The Truth Behind Our Vending Machines

By: Aaron Siebert

As we walk through the halls of our campus they are always there, standing with their offerings, promising a “healthy eating option,” while the students of Union and Booker T. enjoy their sugar-filled candy with no secrecy behind their nutritional value. Of course, I’m talking about our beloved vending machines. 

Union snack choices compared to our Jenks options.

Almost every student at Jenks has used the vending machines at least once, resulting in over 68,000 vends over the past 12 months alone (Information provided by Jenks Public Schools Director of Purchasing Doug Karnes). But how much do we really know about these allegedly “healthy snacks” the school provides, besides what we’ve been told? Each snack within the machines is full of “alternative” food choices. Options are either “reduced-fat” or “diet” or any other description that tells people “we want our students eating correctly.” 

But how effective are they? 

How healthy are the so-called “superior” options presented to us by the school. 

Well, let’s get to the bottom of this pressing issue. 

First things first let’s separate the options because we all know that there are two types of vending machines in school: The food and the drinks. But what makes certain snacks healthier than others? Well, I’m not sure, but luckily I’ve got a nutrition expert to explain it to me. 

Liam Ford is a Jenks High School student whose pet peeve is spreading health misinformation online, so he’s the perfect man to trust. 

“Nutrients are broken into two categories,” said Ford. “Macronutrients (the big three: fats, carbs, and proteins) and micronutrients (the many small nutrients: sodium, potassium, magnesium and all other vitamins and minerals.” 

But what amount of these nutrients is recommended for the average person? The answer is different for food and drinks–read below to find out.

The Food: 

Every day we pass the snacks, sitting behind the glass, urging us to spend our money as the happy people on the side of the machines have. But these advertisements also come with a promise, a promise that spending our money here will be better for our bodies than spending at a standard vending machine elsewhere. 

An incredibly happy model eating a chip.

Every model we have at JHS is supplied with the following products: 

  • Doritos Flama Reduced Fat 
  • Cheez-It 12g whole grain
  • Smartfood White Cheddar 
  • Jack Link’s Tender Bites
  • Welch’s Fruit Snacks 
  • Grandma’s Mini Chocolate Chip Cookies
  • Pop Tart whole grain

Now, it’s easy to find the amount of fats, carbs, and protein in these snacks. But what does that mean? Well according to our expert: 

“One gram of fat has nine calories,” said Ford. “While proteins and carbs each have four.”

So we can break this down by the foods that fit the FDA recommendation, or better due to their reduced-fat percentage. I’ll also inform you about the sugar content if it’s abnormally high. 

According to Ford, “For the average healthy human, the FDA recommends a range of 45-65 percent of calories come from carbs, 20-35 from fat, and 10-35 from protein.”  

We will break down the calorie count for each of the foods below. Calorie count can be divided into three categories: Carbs, Fat, and Protein. We will let know why each is unhealthy.

Calorie Breakdown: 

Doritos Flama Reduced Fat – 130 Calories. Fat – 35%. Carbs – 59%. Proteins – 6%. Overall: Healthy

Cheez-It 12g Whole Grain – 130 Calories. Fat – 31%. Carbs – 59%. Proteins – 12%. 

Overall: Healthy

Smartfood White Cheddar – 240 Calories. Fat – 56%. Carbs – 35%. Proteins – 8%. 

Overall: Unhealthy  – Due to the higher than average percentage of fat. 

A student making their snack decision.

Jack Link’s Tender Bites – 70 Calories. Fat – 13%. Carbs – 29%. Proteins – 57%. 

Overall: Healthy (Unless Protein is your enemy) 

Welch’s Fruit Snacks – 130 Calories. Fat – 0%. Carbs – 95%. Proteins – 5%. 

Overall: Healthy 

Grandma’s Chocolate Chip Cookies – 210 Calories. Fat – 34%. Carbs – 59%. Protein – 6%. 

Overall: Healthy

Pop Tart Whole Grain – 360 Calories. Fat – 13%. Carbs – 83% (With 39% of those carbs being added sugars). Protein – 16%. 

Overall: Unhealthy – Due to Sugar Content. 

So it would seem that the majority of the foods provided by the JHS vending machines are within the FDA recommendation. That being said, not all are perfect. But I would be hard pressed to say that Jenks is breaking their promise in providing healthier options in the snack department. 

The Drinks:

But how about the beverages, which tend to sell over double the amount of the foods. 

Our drink options are the following: 

  • Propel Water 
  • Diet Mt. Dew 
  • Diet Dr. Pepper 
  • Pepsi Zero Sugar 
  • Life Water 
  • Bubbl’R
  • Mountain Dew Kickstart 10% Juice 

But we can’t measure the drinks the same way we measure foods. When it comes to drinks we need to find out exactly why certain options have so few calories. 

The rows of drinking products.

Ingredient Breakdown: 

Diet Mt. Dew – 0 Calories*. While Diet Mt. Dew may have no calories, the artificial sugar it contains known as aspartame causes the consumer to seek more sugary and less healthy foods, often leading to overeating of foods that are poor for your health. 

Overall: Unhealthy – Due to artificial sugar (aspartame) content. 

Diet Dr. Pepper – 0 Calories*. Diet Dr. Pepper is another case where artificial sweeteners result in a drink that trades off no calories for unhealthy cravings. 

Overall: Unhealthy – Due to aspartame content. 

Pepsi Zero Sugar – 0 Calories*. Why this drink may be called “zero sugar” instead of the classic “diet,” the takeaway in terms of health is the same. It also contains aspartame, the only difference between this and Diet Pepsi is the caffeine increase. Which is good for early morning grogginess. 

Overall: Unhealthy – Due to aspartame content. 

Life Water – 0 Calories. This product is just standard water with electrolytes (such as sodium and potassium) added for a slight taste difference. 

Overall: Healthy 

Propel Water – 0 Calories. 160 mg of Sodium. 40 mg of potassium. 

Overall: Healthy 

Bubbl’R – 5 Calories. Carbs – 100%. 

Overall: Healthy (Due to the small amount of calories) 

 Mountain Dew Kickstart – 40 Calories.  Carbs – 100%. (High Sugar content)

Overall: Unhealthy – Due to the amount of sugar. 

Takeaway: 

A message to the students to make sure they are confident in their decision.

The snacks we eat are a constant part of life at Jenks, every classroom (snack policy granted or not) has students distracting themselves with their endless consumption, which is why it’s good to know more about such a common aspect of our day. 

With the labeling on the packaging promising an alternative choice that isn’t terrible for you, and with the examination of what is actually in the snacks, it is fair to say that it’s a mixed bag. 

A student goes over their options.

It seems that the majority of the foods are fair to call “healthy,” as they fit the FDA recommendation, while the drinks have both a good amount of easy to recommend water products, while also being full of artificial sugar sodas that aren’t exactly great for you. 

But, let’s face it, fitting your FDA-approved diet isn’t exactly the first thing on students’ minds at 10 a.m. in the morning. People are often looking for something that’ll make their taste buds happy or a drink that’ll wake them up. So there are completely valid reasons for picking any options. But, it is always smart to know what’s in the food the school is giving us.

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