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The #1 Worst Vending Machine Snack to Buy, Say Dietitians

Don't use your dollar on this.
FACT CHECKED BY Olivia Tarantino

Often packed with chips, cookies, pastries, and more, vending machines aren't known for providing the most nutritious options. However, when you need a snack, you need a snack, and learning how to navigate the vending machine may help boost your energy, satisfy your appetite, and support your health.

While most processed snack items aren't the epitome of nutritious, there is one common vending machine snack that stands out as the worst. Candy, especially varieties without nuts, seeds, and chocolate, is the worst snack to choose from a vending machine.

The distinction here between types of candy is important. While chocolate bars and candy packed with caramel, nougat, and nuts aren't the best snack option either, candy with high sugar content and very little protein and fat is considered to be even worse.

Most candy is made using refined sugar, which research suggests may raise blood pressure, increase chronic inflammation, and contribute to weight gain, diabetes, and fatty liver disease. While sugar is one of the most common ingredients used in all types of candy, the balance of sugar, fat, and protein in some candies is worse than in others.

Why high-sugar, low-protein candy is so bad for you.

colorful candies

The reason candies with low protein and fat content are considered the worst is without these macronutrients, the sugar content is able to impact blood sugar quicker and more significantly than candy options that contain some fat and protein.

Additionally, non-chocolate candies tend to have more refined sugar per serving compared to chocolate-based candies. This concentrated sugar content combined with little to no fat and protein is more likely to lead to energy spikes and falls and be less satiating. When carbs, like sugar, fat, and protein are all present in a snack, even candy, there tends to be a lesser spike in blood sugar, which is more beneficial for health. So, if you are heading to the vending machine with a desire for something sweet, a Snickers bar would be a better choice than Skittles.

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What to buy instead.

Beyond candy, there are sometimes reasonable snack options available in vending machines. Nuts, trail mix, peanut butter crackers, and whole-grain granola bars are options you may see, and are likely to be your best bet for a reasonably balanced snack.

To avoid the vending machine conundrum, try getting into the habit of always having snacks available from home. Whether stashed in your car, purse, or at your office desk, options from home have the potential to be more nutritious. For example, shelf-stable protein-packed snacks like jerky, dried chickpeas, Whisps Cheese Crisps, and protein bars can easily be kept on hand for the next time you are in a pinch and may limit your trips to the vending machine.

Melissa Rifkin, MS, RDN, CDN
Melissa is a Connecticut-based registered dietitian with over 15 years of experience, including clinical and outpatient settings, and runs the popular nutrition education Instagram account, Confessionofadietitian. Read more about Melissa
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