The Best and Worst Foods to Grab From the Vending Machine
You're rushing between classes or appointments and your stomach is growling. You've got to get a snack, stat. The only thing in sight is the vending machine, so you've got to go with what's there. Unfortunately, vending machines are notorious for having not-so-healthy items, which can make it hard to find something nourishing and nutrient dense, as well as being low in sugar and processed ingredients. The good news is, you can find a few winners and you can ditch the "worst" case scenarios, thanks to these suggestions from a few dietitians. These are the best and worst foods to pick when scoping out the vending machine.
Go nuts for nuts. They are good for you! "If you see plain or mixed nuts in the vending machine, go for it. You know you'll be getting healthy fats and a dash of plant protein and dietary fiber as well important micronutrients and antioxidants," says Maggie Moon, MS, RD and author of The MIND Diet, to POPSUGAR.
"Best of all, that fiber, fat, and protein is a healthy recipe for staying fuller longer, which satisfies the need that brought you face-to-face with a vending machine in the first place," she explains.
This crunchy, light snack is actually a great one, so don't just reserve it for Netflix binges. "Plain or lightly salted popcorn is a wonderful find for a light snack as far as vending machine choices go. The calorie count will be minimal and you'll get a serving of whole grains and fiber," explains Moon. "The smart bet is to drink water along with this savory snack to stay hydrated and keep the occasional dry kernel from tickling your throat," she adds.
Best: Breakfast Biscuits
Yes, they do resemble cookies, be warned. "These look like cookies, but they're actually one of the better choices in a vending machine. They contain whole grains, are only mildly sweetened, and have decent nutrition," says Moon. Of course, it's not a ringing endorsement, but it's a matter of comparison, and these biscuits are on the good end.
Best: Sunflower Seeds
"Though they be high in salt (you can dust them off or rinse them) they do not have sugars and are a whole seed food, which contains good fatty acids, some protein, and fiber to help you feel full longer," says Dr. Mariana Daniela Torchia, MPH, RD, PhD, to POPSUGAR. "You will avoid the sugar high and crash, and it can help you reduce your sugar cravings," she says.
Ditch the sugary pastries like Pop-Tarts. "Pop-Tarts are mostly refined carbohydrates, whether it's the multiple forms of added sugar or the refined flours. While low blood sugar may have driven you to the vending machine, this kind of quick blood sugar pick-me-up isn't worth the spike and crash," says Moon. A better pick? Dark chocolate bar, says Torchia.
"It's better to get a dark chocolate bar (no caramel) just dark chocolate, or dark chocolate with nuts as the dark chocolate has good antioxidant properties, which help with inflammation, and that bit of caffeine it has can also give you boost of brain focus without overpowering it with too much caffeine," she says.
Avoid candies, like Skittles and Twizzlers, says Torchia, as they are high in sugar, especially corn syrup. "Corn syrup is immediately directed to your liver, and people who consume high amounts of corn syrup tend to have increased triglycerides, high blood sugars at times, and potentially fatty liver (increased liver enzymes)," she says.
In general, high sugar intake contributes to bad digestion, inflammation, and brain fog or the inability to concentrate. Plus, "only eating sugars without balancing meals with protein and vegetables or low-sugar items can contribute to headaches," she adds.
A bag of chips, like Doritos or Cheetos, isn't good for you, says Moon. "If you're only eating one ounce (about 11 chips), then this is a small indulgence. But most vending machines carry a bigger size, and it's all too easy to finish a bag of these cheesy chips," she says. Too bad, as they offer very little protein and fiber, but plenty of sodium, saturated fat, and calories.
Worst: Cup Noodles
Instant soup, like Cup Noodles, is definitely a worst pick from the vending machine, says Moon. Get this: "Each little cup is about 300 calories and has over 1,000 mg of sodium," she says. "Most people should be getting less than 1,500 mg for the entire day," she explains. That much salt and the white-flour noodles can lead to bloating and dehydration.