Healthy Swaps on the Road

Truck stops and gas stations are filled with all kinds of meals and snacks that can be both overwhelming and deceiving. When it comes to determining whether or not something is good option, there are a few things to pay attention to. Some of the key components I keep my eye on include total carbohydrate, added sugars, and protein.


Carbohydrates have built quite the reputation over the years. Do we love them? Do we hate them? It seems like everyone has a different opinion! While it can seem overwhelming, it is important to know that carbohydrates play several roles in our diet and body, as they provide us with energy, can help us to control our weight, and can even help to protect against certain diseases.

We do, however, need to choose our carbohydrates wisely, as not all carbs are the same. Ideally, the majority of the carbohydrates we consume should be complex, meaning they take a little longer to digest. Sources of complex carbohydrate include peas, beans, whole grains, and starchy vegetables. Below are some tips for choosing your carbohydrates wisely:

  • Emphasize fiber-rich fruits and vegetables
  • Choose whole grains
  • Don’t forget your dairy
  • Limit added sugars

Added sugars

Speaking of added sugars, what on earth are those? Added sugars are the sugars added during the processing of foods. This means they are not naturally occurring in the food. Examples of products with added sugars include regular soda, pastries, desserts, candy, breakfast cereals, and even some breads and microwave meals. On the contrary, naturally occurring sugars are found in fruits, vegetables, and milk products. The American Heart Association recommends that women consume no more than 25 grams and men consume no more than 36 grams of added sugar each day. While this can seem a bit confusing, there is good news: nutrition labels are now required to differentiate between total sugar and added sugar content, making it easy to see at a quick glance, as shown below.


Finally, it’s important to focus on getting foods with adequate protein at each meal and snack for the sake of satiety, maintenance of strength/muscle mass, and so the body to repair damaged cells and create new ones. For many people, it can be tough to incorporate protein foods into their breakfasts and snacks, as it can be tempting and convenient to reach for packaged foods and refined carbohydrates. While we do need carbohydrates, as discussed above, it is a good idea to pair our carbohydrate source with a protein and/or healthy fat to avoid spikes and drops in blood sugar levels and to keep us full and satisfied.

Some Simple Swaps

Now that you know some things to look for in your food products, let’s apply this information to a fast-food restaurant or gas station setting. At breakfast, instead of reaching for a package of pop-tarts and bottled coffee drink, try a Core Power protein drink, cheese stick, and a piece of fruit. This swap reduces the added sugar in increases to protein content of the breakfast. One other place to make a simple swap is when snacking. Instead of reaching for those tempting snacks like Doritos, candy bars, or a soda, try some trail mix, a beef or cheese stick, and a sparkling water. Again, this will help to reduce the added sugars and increase to protein content, helping you feel more satisfied and avoiding a rapid spike and drop in blood sugar levels.

Finally, if you have any questions about how much protein or carbohydrate would be best for you, reach out to your registered dietitian for help! For more simple swap ideas see our Instagram post: Simple Swaps: Truck Stop Edition.

  • Laine Ebbert, Cox College Dietetic Intern,women%20and%20children%20over%202.,concentrated%20fruit%20or%20vegetable%20juices.,%2C%20teens%2C%20and%20pregnant%20women.,and%20are%20used%20as%20energy.