Americans spend billions of dollars at gas stations each year—but not on gas. Make the most of your pit stop (and get the biggest bang for your buck!) by avoiding these items when you refuel.
15 things you should never buy at a gas station
15 things you should never buy at a gas station
Flashy headlines and photos may catch your eye in the checkout line, but whatever you do, don’t reach for that copy of US Weekly. Gas stations and grocery stores alike place items like magazines and candy bars in premium spots to draw your attention. The result? If you only stopped for a bathroom break, they just cashed in on your impulse purchase. Beware of these things you should never buy at the airport, too.
Sandwiches and wraps
In a 2016 investigation by HuffPost, a food safety inspector found that many gas stations did not store food properly. Perishable items like sandwiches and wraps should be held at 39°F or colder; otherwise, they become breeding grounds for bacteria and viruses that make you sick. Before you reach for that turkey wrap, make sure the fridge’s thermometer reads at least 39°F. HuffPost also recommends choosing items near the cooling element and avoiding foods at the top of the stack.
Get this: 7-Eleven sells a whopping 45 million gallons of fountain soda each year. That’s enough soda to fill 68 Olympic-sized swimming pools, according to the chain. But you need to think twice before filling up your cup, and here’s why: Thanks to moisture that collects inside the machine, soda dispensers are prime environments for mold. Banish the Big Gulp and opt for water, instead. Given soda’s negative health effects and cost, you will be doing your wallet and waistline a huge favor.
If the sodium and fat content of hot dogs don’t turn you off, consider how they are stored. Hot foods need to be kept at 135-140°F to avoid bacteria growth, and hot food storage at gas stations is often not up to par, according to HuffPost. They suggest avoiding hot dogs on the bottom of the heating rack, especially if they have a “glazed” appearance. Chances are those wieners have been sitting at low temps for too long. You should never buy these foods at the airport, either.
A 1-ounce bag of Lay’s Classic Potato Chips has 160 calories, which seems harmless at first—until you learn that over half of those calories are from fat. And don’t even get us started on those 170 milligrams of sodium. Plus, when it comes to packaged food at gas stations, you should always check the expiration date before you buy; the HuffPost investigation found that expired foods were one of the most common food safety violations at gas stations.
From keychains to decorative towels, anything stamped with the name of a nearby city or state is not worth your money. Not only will you pay a premium price for a cheaply made item, but gas station souvenirs are practically designed to lure you into spending more during your pit stop. Photos would be better (and budget-friendly!) mementos of your trip. Don’t miss more invisible ways stores trick you into spending money.
Specialty coffee drinks
Stay away from the mochas and lattes, too. Between the milk, syrup, and other added ingredients, the calories in that java drink can add up fast. A medium mocha with 2% reduced-fat milk and chocolate mocha sauce, for example, could have up to 660 caloriesand eight grams of fat. Even worse, gulping down a bottled Starbucks Vanilla Frappuccino is like eating 32 Nilla Wafers at once. You’re better off sipping on a plain old cup of joe.
If you need a pick-me-up on a long road trip, a giant energy drink might be the first thing you reach for. Gulping down a can of Monster may give you a boost, but research shows that it can also lead to serious heart problems, as well as anxiety and insomnia. And with up to 62 grams of added sugar per 16-ounce can (that’s the equivalent of six Krispy Kreme donuts!), you will consume way more than the recommended daily dose of sugar.
Buyers, beware: Little Debbie can destroy your diet. Their Red Velvet Creme Filled Cakes have 35 grams of sugar and 16 grams of fat, including nearly 50 percent of the daily recommended intake of saturated fats. Chocolate Chip Cream Pies, on the other hand, contain 33 grams of sugar. If you’re in the mood for something sweet, reach for trail mix or dried fruit instead. Better yet, try one of these snacks for road trips that nutritionists love.
Beer and wine
Give the boot to bottom-shelf beers like Game Day Ice and Game Day Light, both of which are produced for and sold at 7-Eleven. They may be cheap, but you will get what you pay for. Beer Advocate gives Game Day Ice a 1.85/5 rating, while Game Day Light received a rating of 1.95/5. So unless your favorite brew is on sale, you will find the same brands for cheaper prices at a discount liquor store.
It’s no secret that nachos are unhealthy, but it turns out that they can also be deadly. In 2017, one person died and many more were hospitalized after eating contaminated nacho sauceat a California gas station. While cases like this one are rare, gas stations are trying to be many things at once—which may cause them to slack on food safety, HuffPost says. The safer choice is to snack on a granola bar or nuts until you can stop at a restaurant.
Slurpees and slushies may have once been the highlight of road trips during your childhood, but no longer. They can take a terrible toll on your waistline, for one; a 44-ounce Dr. Pepper Slurpee contains about 825 calories, most of which are from sugar. And like fountain soda dispensers, Slurpee machines are said to harbor mold and illness-causing bacteria. Ditch the nostalgia and opt for healthier alternatives like iced tea or flavored water.
Like many things at a gas station, donuts are not diet-friendly. In fact, you would need to bike for over 30 minutes to burn off a pack of four mini donuts, per MyFitnessPal. Say no to those glazed donuts, too. Even if they are delivered fresh to the gas station every morning, they will probably taste stale after just a few hours. Satisfy your sweet tooth by picking up a banana or apple at the cash register, instead.
While breakfast may be the most important meal of the day, not all breakfasts are created equal. Chowing down on a chicken and cheese biscuit at your local Speedway puts you back 500 calories, along with 29 grams of fat. A sausage, bacon, scrambled egg, and cheese croissant clocks in at 590 calories and 39 grams of fat. For a healthier start to your morning, try these high-protein breakfast ideas.
Making a pit stop for protein while on the road? Steer clear of pre-packaged sticks of beef. A single Classic Slim Jim has 550 milligrams of sodium—almost a quarter of what you should be eating in an entire day—and is chock-full of preservatives. Your diet isn’t the only thing to worry about at the gas station, though; beware of these dangerous mistakes you make while pumping gas.
For things you shouldn't buy at an airport, see below!
Foods you should never buy at the airport
Foods you should never buy at the airport
“A big old soft pretzel is not a meal,” says registered dietitian Marjorie Nolan Cohn, owner of MNC Nutrition in Philadelphia. Those fluffy carbs might smell enticing, but carbo-loading before a long flight will leave your tummy rumbling again by takeoff. Look for something with protein and fiber that will keep you satisfied until you land, or better yet, pack a meal from home. Nolan Cohn recommends making a sandwich at home to save money or packing leftovers like pasta salad or grilled chicken in an old, washed plastic container, such as a cottage cheese tub.
Try not to lump your waiting time at the airport in with the “treat mentality” of the rest of your vacation, says registered dietitian nutritionist Libby Mills, founder of Dig In Eat Up. “Even though it might be the kickoff to vacation, you want to save those calories for something unique when you arrive,” she says. Skip the specialty coffee drink and stick with plain coffee if you need a caffeine fix, or leave room for ice cream at the beach instead of gobbling a bag of cookies at the airport. Don’t miss these other 15 secrets to staying healthy on vacation.
You’ve seen yogurt touted time and time again as one of the healthiest snacks you can get, thanks to its satiating protein. But that fruit and yogurt parfait isn’t the healthy and fresh choice that it seems. “Yogurt has its halo over it as a healthy food, and obviously it is, but in context of what additives are in it,” says Nolan Cohn. By the time you turn plain yogurt into a sugary flavored yogurt topped with granola and fruit (which, unlike fresh berries, is full of added sugar), it isn’t a healthy choice anymore, she says. Skip the parfait and choose a regular yogurt from the fridge, or try these 19 nutritionist-approved travel snacks you can buy anywhere.
Even yogurts that aren’t covered in granola or chocolate chips can be a stealthy sugar bomb. Fruit-on-the-bottom varieties are “not really fruit—it’s more like jelly,” says Nolan Cohn, and the dessert-like flavors and toppings can have almost as much sugar as the treats they’re named after. A cup of unflavored Greek yogurt is a safe bet, but if you need something less tart, vanilla varieties tend to have a bit less sugar than the fruity ones, she says. Try these other 13 healthy tricks for actually losing weight on vacation.
Granola bars are often designed to look like a smart choice, but there’s more than meets the eye. “Some are like candy bars in a really strategic marketing package to make it look like something way healthier than it is,” says Nolan Cohn. Granola bars can be packed with added sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, and other decidedly unhealthy ingredients, especially if they’re covered in a waxy (and melty) coating. That said, a shelf-stable, portable snack is convenient when you need to take the hunger off during your travels, so hunt down an option with 12 or fewer grams of sugar, she says. Check out these other 10 ways to eat healthy on vacation.
A cheap, low-calorie cup of coffee might seem like the perfect treat while you’re waiting, but you might regret it once you’re seated. “Coffee has caffeine and can agitate the nerves, which might not make for the most relaxing flight,” says Mills. Plus, if coffee goes through you fast, you could end up making multiple bathroom dashes, she points out. Try a calming herbal tea instead, Mills suggests.
Large bar tab
While a glass of wine as you wait for your flight won’t do much harm for most people, you’ll want to keep your drinking to a minimum. Not only could it dehydrate you before an already dehydrating plane ride, but alcohol isn’t good for deep sleep. You might crash quick, but the alcohol will wake you up and keep you out of deep REM sleep as your liver works it out. “A less restful trip, especially if you’re going overseas, may be counterproductive to enjoying yourself fully when you arrive,” says Mills.
You might not have too many choices at a quick-grab sandwich station, but keep your calories in check by avoiding excessive fillings, says Mills. “If it has triple layers of meat or bread, that’s a tipoff that you’re getting triple servings,” she says. “‘Crispy,’ breaded,’ and ‘fried’ … are words on a menu that are tipoffs of an extra serving of carbohydrates, plus the extra fat.”
You might not want to rely on the bottled water from the airport terminal—and not just because of its sky-high prices. Normally we’d never discourage some good-for-you hydration, but hear us out if you have a small bladder. “You’re guzzling water before getting on the plane, then sharing a toilet with how many people?” says Nolan Cohn. Because hydration is important, especially when you’re stuck in a dry plane cabin, she recommends sipping extra water the night and morning before your flight so you aren’t dehydrated when you board. Especially if your flight is more than a couple hours, though, don’t ignore your thirst in the name of avoiding the bathroom, she says.
Anything your stomach isn't used to
When you’re about to sit in close quarters for hours on end, you’ll want to avoid foods that don’t tend to sit well with your digestive system. Steer clear of foods that normally might upset your stomach, such as certain types of fiber or greasy foods. “A hamburger and French fries or fried chicken before you get on a plane might not be the best idea,” says Nolan Cohn. “They have a higher potential for triggering diarrhea or GI issues.”