If the vending machine hates you, hate it back!

The presence of the so-called “vending machines” has grown exponentially in the last three decades. Nevertheless, despite its possibilities the inside content tends to be the unhealthiest stuff we may find.

Vending machines usually gather in a small place many products with little nutritional values, or directly insane. We all know them: sugary or sweetened soft drinks, sweet or salty snacks such as chips, chocolates, pastries, biscuits and so on. That is, much of the inconvenient and little or nothing of what would be advisable. The only element, when it is in it, that could be considered apart is bottled water.

The worst of the issue comes when beside of being insane many of these elements are offered as “healthy” through packaging or advertising. It happens with ultra-processed products (chocolates, cereal bars, salty snacks …) which are under the slogan of being low in calories, or “Mediterranean”, of from an ecological origin, or that are suitable for vegans. And it is not more than low caloric, Mediterranean, ecological or vegetarian junk.

Máquina de vending

Do we really need to be stuffed?

We are not like the forage eating animals that are stuffed while unmoving. For human being, vending machines are like forage for cattle.  Is easy to find this machines in work centers, educational or sanitary centers, at gas stations, cinemas, etc. or at the corner of the street. So, regardless what is in the machines, the first question to rise is whether such availability meets a need or just someone else benefit. The answer is clear: no need. Nor we do have the need to be continually eating nor eating more often implies more benefit. 

On the contrary, if we have to be clear about the causes of the epidemic of obesity, type 2 diabetes and other metabolic diseases of our time, it is that of food overexposure. We eat a lot. More than is convenient. It is not only too much amount but also vending machines offer the worse products related to nutritional values, such as over sugared, refined flour, salt and flats … when not all at once.

So, before discussing what should or could be present in these vending machines, we should be aware that we don´t usually need to eat as much just because vending machines are all around.

Máquina de vending

Healthy ‘vending’ awareness increases

Beyond the question of whether these machines should be allowed (or at least regulated), there are different actions rising to improve their nutritional values. More and more, public and private initiatives have been set up to send an example and change the dynamic. One of the most recent cases is Portugal, a country that last March took a further twist on this issue. After prohibiting the presence of products with negative nutritional profile in schools in 2013, this year authorities forced to comply with this ban products at sanitary centers. So, no more sodas, sweets and snacks in these places. There are some other initiatives like these in Spain such “Gosasun” in the Basque Country. Also Valencia and Murcia Region are taken measures in this direction, but rather softly in terms of regulation and application of that regulation.

In summary:

  • In my opinion, we don´t need that much presence of vending machines, whatever is inside, from chocolate bars or sodas (which we obviously don´t need) to, for instance, fruits, that are mostly overprice. My recommendation is to take fresh fruit from the market with you rather than going to the vending machines. It is cheaper and flavorful.
  • The reason why there are no healthy options in most vending machines is because it is not worthwhile for the owner, and having tried it with no insufficient demand from consumers ends given up the idea. In terms of conservation most of the healthy products need special conditions, like constant temperature for instance.
  • 30 or 40 years ago the need for a snack at work, at the car, at the school or when visiting someone at the hospital was resolved with prediction behaviors and no one starved to death under a nutritional deficit before arriving home for lunch or dinner.
Máquina de vending

So, don´t play by ear with your nutrition, unless you are good playing by ear and you can forecast what you´ll find wherever you go. Your pocket and, for sure, your health will show gratitude. And remember, if the vending machine doesn´t love you, don´t show much affection back.

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Juan Revenga Frauca
I am Dietician-Nutritionist and Biologist from the University of Navarra and I practice the profession of dietician-nutritionist and as professor at San Jorge University. I am also a collaborator in different media in the fields of nutrition, food and health . I am member of the Spanish Foundation for Dietitians and Nutritionists (FEDN), and part of both its Scientific Committee and its Technical Advisory Committee. I have been president and founder of the Professional College of Aragon D-N (CPDNA). I am an active user of social media. You can follow me on twitter (@juan_revenga) or Facebook.