Vending Machine Jargon

Convenient. Cheap. Fulfilling. These three words can ring harmony in most ears, especially when referring to food. We like to eat quickly and hassle free; we'd rather not spend too much; and we expect to be satisfied with our meal. Think for a moment of how it was hundreds of years ago and eating a meal wasn't as convenient (you most likely had to hunt for it or grow it), it certainly wasn't cheap (it could cost you your life), and the act of eating at all was fulfilling enough. Today, food is everywhere and if you're lucky, you don't even need so much as some spare change to get some. I'm speaking of course of the vending machine and how convenient, cheap, and for some, fulfilling they have made it for us to acquire substance.

Vending machines have long been the mainstay of employee lounges, cafeterias, and break rooms. But even beyond our place of work, vending machines can be found just about anywhere. In fact, in the United States there is a vending machine for every 38 people. They can dispense everything from old fashioned treats like candy bars and peanut butter crackers to fruit, cold sandwiches, and the more elaborate, heated meals. The danger of the vending machine however is not in their abundance, but typically of what they are dispensing.  Furthermore, it's not just what they are dispensing but rather what's in what they're dispensing. Upon further review of your favorite vending machine, it should come as no surprise that if an item you saw in there three weeks ago is still there and hasn't changed shape or color, it has been well preserved. Is that something you think is very good for the body?

There are a lot of "buzz" words on packaging and labeling and until recently, never really caught the attention of consumers. Hopefully, it isn't going to be another hundred or so years before we figure out what is good for us to eat. Familiarize yourself with these terms and perhaps you will find the convenience and cost of the vending machine less fulfilling.

Partially hydrogenated fats — Better known as trans fats, they are fats injected with extra hydrogen to increases the shelf life of a food item. Our bodies have a harder time assimilating these fats and chemically, they’re much closer to plastic than nourishment. PHFs also have been linked to greater risk of coronary heart disease than saturated fats.

High fructose corn syrup — High fructose corn syrup is an added sweetener and provides flavor stability. It is derived from cornstarch which is almost 100 percent glucose and then enzymatically processed to convert much of the glucose into crystalline fructose. Not a naturally occurring sweetener and yet can be found in just about everything.

Crystalline fructose — Crystalline fructose is not derived from fruit but rather from corn starch.  Like high fructose corn syrup, it is enzymatically processed to convert glucose into fructose crystals (hence, the name crystalline fructose). It is not found in nature, nor is it a derivative of fruit. It is metabolized almost entirely by the liver and is more readily converted into fat than other sugars.

Enriched Flour — Flour that has originally been stripped of nutrients and then had them replaced or enriched. Whole wheat flour and wheat flour are not the same.

Malto-dextrin; “ose’ ending words — Sugars, plain and simple, even if the label says sugar free.

Sugar Alcohols — Not listed as a sugar because it does not have the same net effect of sugar. However, alcohol is the simplest form of sugar and thus enters the blood stream quicker. Don’t be fooled; it’s still sugar.

There are of course countless numbers of preservatives, coloring agents, and flavor enhancers, most of which we can not pronounce nor understand their role. The FDA registers these ingredients as GRAS (generally regarded as safe) and not all of them are legally required to be listed. Labeling terms can also be a bit misleading, such as: Low Calorie — less than 40 calories per serving; Reduced Calorie – 25 percent or more fewer calories than a comparable product; Reduced Fat – 25 percent or more fewer grams of fat than a comparable product; Reduced Sugar - 25 percent or more fewer grams of sugar than a comparable product; Calorie Free – 5 calories or less per serving – only water is calorie free; Sugar Free – sugar not listed in the ingredients – no regulation on sugar alcohols; Fat free - less than ½ g of fat per serving.

The best advice is to avoid the dispensers of pre packaged food from the start. However, convenience is not always a bad thing. Be careful of what you chose. Don’t buy into marketing hoopla and most important, read the ingredients. Bon appetite.