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Herbal Chips Peppered by Nutritionists

October 15, 1998| From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — There was a time when potato chips were just potato chips, their greasy crunch leaving the snacker with an aftertaste of delicious guilt.

No more.

A new kind of chips aims at tackling the psyche rather than tickling the taste bud, promising to turn Americans into kinder, happier and gentler souls.

The secret? Herbs and plant extracts, like St. John's wort, ginkgo biloba and kava, added to the chips along with essences of edible flowers--violet, chamomile, peppermint and passionflower--to help combat depression, promote long life and improve memory.

"It's just one of those next steps in the evolution of snacks and food," said the chips' manufacturer, Robert Ehrlich. "There are definitely benefits from the product."

But not everyone is swallowing that claim. Some nutritionists have expressed concern that all the feel-good messages about the snacks are just advertising gimmicks to sell chips.

"They're just ridiculous," said Norman Rosenthal, clinical professor of psychiatry and author of "St. John's Wort: The Herbal Way to Feeling Good." "It would be like having a penicillin pie or an antibiotic apple strudel.

"If people are really feeling depressed or anxious, they should not depend on a potato chip," Rosenthal added.

The FDA's chief of special nutritionals, Elizabeth Yetley, said Ehrlich does not have an obligation to discuss his products with the FDA. But it is his responsibility to make sure that food products are safe before he markets them.

Ehrlich began making his mood-enhancing snacks four years ago. A group of herbalists, Zen masters, a psychiatrist and young consumers help put the products together, he said. At 99 cents for a 2-ounce bag, the chips are sold in some supermarkets.

His latest product, Personality Puffs, which come in the shape of little people, came out this month. They are made up of a blend of flowers, St. John's wort and ginkgo biloba.

Low-fat Cardio Chips containing a blend of natural herbs to improve cardiovascular health, metabolic conditions, the immune system and aging will come out next month.

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