6 Foods Nutritionists Never Buy From Vending Machines—And 4 They Love!
Vending machines can be a smorgasboard of calorie and fat bombs, but some picks are worse than others. Here’s how to get the biggest health bang for your buck-twenty-five.
Food to avoid: Potato chips
A bag of salty, crunchy chips may feel benign—hey, it’s potatoes, right? But John La Puma, MD, founder of Chef Clinic, says these high-sodium foods may actually leave you feeling hungrier than you were before. Chips are made up of starches—usually either potatoes or corn—that are deep fried and heavily salted. When you digest the starches, your body converts them into sugar, which spikes your glucose and insulin levels, and then crashes your sugar levels, leaving your stomach growling even louder than before. What’s worse, the type of chips found in vending machines are not even made from potatoes and corn, but rather, highly processed flours and chemicals that are made to resemble those vegetables, Dr. La Puma explains adds. The upshot: This bag of chemicals can leave you feeling drained and unsatisfied. Did you know that potato chips might even contribute to cancer?
Food to avoid: Sweetened yogurt
We tend to consider yogurt a healthy snack, thanks to its calcium and probiotics, but Dr. La Puma warns that this creamy treat often delivers even more sugar than a serving of ice cream. According to sfgate.com, a single cup of sweetened yogurt—the kind that’s often found in refrigerated vending machines—can contain up to 47 grams of sugar. Two scoops of ice cream, on the other hand, may have about 28 grams of sugar. “Unless it says ‘unsweetened yogurt,’ I would avoid it, unless you feel like having ice cream,” Dr. La Puma says. “In that case, you probably should just have ice cream.” Don’t miss the other foods that are shockingly high in sugar.
Food to avoid: Baked goods
Be wary of pastries and baked goods sold in vending machines—like Twinkies and cinnamon rolls—as they often contain high levels of saturated and trans fats. According to Jen Bruning, MS, RDN, media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics, these types of fats have been shown to contribute considerably to heart disease. (Check out the heart disease risk factors you might not know to watch for.) What’s more, the American Heart Association warns that eating too many trans fats can also lead to stroke or type 2 diabetes.
Food to avoid: Candy bars
Yes, this is a broad category, but you know what we’re talking about: Sticky caramel, gooey nougat, melt-in-your-mouth chocolate, and other sundry sweet stuff. Most candy bars contain three or four different kinds of sugar and sugar syrups—like corn syrup, rice syrup, glucose, maltose, and fructose. Like the case with potato chips, these sugars get translated into higher blood sugar, which spikes your insulin levels and eventually causes your blood sugar levels to plunge. “The fast energy we get from a sugary candy bar can leave us feeling the ‘crash’ when our blood sugar drops,” Bruning says. “We can feel tired and sluggish; then hungry again a short while later.” These healthy snacks can stop sugar cravings in their tracks.
Food to avoid: Soda
A 20-ounce bottle of cola contains approximately 65 grams of sugar—that’s 22 percent of your daily carbohydrates! According to Dr. La Puma, the colossal amount of sugar found in soft drinks is designed to “suck you in and weigh you down.” Soda contains little to no nutritional value, and can cause tissue damage and weight gain, and contribute to the risk of diabetes. If you think you’re being smart by opting for diet soda, think again. Despite not having any sugar, diet drinks can wreak havoc on your body in different ways, Dr. La Puma says. They’re filled with artificial sweeteners that alter your microbiome (the friendly bacteria in your gut) and impact the way your lower intestines digest what you eat and drink. This change causes a blow to your immune system, making you more susceptible to illness. Here are other reasons you should avoid soda at all costs.
Food to avoid: Sports drinks
Drinks like Gatorade and Powerade have a health halo because of their association with sports and physical fitness, but they’re basically just soft drinks in disguise. “Your body doesn’t say ‘These are calories, I’m getting full with them,’” Dr. La Puma says. “Your body says, ‘This is liquid and I’m absorbing calories with it, but I don’t know the difference between just absorbing them and storing them, so I’ll just store them.’” Sports drinks also contain chemicals and colorings, and deliver a large dose of hidden sugars that will only make you feel hungry, rather than slaking your thirst.
Food to choose: Nuts
Nutritionists love nuts. Peanuts, almonds, cashews, and pecans are all smart choices because they’re packed with protein, fiber, and healthy fats. “Most people still think of nuts as fattening, but they’re not, especially in vending machine quantities,” Dr. La Puma says. “Any nut is a good choice, as long as it isn’t enrobed in caramel.” Unlike the “bad fats” in pastries and candy bars, the healthy fats found in nuts take a while to digest, which, combined with protein, provide longer lasting energy between meals.
Food to choose: Jerky
Despite being rather high in sodium, jerky provides a surprisingly wide range of health benefits and is one of the best options to choose from a vending machine. According to livestrong.com, beef jerky is packed with protein, with 9.4 grams, in just one ounce of meat. Beef jerky is also loaded with zinc, which helps your body heal wounds and potentially avoid infection. As for the 416 milligrams of sodium in each piece, Dr. La Puma says it shouldn’t be much of an issue unless you’re specifically trying to cut back on your salt intake. “Those who are watching their sodium probably need to have only one piece, but those who are not can have more than one,” he says. Jerky is just one of many nutritious foods that gets a bad rap.
Food to choose: Dark chocolate
Nutritionists indulge with dark chocolate. The higher percentage of cocoa certainly makes it more bitter than milk chocolate, but the lack of sugar leaves room for some significant boosts to your health. According to rodalesorganiclife.com, dark chocolate has been shown to improve skin, hair, and heart health, as well as reduce anxiety and enhance concentration. To maximize these benefits, look for a bar that contains at least 70 percent cacao.
Food to choose: Water
Sugar-heavy beverages like sodas, juices, and energy drinks may be enticing choices, but Dr. La Puma says nothing will quench your thirst like a plain old bottle of water. Not only is water free of all calories, fats, and sugars, but it also energizes your muscles, regulates your kidneys, and keeps your skin healthy. Plus, as Dr. La Puma explains, we often mistake our hunger for thirst, and end up wasting loads of empty calories on sugary beverages. By choosing water instead of a soda or sports drink, we leave some room in our diet for tastier snacks that actually benefit our health. Here are the signs that you definitely need to be drinking more water.