Patients, visitors and workers will no longer find sugary and salty snacks in hospital vending machines across B.C.'s Lower Mainland.

The Vancouver Coastal Health Authority is replacing the usual soft drinks and candy bars in its 100 vending machines in the region with fruit juice and wholesome snacks reduced in salt, sugar and calories.

"If you're going to have a soft drink, it's better to have one without added sugar," said Dr. Patricia Daly, Vancouver's chief medical health officer.

The goal is to provide healthier options as part of the provincial government's 2006 initiative to promote healthier choices in all public buildings, and subsequently reduce health care costs by improving individual health.

"In the old days, I can tell you, being a resident in the hospital, if you were hungry on an overnight shift and the cafeteria was closed, you had no option but to get pop or chips or candy bars," said Daly. "Now what we're doing is giving people a healthier option."

But many of those sugar- and salt-reduced products include the chemical sweetener aspartame, which concerns some health experts because of the lack of research on its effects.

"Aspartame may have some effects on brain chemicals," said Dr. Tasreen Alibhai, a naturopath at Vitalia Healthcare in Vancouver.

"Some of the potential or possible side effects of aspartame can include headaches, dizziness, abdominal pain, nausea, hyperactivity in children, depression."

The health authority stresses the change in snack food selection will help to provide people with healthier choices than those offered with traditional snack foods and drinks.

"It is the 'healthier' choice, not necessarily the 'healthiest' choice," said B.C. Health Minister George Abbott. "Water would be the healthiest choice, but (products with aspartame are) a healthier choice than the heavily-sugared pops that are available."

With a report from CTV British Columbia's Reshmi Nair