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Are you a vending machine sinner?

vending-machine-saint-or-siEvery day, all of us make choices about how to satisfy our need for food. Unfortunately for many of us in nursing, and despite the fact that we’re often called upon to counsel others about their poor eating habits, vending machines are often our only sources of meals during long shifts and heavy patient loads.

The good news is that all vending machine contents are not created equal, and more food suppliers are attempting to offer nutritious food. And while the majority of vending machines may be full of candy bars, creamy cupcakes and blood sugar-rising donuts, healthier alternatives such as apples, oranges and turkey sandwiches are becoming more commonplace.

What you’ll find today may not be standard choices for meals, but at least they’re more nutritious options when you’re faced with those annoying hunger pangs and several hours left to work.

When in doubt, five important tips should govern your food choices. These will help you to win the ongoing battle between your cravings and maintaining a healthy lifestyle:

  1. Realize that satisfying the taste buds takes priority. Do you want something salty, sweet or crunchy? Many calories can be saved by making that decision first. While baked potato chips aren’t usually considered nutritious, they’re healthier than the fried varieties for satisfying a salt craving. For a chocolate desire, anything chewy and gooey should be avoided in favor of a candy bar with almonds, since almonds have healthy fats and provide at least some protein for energy. Peanut butter crackers, while full of calories, also offer a great source of protein and are crunchy, too.  Don’t opt for granola bars. Their healthy attributes are a myth; they’re no better than candy bars. Instead, a great choice is a bag full of almonds and cashews because they’ll make you feel full longer and have far less sugar.
  2. Size matters. Read the portion sizes. One small bag of potato chips may really be portioned for two, three or even four people, but you’ll likely eat the entire bag anyway. Also, anything that says “king-size” in large letters and reads like a science experiment is just a waste of calories. If you’re going to splurge, look for the smallest packages of unhealthy items or opt for at least semi-healthy items.
  3. Purchase one package at a time. We’ve all seen those people who approach vending machines like squirrels stocking up for the winter. Select one package and go back later for a lower-calorie choice. Grab a small package of mints if you’re still hungry.
  4. Fruit is always first. An apple, an orange or a pear can provide a boost of energy for a long day, and later you can add a package of nuts. However, stay away from trail mix that has candy, as it adds sugar and unneeded calories that are sure to wreck havoc on your waistline.
  5. Plan ahead. Raid your own refrigerator and bring those carrot sticks and other nutritious items from home. This is healthy and cost effective.

Finally, remember that there’s always another meal and another chance. An occasional treat from the vending machine isn’t all that bad and it doesn’t have to ruin your diet. It’s all in what you choose that makes the difference.

Now, ready to test your eating smarts? Then play our PORTION CONTROL GAME!

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Diane Porter

Diane Porter is the owner of Weight Off for Life, a nutrition and natural optimal health counseling center in Rockwall, Texas. She has spent her four decades as a registered nurse, promoting healthy living and lifestyle choices. In addition to her work in hospitals and health care businesses, Porter is a former assistant professor of nursing at Texas Woman’s University. Continually educating herself about health and nutrition, she is a certified health adviser for the Take Shape for Life health program and is an applied clinical nutritionist through a program offered by the Texas Chiropractic College. Porter has won numerous awards for her work, including being named one of the Great 100 Nurses by the Texas Nurses Association (Districts Three and Four) and the Dallas-Fort Worth Hospital Council in 1992.
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