15 Things You Probably Shouldn’t Be Buying at Gas Stations
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.
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Flashy headlines and photos may catch your eye in the checkout line, but think twice before you 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 probably shouldn’t 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. Don’t miss how we ranked gas station foods from worst to best.
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 be cautious 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
Beware of 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 percent reduced-fat milk and chocolate mocha sauce, for example, could have up to 660 calories and eight grams of fat. Even worse, gulping down a bottled Starbucks Vanilla Frappuccino is like eating 32 Nilla Wafers at once. You’re probably better off sipping on a plain old cup of joe. Find out where you can get the best cup of gas station coffee in every state.
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. Check out which day of the week is the cheapest to buy gas.
Buyers, watch out: 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 road trip snacks.
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. See if you’re frequenting the most hated gas station in America according to a recent survey.
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 sauce at 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 maybe not anymore after reading this. 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. Try 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. Even if the glazed donuts 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? Look out for 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.
- Huff Post: “8 Signs Your Gas Station Food Isn’t Safe”
- Newsday: “Facts about 7-Eleven”
- Wise Bread: “10 Reasons to Stop Buying Gas Station Food”
- BMJ: “20 Worst Drinks in America 2010”
- NCCIH: “Energy Drinks”
- Nutritionix: “Creme Filled Cakes, Red Velvet”
- Nutritionix: “Chocolate Chip Creme Pie”
- Beer Advocate: “Game Day Ice”
- Beer Advocate: “Game Day Light”
- CNN: “1 dead and 9 hospitalized with botulism after eating nacho cheese sauce”
- My Fitness Pal: “Hostess Mini Doughnuts – Powdered Sugar Mini Doughnuts”
- Wise Bread: “10 Reasons to Stop Buying Gas Station Food”