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Vending Machine Snacks: Find the Healthier Choices

You are not alone if you like to snack. Today, snacking accounts for one quarter of daily calorie intake among Americans.

Avoid the pitfalls of vending machine snacking altogether! Bring non-perishable healthy food items from home:

  • Trail mix and/or dried fruits and nuts
  • Whole-grain pretzels
  • Fat-free popcorn
  • Breakfast cereal (choose a higher-fiber, lower-sugar type)
  • Cans of higher-fiber, lower-fat and lower-sodium soup
  • Instant oatmeal packets (look for less-sugar options)
  • Higher-fiber, lower-fat crackers (like reduced-fat Triscuits)
  • Natural-style peanut butter with crackers, bagels and/or fruit
  • Packets of low-calorie hot chocolate

If you have access to an insulated cooler or a refrigerator, consider:

  • Low-fat yogurt with fruit
  • Low-fat cottage cheese with fruit
  • Cut up carrots and celery
  • Reduced-fat cheese with lower-fat, higher-fiber crackers

Good choices for non-caloric beverages include:

  • Mineral water (with flavor essences like lime or orange)
  • Coffee or tea flavored with non-fat creamer and sweetener
  • Iced tea, unsweetened

The LHSFNA’s training manual, Nutrition & Fitness for Laborers, and the Nutrition & Fitness for Laborers and Build a Better Body brochures are designed to help Laborers improve their dietary and exercise habits. They can be ordered through the Fund’s website by clicking on Publications.

You are also not alone if you often satisfy your urge to snack with vending machine fare. According to the National Automatic Merchandising Association (NAMA), every day finds 100 million Americans using America’s seven million vending machines. Convenience is usually the reason, particularly when the purchase is to appease a rumbling stomach or serve as a late afternoon pick-me-up. Visiting the vending machine requires no pre-planning, and the snacks tend to be inexpensive and energy boosting.

Unfortunately, when consumed on a regular basis, many typical vending machine foods can also contribute to serious health problems. While operators are slowly expanding the number of vending machines that sell healthy choices such as fresh fruit, 100 percent fruit juices and water, the offerings in most are still candy, chips and soda which are loaded with salt, sugar, trans fats and preservatives. These foods are energy-dense: full of calories and short on nutrients. According to a study by the University of Michigan and Michigan State University, students in grades 1 through 12 who regularly buy snacks from school vending machines – a routine that can add as much as 300 calories a day to their diets – are more likely to develop unhealthy dietary habits that can lead to obesity, diabetes and coronary artery disease. Separate research published last spring in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics bolsters these findings. Adults with diets that are high in energy-dense foods have considerably more body weight than adults whose diets include less.

That said, on those occasions when hunger gnaws and your only option is something from the vending machine, make your choice from among the healthier items. For example, nuts and low-fat granola and cereal bars are preferable to candy or chips as they provide some nutrition and fiber. Also, keep in mind that vending machine snacks can be changed to include a wider variety of healthier foods. Talk to your co-workers about the kinds of healthy snacks they would like to have and ask supervisors to order for them. Soon, too, it will be a little easier to figure out which of those behind-the-glass offerings are best for your health. A requirement that vending machines display calorie information for the foods that they dispense is among the provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). A NAMA representative says the details for implementation are being worked out now.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]

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