Pretzels are a popular snack food all over the world.

They’re a hand-held, baked bread that’s usually shaped in a twisted knot and loved for its salty flavor and unique crunch.

While they’re lower in calories than other common snack foods like chips, many people wonder if pretzels are healthy.

This article explains what pretzels are and discusses whether they’re healthy.

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Pretzels are a baked snack food typically made from wheat flour. They come in many different shapes and sizes but usually take the shape of a twisted knot.

According to legend, the classic pretzel knot was invented by a monk who baked his pretzels in this shape to represent praying arms.

Pretzels come in soft and hard varieties and have a shiny, brown appearance.

Soft pretzels are large and have a chewy texture. They’re usually served individually with dipping sauce.

Meanwhile, hard pretzels are small and crunchy and can be eaten by the handful. They are available at most grocery and convenience stores, making them an easy snack choice.

For pretzels to get their shiny, dark-brown appearance, they must be treated with a sodium hydroxide solution before baking. This solution causes a chemical reaction on the surface of the dough that turns the pretzels brown and shiny during baking (1).

Summary Pretzels are a popular snack food worldwide. They come in two varieties: hard and soft. To get their brown and shiny appearance, they are treated with a solution that causes a unique chemical reaction to occur while baking.

Pretzels are high in carbs and low in fat and protein, but they contain some fiber and B vitamins.

The table below provides nutrition information for soft and hard pretzels. Reference Daily Intake (RDI) refers to current nutrient intake recommendations (2, 3).

1 medium soft pretzel (115 grams)1 ounce (28.35 grams) of hard pretzels
Calories389109
Fat3.6 grams0.8 grams
Protein9.4 grams2.9 grams
Carbs79.8 grams22.8 grams
Fiber2.0 grams1.0 gram
Sodium15.5% of the RDI23.4% of the RDI
Thiamine (vitamin B1)31.4% of the RDI8% of the RDI
Riboflavin (vitamin B2)19.5% of the RDI5% of the RDI
Niacin (vitamin B3)24.5% of the RDI7.4% of the RDI

Both soft and hard pretzels are made from wheat flour, which is mostly composed of carbs. Your body breaks down carbs into sugars that it uses for energy.

Like other foods made from wheat, pretzels contain some fiber. Fiber has been shown to improve gut health and digestive symptoms like constipation.

One observational study including 62,036 women found that those who consumed at least 20 grams of fiber daily were far less likely to experience constipation than women who ate only 7 grams or less daily (4).

Nevertheless, pretzels only contain a small amount of fiber.

However, given that most wheat flour is enriched with extra nutrients, pretzels contain some B vitamins, such as thiamine, riboflavin, and niacin. These vitamins help your body convert food into sugars that can be used for energy (5).

Summary Pretzels mostly consist of carbs, as their main ingredient is wheat flour. They also contain small amounts of fiber and B vitamins.

Hard pretzels contain 27% fewer calories than an equal serving of fried snacks like potato chips (2).

That said, there are a few things to keep in mind when eating pretzels.

Serving size matters

A standard serving of hard pretzels is 1 ounce (28 grams), which can be difficult to measure accurately. Roughly, a single serving of hard pretzels should fill one cupped hand.

However, researchers have found that people tend to underestimate how much they eat. One study in 32 healthy adults found that participants underestimated the amount of food they ate by about 10% (6, 7).

To measure a serving accurately, it may be a good idea to use a food scale, at least until you have a better understanding of standard serving sizes.

Additionally, many soft pretzels are too large to be a snack. One medium (115 grams) soft pretzel contains more than triple the number of calories in a 1-ounce (28-gram) serving of hard pretzels. Soft pretzels usually have 300–500 calories (2).

Because of their calorie content, it may be best to split soft pretzels with other people or divide them into two or three snack servings.

Fillings, flavorings, and dips add calories

There are many different varieties of pretzels.

Although the main varieties are pretty simple, some are filled with peanut butter or cheese, while others have a candy coating. Many are even served with dipping sauce.

These extras all add sugar, fat, and calories to your serving.

For example, a soft Cinnamon Sugar Pretzel from the popular pretzel chain Auntie Anne’s contains 470 calories, while the Original Pretzel has 340 calories. Furthermore, the dipping sauces range from 45 to 170 calories per serving.

What’s more, a 1-ounce (28-gram) serving of chocolate-covered hard pretzels has 130 calories, compared to 109 calories for a 1-ounce (28-gram) serving of plain, hard pretzels. That’s 16% more calories for fewer pretzels (2).

Calories can add up fast when adding extras to your pretzels. If you’re counting calories, your best choice is to enjoy plain hard ones.

Summary A serving of hard pretzels is about 1 ounce (28 grams). Soft pretzels are usually large and have more calories than hard pretzels. Adding extras like dipping sauces adds calories.

Although they may be slightly healthier than other snack foods like potato chips, there are some downsides to eating too many pretzels.

Made up of simple carbs

Unfortunately, pretzels are empty calories, meaning they don’t contain very many nutrients relative to their calorie content.

They are high in salt and made of refined wheat flour, which your body breaks down quickly.

Refined wheat flour, also called white flour, is made from wheat that has had the outer portion of the grain removed. This process removes most of its fiber and nutrients (8).

Your body easily breaks down white flour into sugars because it contains very little fiber, which generally slows digestion.

The Glycemic Index (GI) measures how rapidly different foods can increase blood sugar. Glucose, the sugar your body uses for energy, has a GI of 100. It has the most rapid effect on your blood sugar.

Pretzels have a GI of 80, which means they are a high GI food and can increase your blood sugar very quickly (9).

One study compared eating pretzels with eating mixed nuts. It found that those who ate pretzels had increased blood sugar after eating, while the people who ate mixed nuts didn’t experience any changes in blood sugar (10).

Eating a high-GI diet has also been linked to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.

One observational study in 64,227 women found that those who ate the highest-GI diet were 21% more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those who ate the lowest-GI diet (11).

Pretzels made with whole-wheat flour would be a healthier choice than pretzels made with white flour. They have a lower GI and therefore should not increase your blood sugar as quickly (12).

High in salt

Traditional pretzels are sprinkled with large grains of salt before baking. This coarse salt adds crunch and bursts of flavor to the otherwise mild snack.

Hard pretzels may also contain extra salt as a preservative to help them stay fresh. In fact, they can contain twice the amount of salt as an equal serving of potato chips (2).

Furthermore, flavorings and dips can hide large amounts of salt, even if they don’t taste very salty.

While not everyone needs to watch their salt intake, about 25% of healthy people are considered to have salt sensitivity. This means that their bodies can’t get rid of excess salt efficiently, which can lead to high blood pressure (13).

High blood pressure has been shown to increase your risk of death from heart failure by up to 30% (14).

Unsalted pretzels would be a healthier option for salt-sensitive people.

Summary Pretzels are not very healthy. They are high in salt and made of simple carbs, which cause your blood sugar to rise quickly. Whole-wheat or unsalted pretzels are the healthiest choices.

Pretzels are a fun and easy snack that can be enjoyed in many different ways.

Hard pretzels contain fewer calories than fried snacks like potato chips, but they’re not very nutritious.

While they contain small amounts of fiber and B vitamins, they’re high in salt and can cause your blood sugar to rise quickly.

Nevertheless, pretzels are a tasty treat that can be enjoyed in moderation.