The 5 Best and Worst Picks in the Vending Machine

by Elle Penner, MPH, RD
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The 5 Best and Worst Picks in the Vending Machine

Whether hunger hits unexpectedly at the office or on the road, vending machines can be perplexing to those of us trying to eat well. In a healthier world, we’d have fruit stands in our office parks, or fresh veggies and hummus in refrigerated machines at shopping malls, but there are times when vending machines packed with soda, candy, and chips are the only option. If you’re like me, you probably stare through the glass for several minutes, weighing the pros and cons of each snack hoping to identify the healthiest option. To make that process easier for you, here are the 5 worst snacks to steer clear of and 5 not-so-bad-for-you options that will curb your hunger pangs without derailing your healthy eating efforts.


1. Pastries Cinnamon rolls, packaged apple pies, and toaster pastries, these not-so-fresh, high-calorie baked goods are usually made with corn syrup and contain added preservatives to prolong shelf-life. These treats usually contain anywhere from 250 to more than 300 calories each and, much like a donut, won’t satiate your hunger for long.

2. Chips and crackers High in sodium and lacking real substance, snack crackers often contain trans fats in the form of hydrogenated oils. Chips, on the other hand, come in deceptively large servings and some are treated with BHA (Butylated Hydroxyanisole) and BHT (Butylated Hydroxytulene) to prevent spoiling, two controversial chemicals linked to cancer and hormone disruption.

3. Cookies They may satisfy your sweet tooth, but the bag of refined carbs and added sugars won’t do much to satisfy your stomach. Like pastries, packaged cookies also have added preservatives to increase shelf life. Additionally, most manufacturers have started swapping out hydrogenated oils (a.k.a. trans fats) for palm oil, an oil loaded with saturated fat, the production of which has been linked to major ecological issues including deforestation and habitat degradation.

4. Candy Sweet or sour, the candy in most vending machines are little more than concentrated sugar packed with artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives. Downing a bag of Skittles won’t ease your hunger, but will likely lead to a sugar crash, caused by a sharp spike and drop in blood sugar, which can lead to sluggishness and—you guessed it!—more sugar cravings.

5. Soft-drinks We all know they’re not good for us. Sipping on soft drinks, such as soda, sweetened teas, and sports drinks, instead of water adds up to a lot of excess sugar and empty calories—and will quickly pack on the pounds.


1. Nuts Frequent nut consumption has been shown to have health-boosting benefits, including weight control and decreased risk of chronic diseases, including heart disease and Type 2 Diabetes. A portioned-size packet of almonds or peanuts will provide some healthy fats, protein, and fiber to keep you satiated. Opt for lightly-salted or unsalted varieties when available.

2. Trail mix For those of us who love a sweet and salty combination, a bag of trail mix is a much better option than chocolate covered pretzels. Look for varieties with unsalted nuts and dried fruit, which offer a boost of protein, fiber, and some vitamins and minerals, rather than mixes solely made up of cereal and sugary candy.

3. Granola bars Portion-sized and usually under 200 calories, most granola bars contain some form of whole grain, like oats or flax, and nuts, which you’re your snack a healthy hit of fiber and protein.

4. Popcorn Popcorn is a whole grain that packs fiber and antioxidants, and it can be a great low-calorie snack. Just steer clear of kettle corn, which is sweetened with sugar, and stick to air-popped and low-salt popcorn instead.

5. Water Disregard the sweet, sugary sodas at eye-level and make water your go-to way to hydrate when thirst strikes. Save soda for occasions when it can be savored, like dinners out or weekend barbecues.

Have you seen any healthy vending machine snacks recently? Share your findings in the comments below!


  • bbb

    stupid article not helpful at all

    • Doc

      Yet far more intelligent and insightful than your comment.

  • Smiley

    I want that 3 Musketeers But alas, I must eat my baby spinach and tofu. 🙁

  • Dave Gee

    Citations, please.
    Pastries are an ideal way to get the calories in if you haven’t had enough to eat.
    Crisps are a great way to make sure your sodium levels are kept up. Taking articles like this seriously is ‘linked to’ cancer too!
    Concentrated sugar is ideal if you need an energy boost.
    Of course, if you go for diet soda you don’t get any calories and get a much tastier drink than water – which there’s no way I’d pay for in a western country, given the choice.

    • Jaybay

      I seriously hope this is a joke.. Well, no wonder americans are so fat

      • Dave Gee

        So, err, you hope that an English person who (in the right light anyway 🙂 ) has abs showing and suggests that healthy isn’t just related to eating as little as humanly possibly is joking as oherwise it poins to the reason why Americans are fat?

        Interesting thought patterns, there! 😉

        • Brittany Knight

          What does that last comment even mean, Dave?
          and Diet soda is horrible. The fact you suggested it, discredits everything you’ve said. Check out the studies the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, found. They have made some shocking discoveries. Researchers found people who drink just one diet soda were 65% more likely to be overweight, that two or more diet sodas raised your odds of becoming obese,and – are you ready for this – people who drank diet soda had a greater chance of becoming overweight than regular soda drinkers. Diet soft drink users, as a group, experienced 70 percent greater increases in waist circumference compared with non-users. Frequent users, who said they consumed two or more diet sodas a day, experienced waist circumference increases that were 500 percent greater than those of non-users. If you eat/drink right, there is no need for calorie counting.

          • JofJLTNCB6

            I believe his point and your head occupy horizontal planes at different elevations…where the former is at an elevation greater than the latter.

          • Brittany Knight

            Are you trying to offend me? lol

          • JofJLTNCB6

            Quite the contrary. I phrased my post precisely so as *not* to offend you.

          • Jackie Ebarb

            Here’s the thing. I’ve looked into this too and what they do not include in the studies is the fact that diet soda drinkers are drinking diet soda in the first place cuz they ALREADY have a perpencity to be obese and are there for trying to lower their caloric intake by drinking diet soda. The question becomes which came 1st “the chicken or the egg”!

      • Joe

        I’m guessing he’s British, using crisps instead of chips. I usually don’t take dietary advice from someone of a culture that gave us fish and chips, various “puddings”, and other atomic calorie bombs. Might as well eat a Big Mac and call it good.

        • Dave Gee

          I would hope there’s no need to guess as I specify I’m English in my last post ;).

          • JofJLTNCB6

            I have a feeling…a sense…that perhaps you may be…

            …English. Am I right?

      • ST-Tech

        People are NOT fat because they eat Energy Dense food .. it’s because they eat TOO MUCH (and a lot of that is Energy Dense).

    • lol

      This article isn’t about special needs people. Its about the overall population. Fatty

  • unsound

    Thank you for mentioning the ecological damaged caused by palm oil production … lots of health-focused writers completely neglect the health of the planet

    • SmartApps

      Goddamn! Are you just like pissed about every fucking thing! This is about choosing a better option in a vending machine. Fuck your palm oil bullshit!

  • DeLinda Rogers

    I love my diet coke! Anyone want to try and take it away? I drink water too! I never drink alcohol, but that’s just me. You have to do what’s best for you. I have special dietary needs, and sensitivity’s . Always ask your physician, and follow there advise. Never let a blog dictate your health………there, common sense.

    • DeLinda Rogers

      I’m American, and as you can see far from fat. You would be wise to not judge an entire Nation of people as being fat….or, stupid or, well, I think you get the jest of it. Now, go, and enjoy life! Peace and all that stuff!

    • Hayley Prychun Rodgers

      Doesn’t matter if you love it, there is no redeeming nutritional value to it. This is talking about healthy vs unhealthy. No one said they were going to take your nasty ass drink away from you.

      • JofJLTNCB6

        So “no nutrition” equals “unhealthy”? How did you make that logical leap?

        • Hayley Prychun Rodgers

          Food is meant for fuel. If the food has no nutritional value it is POINTLESS. But please, when did I say “no nutrition” equals “unhealthy”? The article did, and they explained it, but that was not my argument.

          • JofJLTNCB6

            All food provides fuel. It’s an essential element of the definition of food.

            And the article said it, you believed it, that settles it? Sorry, doesn’t work that way. If you parrot the articles conclusions, be prepared to defend them.

          • Ray Carrender

            Sure! I will make the argument of equating no nutritional value to unhealthy, but inly with logical connections that are typically assumed by the audience. Here it is! Too many calories will make you obese which is defined medically as unhealthy. Too much sugar or starches have been linked to diabetes which has been medically defined as unhealthy. (I guess here would be a good time to explain the OP comment was deleted so not sure which food item he listed). However given these two conclusions, failing to optimize your nutrients to make sure you get the daily recommend value at less than the daily needed calories IS unhealthy. If it’s nutrient heavy food item but also has 400grams of sugar it would also fall under unhealthy due to diabetes.

            There you go, defended the connotation of empty nutrient food to unhealthy. Now I am going to eat this snickers bar because it is delicious.

  • ST-Tech

    You have no control over what is put into these machines but you do over what you take out.
    Choose Wisely Young Padawan :-p

  • Crashster

    I pretty much stopped consuming anything out of a machine once I learned how to eat healthy. Even the “good” stuff on this list is covered in sodium and preservatives. Sure if you “have” to get something out of the machine these are the least bad for you, but I wouldn’t consider them healthy by any means.

  • Kamehamehaaaa


  • Crystal

    At GMU and NVCCs have put in healthy options in current vending machines or have stepped up with only healthy options.
    That’s a great approach and maybe push for healthy vending in schools, malls, laundry mats, government & recreational organizations and etc.

    • JofJLTNCB6

      If you eat too much of a “healthy option”, is it still healthy?

      Likewise, if you eat an appropriate amount of an “unhealthy option” as part of a calorie controlled overall diet, is it still unhealthy?

    • Jeffseekingv

      Vending machine choices are just that, choices. And revenue is based on demand. Not how healthy they “appear” to be. If healthy options are what sells, then that’s fine. But if they don’t, don’t expect them to keep offering that.

    • JofJLTNCB6

      What “healthy option” when eaten in excess remains healthy?

      What is wrong with “unhealthy options” when eaten as a part of an otherwise healthy diet?

  • Jeffseekingv

    If I’m going to pay extremely high prices for vending machine treats, I’m choosing by taste and not anything else. Because I actually know how to account for them in my calorie counts.

    • Amy Weber

      Exactly! Vending machines are not there for your daily meals, or to be visited on a daily basis. If I want a candy bar, it is there for me.

  • My Name Is Oliver Queen

    An article about the most used machine in any gym across the world……….. Prepare your own snacks!! How hard is it to take your own snacks or drinks? Laziness…… the reason why obesity is so rife across the world (especially in the USA!!)

    • angie lleras

      I have to agree with Oliver… everyone has an excuse not to eat healthy or go to the gym and not having the time to prepare a healthy snack or meal for that matter.. but no excuse to get drunk or party or even to watch a show on TV.. really? If you really want to lose the weight cut the shit and just do it..

      • andrew

        No excuse, try some people who are required to work 18 hours a day 7 days a week, sometimes up to a couple of months at a time. So you try to tell me after those 18 hours that I now need to spend an hour or two in the gym (and thereforefore cut my sleep before next shift to just 4 or 5 hours), that is not going to happen. You do not know everyone’s story and should not act as if you do.

        • Amy Weber

          Well, chances are those people are not the target of this story. You have to be a relatively fit person to handle 18 hour days for months at a time. Angie was probably more talking about people like me (well, who I used ot be), who work a desk for 8 hours a day, then go home and work the couch until bedtime. I could find plenty of reasons not to bang out a few miles before dinner. I STILL can, but I *don’t*.

  • Fatty Matty

    Stop the presses. Water is healthier than honey buns. Thanks for the tip!

    • Scarlet441


  • Sonic Alpha

    With all the warning against diet soda, I have to wonder if there is much difference between the UK & US versions.

    In the UK, it’s something that we’re told (by doctors, & dietitians, in my case), that we can drink without having to worry.

    So, can anyone compare the diet drinks from the two different regions and highlight the differences?

    • Robyn

      I would not trust your dietition, I would investigate this for yourself or at least get another opinion. Diet drinks have been linked to serious health issues.

      • Scott

        Oh? Would you mind providing some proof that diet drinks have been linked to serious health issues?

        • JofJLTNCB6

          Proof? Don’t be silly.

    • Samantha Stone

      One huge difference is the U.S. version has a neurotoxin called aspartame in it that is linked to brain tumors and severe migraines. Aspartame is banned in the U.K. Furthermore, anything processed such as soda is never a “healthy choice.” Tea, coffee, and water are a better choice. Milk is debatable because of some studies done in Nutrition back in the 80s and 90s. The calcium benefit isn’t as great as everyone thought it to be.

  • Savage AF

    I just eat fresh, like eat a coyote fresh out of the desert, raw, like a straight savage! Bang! Bang!

  • Frazzledbaker

    Thanks for the article, however a bit rudimentary. Let’s see, cupcake or trail mix? Common sense.

    • Hayley Prychun Rodgers

      I felt the same way. I feel like if the author wrote a safety article it would say “Don’t attempt to kill yourself, it is dangerous and can lead to death!”

  • Melissa Kowerduck

    I just would like to know if there are tasty alternatives to nuts. Every fitness thing I read says I should eat them, but I am highly allergic. What should I do?

    • truble135

      Don’t eat nuts…

  • Charles Jardine

    People are fat generally because they prefer to sit in front of the Television, TV dinners, chips & dip, basically straight up lazy or other wise unmotivated. Diet coke is a soft drink that should be avoided but there is nothing wrong with a treat now and then is what i think DeLinda Rogers was getting at. I tend to agree with Dave Gee about America having interesting thought patterns. People think because they walk theyre losing weight. Here is an interesting fact, walking does burn calories but you hardly reach the zone for fat burning therefor a lot of walking is required to burn fat. it takes alot of hard work and dedication to lose weight. Right now i have given up my soda pop and have started working out at the gym again. I am down 9 lbs in 2 weeks. Bottom line people have to not be lazy and put in the work required.
    I will say that American work force are slaves to their jobs these days. If you not working late there is something wrong with you, if you leave on time there is still something wrong with you. It makes it difficult to find the time for the gym. however, you can still get a work out at home. Weights and machines are not a requirement.

    • JofJLTNCB6

      What if I told you there is no “fat-burning zone”?

      Also, you have been at this for two weeks and yet you think you know what the problem with an entire country is?


      (I mean, keep up the good work and all that…but you might be a *little* early in the process to be on such a tall soapbox.)

      • Judy Pancoast

        I would like to know what you mean by “no fat-burning zone.” Honest question. I walk at a moderately brisk pace for about 90 minutes every day. Do I need to run to get into some sort of zone, or is just burning those calories helping me?

        • JofJLTNCB6

          There are no zones. Weight loss is a function of calorie deficit. Whether that is fat, muscle, or other is not affected by the type of exercise done.

          If you want to influence that the loss be more fat and less muscle, consider strength training (in addition to whatever other exercise type you like) to provide an incentive for your body to retain muscle. (Arguably, you could look at this as building muscle, but in a calorie deficit, it’s more likely to be retention of existing muscle mass…but don’t sweat that detail. It’s beneficial regardless of the label and it’s a great habit to develop for a host of longterm health benefits.)

          Good luck.

  • caz1310

    Why get something from a vending machine? Tea, coffee, fruit instead?

    • Charlotte Marks

      If it’s late and you’re busy and stuck at work and starving? I’ve been there (and I can’t stand coffee or tea).

    • JofJLTNCB6

      Sometimes you need the calories. Sometimes you want some vending machine food. It’s entirely possible to fit some of it into an overall healthy diet. There’s nothing inherently evil about it. Its problem is that it’s easy and tasty so people have a tendency to eat too much of it (or too eat too much in addition to it).

  • Lori

    The vending machine at my work has the veggie sticks which are very low calories.

  • Sarah J. Wilson

    I’d like to see more of the vending machines that offer fresh fruit and veggie options. Those are great! Last week I actually saw something called “cooked salami sticks” in a vending machine, and I can’t imagine anything yuckier than that! Vending machines are such a rip off. It’s so much more cost effective to pack a few healthy snacks with you.

  • Jenni Sporer

    Those suggestions have zero appeal. I try eating nuts, but they don’t satisfy my hunger or keep me alert.

    • Betty O

      I hope somebody’s getting baksheesh from the Nut Council for the rate they mention the magical handful or packet of nuts on here, especially in relation to weight control. I can think of no faster way to rack up 200 calories, throw my macros way off, and remain completely unsatisfied.

      Not that many vending machines even have most of these “best” picks. Best actual vending machine pick? I vote pretzels.

  • Mandalore_15

    Obvious advice is obvious.

  • Lindsay Clay

    Could I please have your reference regarding the BHA and BHT?

  • Dan

    RIGHT! You can tell by the taste! The better it tastes, the worse it is for you. A simple rule is this: if you are trying to be more healthy, if it tastes good, spit it out, you can’t have it. I have always been amazed that doctors have a list of every thing you like. It is the “you can’t have any of this” list. The also have one of all the things you never want again, it’s the “you can have all you want” list.

    I hate water. it makes me gag. I have to have it flavored in some way. Typically, it is iced tea, sweetened with Splenda or Diet Coke. I drink my tea at home, Diet Coke on the road.

    Regarding the health of the planet; as big as it’s waste line is, i think it will never lose weight. Just let it have whatever it wants.

    Every nutritionist I ever knew has the ability to mix ground liver, butter milk and collards, look at a baby, smile and put the stuff in their mouths and say, “See, it’s good, I love it.” No one with taste buds can work as a nutritionist.

    Hey, we’ll never get out of this world alive anyway. Eating right and exercising does not help you live longer. It only SEEMS LIKE you live longer. Just think, every day, saying to yourself, “Oh, %$#^, I have to eat healthy and exercise again today. I missed going to the gym today. That makes 66 years in a row.

    • truble135

      Spoken like a true unhealthy fat ass.

      • Dan

        The answer is very simple: the things you like are the best picks and the the things you don’t like are not!

        • truble135

          66 years with no exercise and eating whatever you like…how many medications are you taking? What’s your blood pressure? How long have you had type 2 diabetes? You can say whatever you like but 66 years old is unimpressive these days. If you said 86 I might think twice but every mook on the planet can make 66 unless they get hit by a car. If your not interested in nutrition why are you even posting on this site?

  • Julia A

    Please don’t buy bottled water. Just use a water fountain.

  • Savannah

    But I like a cookie…..

  • WasBornYesterday

    Wow, are all health nuts argumentative? Like, guys, take a chill pill and stop raging at anyone who makes one tiny technical error in a frigging comment.

  • Dan

    To Truble 135, you are an idiot. You comment on things you know nothing about. This “unhealthy fat ass” is a 67 year old, 6’2″ male who weighs 194 pounds. Because I choose to enjoy life instead of living in fear and self loathing seems to bother you. I would rather enjoy a short 90 years than suffer through a 91 year life of misery. IF I could eat what I enjoyed and take a pill, instead of hating myself and my life, I’D TAKE TWO! NO, I do not exercise just to make myself more miserable, but I do play golf and am generally active. My dad used to say, “Don’t try so hard to be smart, just avoid being stupid.” You should try it.