Fitness Nutrition Forums

Vending Machine No-No's

Fitday Editor

When I was little, the best part of staying in a hotel was the vending machine. 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 either I forgot to schedule lunch or that I need a portioned controlled snack. That's right, this RD pays a machine to give her an overpriced treat, not a meal. For many, the vending machine is too often 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 whole meals.

But for most of us, the vending machines we frequent are still stocked with cakes, chips and candy. I don't believe there are really any bad foods, and nothing is really off limits, but here are the items that you should pick least often:

  1. Regular Soda

    A can is full of sugar that will you give an instant energy surge but leave you sluggish 30 minutes.

  2. Diet Soda

    New research shows that diet soda can wrack havoc on the bacteria in your gut and may actually cause you to gain weight.

  3. Fruit Snacks

    They may say they contain real fruit, but they are really just sugar and artificial flavor, which can impact your dental health.

  4. Fried Potato Chips/Sticks

    These high fat snacks will make you feel sluggish and wanting more.

  5. Cheese & Crackers

    These little squares tend to be high in sodium, which can cause water retention and excessive thirst.

  6. Artificially Flavored Popcorn

    Anything artificial is never one of your best picks.

  7. Candy & Candy Bars

    Sugar, sugar and more sugar can cause you to "crash" at the moment you need to be at your best.

  8. 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 two 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:

  1. Water

    Just about every machine sells bottled water, so make sure you buy a bottle with whatever else you purchase.

  2. Beef Jerky

    This high protein choice will satisfy your salt and chewy cravings and fill you up.

  3. Baked Chips

    These chips will be lower in fat and not as greasy on your hands.

  4. Trail Mix/Nuts


  5. Fig Bars

    Your healthiest "cookie" choice because they tend to be lower in fat.

  6. Dark Chocolate Bars

    Research shows dark chocolate is good for your heart and brain is full of antioxidants. Another healthy choice is a Peppermint Pattie.

  7. Granola Bars

    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 packages will contain at least two servings, and you don't have to eat the whole thing. A healthy diet is based on moderation, not elimination!

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Joanne Perez, MS, RDN, LD is a Savannah-based dietitian who, after 20 years of food service and clinical dietetics, made the switch to nutrition communications and all things tech. She doesn't believe in diets and thinks that life is too short to be anything but happy and healthy at any weight. Read her blog, Real Bite Nutrition, and follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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