Vending machines and healthy food choices

Vending machines are everywhere, from schools and work lunchrooms to airports and hospitals.  Options vary, but commonly one finds candy bars, chips, pop, sweet rolls, brownies, and other assorted foods for the mid-morning or mid-afternoon munchies.  Vending machines are convenient, but what about those choices?

Although the “all foods can fit” mantra is acceptable for an occasional snack, having a high-fat or high-sugar snack everyday isn’t the healthy answer to mid-meal hunger.

Candy may satisfy for the moment, but the sugar will digest quickly, leaving one hungry again. Fatty, salty snacks also satisfy one’s growling tummy, but at what nutritional cost?  Saturated and trans fat are not heart healthy, nor is a diet of high-salt foods.

Thankfully, there are better options.

To ease hunger and stay on a nutritious track, look for foods such as whole wheat crackers, raisins or trail mix, apples, carrots, nuts, and energy bars with fiber and protein.  Opt for 100% juice or water instead of the usually cola beverage.  And skip the energy drinks.  Many of these drinks contain high amounts of caffeine that can cause nausea, vomiting, dizziness, or even high blood pressure.

To help people make better vending choices, the Alabama Department of Health (ADPH) started a pilot program aimed at adults a few years ago (funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) after adopting new rules for snacks served in schools. The program has put healthy vending machines in state office buildings and hopefully will have an effect on obesity levels among state employees.

Alabama Healthy Vending is a company devoted to providing nutritious vending options that is part of a nationwide network working to improve the fast food eating habits of adults and children.  Joining with Sprout Healthy Vending in Irvine, California, this company offers over 1000 products that are “free of chemicals, artificial dyes, artificial preservatives, and artificial flavors.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital has also seen the need for better vending machine choices and has installed healthy vending options in several hospital locations so that employees and visitors have more choices than the typical vending fare.

According to the Alabama Department of Public Health, the following are the criteria for health vending selections: 

  • 10% or less of the Daily Value of total fat  (except nuts which contain healthy fats)
  • 10% or less of the Daily Value of total carbohydrate  (except fruit)
  • 5% or more of the Daily Value of at least one of the following nutrients:  fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Calcium or iron
  • 360 mg of sodium or less

With a little forethought and better vending selections, snacks can be healthy for everyone, everyday of the week!

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