There are a number of perks to living in the US—democracy, freedom of speech, more higher education institutions than any country in the world and, praise be to preservatives, millions of vending machines.
They’re everywhere, chocked full of salty, sugary, fatty treats. Delicious? Yes. Convenient? Yes. Good for you? As likely as a black lesbian president in 2008. Although some vending companies are beginning to offer healthier snacks, most machines are nutritional trash dispensers. Sometimes you just want to indulge, and to hell with your diet. But sometimes you’re hungry and busy, and find yourself forced to make a mini-meal from a machine. Americans spend over $21 billion a year buying food and beverages from vending machines. So what should you buy if you actually give a shit about your body?
I’ll tell you what not to pick: those muffins, pies and cookies that are loaded with calories, sugar, sodium and fat. They should be labeled health hazards (one Hostess Fruit Pie has 480 calories, 20 grams of fat [11 grams saturated], 400 milligrams of sodium and virtually no nutritional benefits). Worse, many of these baked goods contain hydrogenated oil (trans fat), a processed fat designed to stay solid at room temperature, thus prolonging shelf-life. If saturated fat is a Nazi, trans fat is Hitler. Avoid it.
But you can make some okay choices. First, decide what your goal is—nutrition, satiety or low-cal. If you actually want to put something healthy in your body, opt for 100 percent fruit juice gels, dried fruit, seeds or trail mix (unsalted and without chocolate, or the deceptively- named yogurt bits). These products can be high in calories and/or fat (watch your portion sizes), but they also naturally contain vitamins, protein, fiber and good cholesterol. A lot of granola, energy or breakfast bars are nothing more than thinly disguised candy bars, so pass on those, unless you’ve seen the nutritional info before.
If you’re really starving, go for a filling Snickers or peanut M&Ms. You’re better off eating one of them than having three packages of something else. A normal Snickers bar has 266 calories, 11 grams fat (4 grams saturated.), 130 milligrams sodium and 5 grams protein. The M&Ms have 242 calories, 12 grams fat (5 grams saturated), 23 milligrams sodium, 4 grams protein. If you prefer volume, opt for plain pretzels or baked chips.
For that low-cal fix, snag Raisinets—a good deal with 185 calories, 7 grams fat (3 grams saturated), 16 milligrams sodium, 2 grams protein—or a large Tootsie Roll, with 154 calories, 1 gram of fat (0 saturated), 18 milligrams sodium and 1gram of protein.
And what’s always a great choice? Drinking more water and packing a lunch.