Eating On The Road
Best and Worst Gas Station Cuisine
By Joe Wilkes
From the Million Dollar Body Club - Join Today and Workout to
all try to make the best eating choices, but sometimes events conspire against
us and our options are limited. Maybe the supermarket's closed, or you're on a
road trip with no civilization or Whole Foods in sight for miles, or you're
late for work and breakfast is going to be what you can grab from the mini-mart
while your car's gas tank is being filled. While we'd never recommend your
local gas station, liquor store, or convenience mart as someplace you could get
a square meal, sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. At least if you're
armed with some information, you can mitigate the damage.
news is that a lot of convenience stores have started stocking healthier
options. Many offer energy bars, meal replacement shakes, fresh fruit, or even
hard-boiled eggs. You might have to dig around the bottom shelf of the beer
cooler to find fresh food, but sometimes it's there. It's worth asking about,
at any rate. Opt for cottage cheese when you can, along with a plain meat and
bread sandwich (condiments on the side).
If eating in your car is becoming a habit, you
might consider stocking the glove compartment with some healthy snacks.
Unsalted nuts are a good portable snack (see the article below about the health
benefits of nuts). Or maybe keep a few P90X® Peak Performance Protein Bars
in the car for emergencies. You can even order them with a thermal pack to keep
them fresh and unmelted. But of course the best-laid plans often go awry, so
let's look at some of the main categories of gas station cuisine and how you
can make some smart choices after you made the not-so-smart choice to eat at
the gas station.
The "vegetable" course
the most tempting options is a bag of chips. Crunchy, salty, fatty, and
delicious! And super-easy to eat in the car, with the only drawback being a
potentially orange steering wheel. That and the salty, fatty part. But come on,
potato chips are basically potatoes, right? And potatoes are vegetables. I'm
eating a vegetable! Lay off! But that 1.5-ounce bag of Lay's potato chips
(that's a small bag, not a Big Grab) will give you 225 calories and 15 grams of
fat. A similar serving of Doritos (corn's a vegetable, too!) will run you 210
calories and 12 grams of fat. Baked Lay's only run 165 calories, have 3 grams
of fiber, and only a little over 2 grams of fat. The only problem is they taste
like Baked Lay's. A compromise in the fat-vs.-flavor battle might be Sun Chips,
which have the same calorie count as the Doritos, but with a third less fat.
They're also made with whole grains, which deliver 3 grams of fiber per
serving, which will help you feel full longer.
"dairy" category of crunchables, i.e., Cheetos, the diet news is getting worse.
A 1.5-ounce bag contains about 240 calories, 15 grams of fat, and almost no
fiber. The baked version has 195 calories and 8 grams of fat and still
virtually no fiber. Nutritionally speaking, eating most of the "cheez" doodles
and their ilk is only slightly healthier than eating the bag they come in. If
you're desperate for a nacho-cheese-powder delivery system, you might consider
Corn Nuts, which are about 185 calories and contain 6 grams of fat, but also
contain 4 grams of fiber.
you're on a low-carb diet, you might take a look at the unappetizingly named
pork rinds. A 1.5-ounce serving packs 24 grams of protein, although they also
contain 15 grams of fat, 6 of which are saturated, but the good news is they
contain zero carbs. The other problem with pork rinds and almost all of the
snacks in the chip category is the high sodium level. A small bag of any of
these crunchy delights will give you about a quarter to a third of your
recommended daily allowance of sodium. Too much salt in your diet can lead to
hypertension, among other problems including fluid retention, which makes you
look as puffy as the salty cheez doodle you just ate.
BEST: Sun Chips, Corn
Nuts, baked chips
WORST: Cheese puffs, potato chips
The meat course
stations or stop-and-go markets offer hot dogs. They're usually pretty cheap
and that's because they're made with pretty cheap meat. You can check out my
Foods Not to Give Your Kids" article to read more about why not to eat
them, including the fact that a lot of dogs may be full of carcinogenic
nitrates and nitrites, sodium, and saturated fat. Given the choice between the
devil you know and the devil you don't know, gas station hot dogs are
definitely the devil you don't know. Unlike the rest of the junk food in the
joint, no one knows what's in those fatty little tubes. They don't have labels
with their nutrition information and if you slather on some nacho cheese and
chili, also of dubious origin, you're really playing Russian roulette with your
stomach. If you don't know what's in it, I wouldn't eat it.
of hard-to-find nutrition information, ever try to find out what's in a Slim
Jim? Their Web site no longer lists the nutritional data, which doesn't make it
sound too promising as a healthy snack. Wikipedia claims a Giant Slim (27.5
grams) contains 147 calories and 13 grams of fat, 5 of which are saturated. It
also will give you well over 400 mg of sodium, almost a fifth of your RDA. Beef
jerky only has 73 calories per ounce, almost no fat, and has 12 grams of
protein. It is still high in sodium though, and that's before you factor in
flavors like teriyaki, which ratchet the salt levels up another couple of
BEST: Beef jerky or
nothing (do you really think gas station meat is a good idea?)
WORST: Hot dogs, Slim Jims
The dessert course
Chocolate and candy are the most tempting items at the gas
station. Who couldn't use a little sugar rush on the way to that 8 a.m.
meeting? Or a little boost to help you drive those last 50 miles down the road.
With most candy bars, you can tell from the label you're in trouble. A Snickers
bar, which contains a few peanuts, may delude us into considering it a
not-unhealthy option. But it still has 273 calories, 14 grams of fat (5
saturated) and only a paltry 4 grams of protein. And some of the "healthy"
granola bars you might reach for instead can be just as full of fat and sugar.
As always it pays to read the labels. Your guilty pleasure may be more innocent
than the supposed healthy choice. For example, I had always thought a Hostess
fruit pie (or "liquor-store pie" as my friends' four-year-old delightfully
calls it) would be a healthier alternative than its corporate shelfmate, the
Twinkie. It has fruit, right? A Hostess apple pie, though, has 480 calories and
22 grams of fat, compared to a two-pack of Twinkies which has 300 calories and
9 grams of fat. You're better off not splurging on any of the items on the gas
station equivalent of the pastry cart though. Instead, save your indulgences
for something really good later.
sweet tooth won't be denied, look to dark chocolate without any fillings. It's
high in antioxidants, so you'll at least get some health benefits. But don't
eat the whole bar. Just have a couple of squares and add the rest to your
glove-compartment pantry for later. Also, you can look for low-fat sweets like
Twizzlers or gummi bears, which will give you about the same calorie load as a
candy bar, but about a tenth of the fat. Candy that doesn't come in one big
piece can also help you control portions, because you don't want to get all of
your calories from sugar. Have a couple of pieces and put the rest in the glove
compartment out of reach, or even in the trunk if you're really tempted. Aside
from being fattening, the high glycemic value of sugary treats will ensure
you'll just be hungry sooner, potentially starting a bad pattern of roadside
snacking as the day goes on. Foods that are high in protein and fiber will help
you feel full longer and give you a steady energy supply instead of sugar
BEST: Dark chocolate,
WORST: Pretty much everything else
And of course, something to
Here's where you can really get killed, dietwise. Beachbody
nutrition advisor Steve Edwards doesn't call soda "The
Worst Food on the Planet" for nothing. A 12-ounce can of soda contains
about 180 calories, all of them from high-fructose corn syrup, the unhealthiest
sweetener around. But of course most convenience stores offer you more than 12
ounces to slake your unquenchable thirst. You can get the X-treme Gulp Mug at
7-Eleven now and its 52-ounce capacity will give you over 800 calories with
absolutely no additional nutritional value. You could try one of those little
Starbucks Frappuccino bottles instead. But they're even worse than soda. A
teeny 9.5-ounce bottle contains 180 calories and 3 grams of fat. More calories
than soda and with extra fat! Who can resist?
course the best thing to drink is a big bottle of water.
are tons of reasons to drink it and it's a readily available beverage. If
you really want a fountain drink or something with a little flavor or caffeine
boost, go for some unsweetened iced tea or coffeeyou'll quench your thirst and
get a few antioxidants without the calories. And the caffeine boost can help
keep you alert on the road. But watch how much caffeine you consume, as too
much can make you jumpy, and it can have a diuretic effect, which can lead to
dehydration, not to mention extra pit stops. Try and avoid sports drinks like
Gatorade or so-called energy drinks like Red Bullmost of the energy comes from
our old friend high-fructose corn syrup.
BEST: Water, tea,
WORST: Soda, sweetened coffee drinks, energy
drinks, sports drinks