Are Vending Machine Snacks as Healthy as Advertised?

2 mins read

M-A’s vending machines are some of the most popular amenities on campus, consistently attracting long lines. According to state policy, the school must stock the vending machines with nutritious snacks. However, even though a product might claim to be healthy, the packaging may not tell the whole truth.

The vending machines next to the library are filled with peanut butter crackers, Cheez-Its, cookies, Pop-Tarts, and sparkling juices. Each item is from a line of snacks marketed as healthy alternatives to their counterparts; some boast claims of “whole wheat,” “good source of fiber,” or “heart-healthy,” which are mainly designed to appeal to schools and comply with food guidelines. The chips are all labeled “reduced-fat,” the Pop-Tarts are “reduced-sugar,” and the crackers are “reduced-sodium.”

The statements on these snacks, though, are often unregulated and misleading. To be able to market the term “good source of fiber,” products are required to have 10% to 19% of the Daily Value (DV) or 2.8 to 5.3 grams of fiber. The “reduced” sugar, fat, or sodium labels only require a 25% decrease from regular versions, meaning that junk food with high levels of these substances are only a small amount closer to a healthy intake.

Stringent low-fat guidelines at schools emerged in the 1980s amid Proctor and Gamble Company’s extensive lobbying. One example of this marketing is evident in the packaging of Cheez-Its and Pop-Tarts; the reduced-fat Cheez-Its have 6 grams of fat per serving, and the Pop-Tarts have 15 grams of sugar. Both these quantities add up quickly in a Standard American Diet when considering that a Pop-Tart is 41% of the daily recommended sugar intake and 12% of the daily recommended fat intake per serving. The healthy daily intake recommendations are not uniform for everybody depending on factors like lifestyle, age, weight, height, and gender. 

Additionally, vending machine snacks, specifically Reduced Fat Doritos Flamin’ Hot, are dyed with Red Dye 40. In recent years, this petroleum byproduct has been accused of exacerbating specific ADHD symptoms, such as hyperactivity, causing other neurobehavioral effects in children, and being carcinogenic. Notably ,countries such as the UK and Switzerland have banned Red Dye 40.

Both the Doritos and Rice-Krispie Treats sold in the vending machine are heavy in carbohydrates, and the Rice Krispie is extremely high in sugar. According to the nutrition label, the Doritos contain 20g of carbs and 5g of fat, the Rice Krispie Treat has a whopping 11g of added sugar in the form of corn syrup and 30g of carbs. In particular, the Rice Krispie treat has nearly no nutritional value, only containing trace amounts of vitamins and minerals. 

The decision to label the Rice Krispie Treats as ‘‘Whole Wheat’’ and the Doritos as ‘‘Reduced Fat’’ distracts from their underlying nutrition issues. A considerable improvement to school food would be providing options that appeal to a new wave of health-conscious consumers, such as unsalted popcorn, packaged apple slices, baby carrots, nuts, and yogurts.

Living a healthier lifestyle doesn’t solely rely on avoiding unhealthy foods, but on making healthier choices. It is integral to a healthy diet to incorporate all aspects of nutrition, complete with carbs, protein, healthy fats, and produce. But a healthy diet is in no way contingent upon complete avoidance of certain foods, fear of food, or restriction. But as consumers, we must be aware of deceptive marketing practices, and keep that in mind before making a decision on what foods to consume.

Niklas is a sophomore at M-A. This is his first year in journalism. He hopes to write about local events and politics. In his free time, Niklas enjoys exercising and going to Coffeebar!

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