The 5 Best and Worst Picks in the Vending Machine

Elle Penner, MPH, RD
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!

About the Author

Elle Penner, MPH, RD
Elle Penner, MPH, RD

Elle is a nutrition and wellness writer, recipe developer, blogger and nutrition consultant whose favorite things include her camera, carbs and quality time with her toddler. For more from this busy mama, check out Elle’s lifestyle blog or connect with her on Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook.


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