips
- Mission Organics Organic White Corn Tortilla Chips
- Mother’s Farms Multigrain Tortilla Chips
- My Brother’s Salsa Organic Corn Tortilla Chips
- Neal Brothers New Classic Tortilla Chips
- O Organics Organic White Corn Tortilla Chips
- Que Pasa White Corn Tortilla Chips
- Simply Nature Organic Blue Corn Tortilla Chips
- The Fresh Market Organic White Corn Tortilla Chips
- The Real Coconut Organic Coconut Flour Tortilla Chips with Himalayan Pink Salt
- Thrive Market Organic Sea Salt Tortilla Chips
- Trader Joe’s Organic Corn Chip Dippers
- Trader Joe’s Organic White Corn Tortilla Chips
- Tres Madres Tortilla Blue Corn Tortilla Chips
- Wickedly Prime Organic (Amazon) Stone-Ground Yellow Corn
Best Salsa Brands
The salsa we’ve selected as the best options are organic, free of GMOs, artificial ingredients and no hidden ingredients in “natural flavors” or “spices.”
- Drew’s Organic Thick & Chunky Salsa
- Kirkland Costco Organic Salsa
- Simply Natural (Aldi) Organic Thick & Chunky Salsa
- Field Day Organic Mild Salsa
- Emerald Valley Organic Salsa
- Muir Glen Organics Salsa Medium
- Muir Glen Organic Garlic Cilantro Salsa
- Muir Glen Organic Mild Salsa
- Neal Brothers Organic Salsa
- Organico Bello Salsa
l would suggest you do your homework as you are spouting off incorrect information to people. First off, citric acid and ascorbic acid are not the same thing and you do not get the same results when each is mixed with sodium benzoate. Perhaps a chemistry class would do you some good. Also, I have news for you….. Pace is a monsanto brand and it does contain GMO ingredients, no matter what variety of the product you buy. As to one of your readers, you need to learn what the USDA.org considers non-gmo…. direct from usda.org….”The use of genetic engineering, or genetically modified organisms (GMOs), is prohibited in organic products. ” I appreciate people “trying” to be learn and be informed, but please do your homework before spouting off what you “think” vs what is actually “factual”.
Clean eatin' Man
A longtime Pace fan. Too bad that they done bit the wax tadpole of unethical profit over people corporatism.
Hi thanks for the list. The Kirkland Signature Organic Tortilla Chips does not list whether the corn is non GMO Or not. Do you know and is this a safe brand to eat?
I think anything that says “organic,” means it’s non-GMO (by definition, really). 😊
You forgot Guerrero for the bad list. They are made by Grupo Gruma makers of Mission Tortillas as well. These are major GMO non organic makers. I tested twice a package of tortillas in the back of my fridge. The first one lasted 1 yr & never went bad,-must be pure plastic- & it was tossed out when one of my kids did the fridge clean out instead of me. 2nd test we did, it lasted 1 & 1/2 yrs. it only started to turn green because we had opened the bag slightly & some moisture went into it. And only the 10th partof the package suffered. The rest remained untouched. The fridge was dripping water from the freezer.
How about Sprouts Organic Salsa?…namely Ghost Pepper Salsa…
How about Casa Sanchez? I think it’s a local CA brand for us here but just curious if you did research on it!
Can you link me to that brand please?
I don’t see my favorite chip and salsa brands on here? I know there are probably more than you could ever analyze and the ingredients look clean but I just want to make sure. Juanita’s tortilla chips and organic jacks cantina salsa (Costco)
Thanks for this! This is a bit of an aside, re: hyperactivity in children related to food dyes, my son had about three ounces of a neon blue slurpee from 7-11 last night (for the first time) and literally went bananas for about 2 hours. I used to drink stuff like that a lot but it’s amazing to watch a little one react to crappy food he’s not used to. He loved it at first but was done after drinking only about a third of his cup and never asked for it again.
Juanita’s is a fail. Their corn isn’t stated as nonGMO. There is canola &/or soy, also not stated as nonGMO. And really anyway…ick. Plus, they are the worst @ 160 calories and 10 grams of fat per serving. Most tortilla chips, regardless of status as good-better-best, range from 6-8 gms of fat per serving and don’t exceed 140 calories. Unfortunately I’m up on this because my daughter just recommended Juanita’s to me 🙃.
Jack’s Organic Salsa is perfect! Also a favorite of mine.
Michelle Smith Rapoza
What is the difference in the 365 Brand listed in the ‘better brand’ tortilla chips list and the same 365 brand in the ‘mamavation approved’ list?
Thank you for explaining why some of the ingredients are not healthy, great article.
Kiran Dodeja Smith
Such a great list – so helpful to have on hand! Thanks for your research, Leah and team.
When will you investigate potatoe chip brands? My 12 year old son would like to know! Keep up the awesome job!