What you’re really paying for in ‘healthy’ vending machines

Are “healthy” vending snacks inherently healthier? Essentially, no. Mind-boggling? Yes. Like the sign on the Healthy Vending machine reads, many of these “better options” promise “low calories” and you’ll get just that…only that. What these products don’t advertise (but you can find on their label) is that what they lack in the caloric department, they make up for elsewhere. Janet Brancato, founder of nutrition coaching company Nutopia, put it best when she said, “You have to keep in mind they’re snacks…they’re still going to be sodium, fat and added sugar.”

Here’s an eye-widening example: A bag of strawberry yogurt flavored Simply Chex in the Healthy Vending machine has a low 140 calories compared to the 220 calories in a Nestle’s Crunch bar. Crunch even tops Chex in the fat department by 7g. But it’s when we look a little further down the label that we find where the playing fields are evened out. Both Chex and Crunch come uncomfortably close in the carb department with Chex containing 27g and Crunch containing 30g. But the grand masquerade of it all is in the sodium department, where Chex triumphs over Crunch with a staggering 270mg to Crunch’s 60mg, almost five times that of it’s “unhealthy” peer.

Many students pass up cream-filled cupcakes and cheesy garlic bread-flavored Lays potato chips to purchase baked chips, fruit snacks and other self-professed healthy snacks from Healthy Vending machines. But the only thing these students are purchasing is peace of mind. With obesity steadily on the rise and the CDC reporting one-third of American adults as obese, we need more than peace of mind right now. So, why the “healthy snack” deception in the push for a healthier America?

It would be presumptuous and, at best, naive of us, not to acknowledge the profitability of this push for a healthier America, and, more specifically, the monetary profitability. According to statistics published by the FDA, the U.S. weight-loss market has raked in over $60 billion in this year alone, a clear nod to the “supply and demand” nature of our capitalistic society.

With so many Americans willing to empty their pockets for a chance at either looking like a contestant off of America’s Next Top Model or simply being “healthier,” it’s plausible that the weight loss industry will say anything to convince a consumer to purchase a product, even if it couldn’t be further from the truth.

The truth is that carb and sodium-counting are just as important, and, in some cases, more important than calorie-counting and fat-checking when it comes to health. However, many of these snacks, as we saw in the example, sacrifice healthier counts of carbs and sodium to make up for taste and a lack of caloric energy.

When speaking to my appointed nutritionist at the Georgia State Recreational Center, she informed me that “there are no bad foods.” Are there better options? Of course. But are the options in the Healthy Vending machine better? So much better that they needed to be separated from the rest of the snacks and deemed “healthier?” No.

We should make healthier choices, but to do so we have to consider what “healthy” really means and acknowledge the fact that “healthy” has been largely defined by a profit-hungry industry.