Submitted by: Joanne Perez, Real Bite Nutrition
When I was little, the best part of staying in a hotel was the vending machine (this was before the room mini bar). Candy bars, chips, Twinkies and soda-what more could a kid want? Then in college, the vending machine was a best friend when studying all night at the library. Now the vending machine means a.) I over-scheduled and forgot to schedule lunch or b.) I need a portioned controlled snack/treat. That’s right, this RD pays a machine to give her an overpriced treat, not a meal. For many, the vending machine too often is the “go to” for lunch or even breakfast. And although there are “healthy” vending machines available (NY is trying them out at rest stops), the majority are still filled with less nutritious foods.
Vending machines have been around since the beginning of the first century, but it was the makers of tutti-frutti gum who started using food vending machines, back in 1888, to sell gum at train stations in New York City. It wasn’t until 1950 that machines had the ability to hold and sell refrigerated sandwiches. Now, vending machines can sell anything from milk to fruit to candy to even whole meals.
But for most of us, the vending machines we frequent are stocked with cakes, chips and candy. Since I don’t believe there are really any bad foods, here some items that you should pick least often:
- Regular Soda – A can is full of sugar that will you give an instant energy surge but leave you sluggish 30 minutes.
- Diet Soda – New research shows that diet soda can wrack havoc with the bacteria in your gut and may actually cause you to gain weight.
- Fruit Snacks – They may say they contain real fruit, but they really just sugar and artificial flavor, which can impact your dental health.
- Fried Potato Chips/Sticks – These high fat snacks will make you feel sluggish and wanting more.
- Cheese and Crackers – These little squares tend to be high in sodium, which can cause water retention and excessive thirst.
- Artificially Flavored Popcorn – Anything artificial is never one of your best picks.
- Candy and Candy Bars – Sugar, sugar and more sugar can cause you to “crash” at the moment you need to be at your best.
- Snack Cakes – Don’t even try to tell yourself that the strawberry filling counts as a fruit. These treats are sugar and fat laden, and usually there are at least 2 servings in the package.
So how can you make the vending machine your friend not your enemy? Think of it as a place where you can buy portion controlled “treats” and allow yourself to pick items that you will enjoy eating. And there are some healthier options in every vending machine. Here are few items that might be better choices:
- Water – Just about every machine sells bottled water so make sure you buy a bottle with whatever else you purchase.
- Beef Jerky – This high protein choice will satisfy your salt and chewy cravings and fill you up.
- Baked Chips – These chips will be lower in fat and not as greasy on your hands.
- Trail Mix/Nuts – Protein!
- Fig Bars – Your healthiest “cookie” choice because they tend to be lower in fat.
- Dark Chocolate Bar – Research shows dark chocolate is good for your heart, brain and full of antioxidants. Another healthy choice is a Peppermint Pattie.
- Granola Bar – Many are made with nuts and whole grains for lasting energy.
Regardless of what you choose, the number of servings per pack is what you really need to pay attention to. Many items will be at least 2 servings, and you don’t have to eat the whole thing. A healthy diet is based on moderation not elimination. Now that you know how to make friends with the vending machine, collect your change and enjoy a Real Bite!