Quick and convenient, vending machines offer an array of food choices that may make or break your healthy diet.  Being prepared with your own healthy options can help you save money and steer clear of vending machine pitfalls, but if vending machines are your only option, here are some tips:

Best Choices:

1. Bottled water. Many people don't drink enough water.  With zero calories, water helps replenish fluids lost throughout the day and keeps you hydrated so you won't mistake thirst with hunger.

2. Nuts. Studies have shown that eating a small portion of nuts daily may actually help you control your weight.  Nuts are high in heart-healthy fats and satisfying protein. Vending machine portions are usually small so stick with one serving to limit calories.

3. Fruit. Fresh fruit is high in nutrients and low in calories.  If you have fresh fruit in your vending machine - go for it!  You'll get disease-fighting phytonutrients, vitamins and fiber in one low calorie package.  Dried fruit, such as raisins, also offer great nutrition in a smaller serving.  You may want to pair dried fruit with nuts for better blood sugar control.

4. Low-fat or fat-free milk or yogurt. Studies have shown that 3 servings of dairy foods may help you control your weight.  Dairy foods also help keep your bones and teeth strong and help to control blood pressure.  Containing both protein and carbohydrates, dairy helps keep you satisfied and also combine well with fruit and nuts for a filling snack or mini-meal.

5. Pretzels or baked chips. Ditch the fat and enjoy the crunch with these baked items.  Choose low-sodium (140 mg. per serving) if available. 


Worst Choices:

1. Soda. Liquid calories from soda provide empty calories - calories without nutrients! With 150-250 calories per can or bottle, sodas are a problem with weight control.  And they fill you up so you're not hungry for healthier choices.  Also, they may take your blood sugar on a roller-coaster ride of highs and lows, which is not a good thing.

2. Candy bars. Loaded with sugar and often-times with fat, candy bars don't offer much in the way of nutrition and have similar problems as discussed above with soda.  If dark chocolate bars are available, choose these to satisfy your sweet tooth with some heart-healthy benefits.  But remember to eat small portions at one time for calorie control.

3. Chips. High in calories, fat and salt.

4. Sausage meats. High in calories, fat and salt.

5. Pastries, cookies and doughnuts. High in calories, sugar and fat. 

The bottom line with vending machine choices, as with all foods,  is to watch your portion sizes.  Unless you're making calorie-free choices, calories from vending machine foods can quickly add up and contribute to weight gain.  And remember to pay attention while you're eating.  Mindless eating at work or play contributes to calorie amnesia and weight gain.