The Experts' Guide to Eating Healthy on Planes
Airplanes are great for many reasons. They help travelers reach destinations fast and catch up on the latest films, and frankly, they’re one of the few places left on earth where you can reasonably slip off the grid.
But they’re not so great when it comes to staying healthy.
While some carriers, including Delta Air Lines, have made a concerted effort to push healthier meals and snacks, travelers are too often stuck with edible versions of cardboard, grayish mystery meat or otherwise tasty meals packed with salt (not ideal when you’re already dehydrated).
When you take into account the lack of options at airport terminals, you’re pretty much set up to fail any attempt at eating a balanced meal.
To help you stay on track — and make sure you don’t feel like garbage when you land — The Points Guy asked nutritionists, fitness trainers, athletes and a veteran flight attendant to reveal their top tips and tricks for eating healthy on planes.
Always pack almonds and water
Flight attendant Eric Foy spends most of his days on planes. So while you’re worrying about the occasional cupcake that your colleague brought to the office, Foy’s only option is plane food. That’s why he always makes sure to have two things on hand.
“I stick to almonds and water,” Foy said. “They help to control your appetite and keep you feeling full longer. Lots of times when we are dehydrated we mistake it for hunger and grab snacks on the plane we could most likely do without. I drink about three liters of water a day to avoid that.”
If you’re still hungry, Foy recommended skipping the bread or removing the bun from a burger. Most meat-based airplane meals come with a side salad, so eat that first before moving on to the unhealthier components of the dish.
Avoid all other liquids
Sure, you want to kick back and relax on a plane — and you might want to order a little adult beverage to help. But that’s exactly precisely what you should avoid, according to Dawn Jarvis, senior director of nutrition science and educational content for Garden of Life, a manufacturer of organic nutritional supplements.
“The best thing you can do to stay healthy on a plane is to avoid all drinks except for water,” she said. “It is a well-known fact that flying tends to dehydrate the body. So avoiding alcoholic drinks [that] dehydrate the body and brain is important.”
Dehydration can cause headaches and leave you feeling hung over, so it’s extremely important that you drink water during your flight. Buy water as soon as you get through security and ask for it as often as you can on the flight. And avoid drinks that are high in sugar and caffeine, as they act as diuretics.
Bring fruits with skins
One of the biggest mistakes people make when flying is loading up on packaged foods that are either naturally salted or salty from preservatives. But not everyone has the chance to chop up veggies and pack crudités in a Ziploc bag — so make it easy on yourself.
“Always go for fruits with skin,” Lisa Hayim of The Well Necessities, a nutrition website, said. “Oranges are one of my favorite foods to travel with because they are hydrating, full of vitamin C, and come with [their] own ‘packaging’ to keep from getting dirty while traveling.”
Tangerines, apples and bananas are cheap and easy to carry in a personal bag, and can also help regulate digestion during your travels.
Choose menu items with protein
You may have every intention of packing a healthy snack to bring on the plane, but even the best intentions can fall apart during a hectic travel day. While you might not see your ideal meal options at 35,000 feet, Bodybuilding.com team athlete Courtney Gardner suggested following one simple rule.
“If I run out of time pre-flight and can’t bring snacks with me, I look for the items on the airline menu that [have] the highest amount of clean protein,” she said. “Sometimes that’s a chicken salad or a protein pack. Whatever I choose, it’s usually enough to hold me over until I can get a nutritious meal.”
Meal options will vary from airline to airline, but there’s likely a healthy protein choice such as eggs, yogurt, chicken breast or hummus. These ingredients might be available in wraps, sandwiches or salads, but they’ll always be healthier than a bag of chips or cookies.
Take a fast day
If you’re not eager about eating what’s available on board, why not just skip the airplane food altogether? That’s what certified health coach and author of the forthcoming book “Clean Enough” Katzie Guy-Hamilton said. (She’s also the the food and beverage director of Equinox Fitness.)
“I usually schedule myself to eat around an hour before getting on a flight and then fast while in the air,” she said.
“Fasting is a gift to your digestive system when traveling and helps you avoid airport food pitfalls. If you begin your fast before getting to the airport, always have a nourishing and simple meal that has protein, fat and fiber.”
Studies have revealed a number of benefits to intermittent fasting including weight loss and boosting the body’s resistance to stress. So instead of fretting over Biscoff cookies and Terra blue potato chips, use your short (or long-haul) flight to reset your digestive system.