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Airport and Airline Food… Jet Lag or Jet Set?

Dear Ellen, this spring and summer I have tons of airline travel – for leisure and business – how can I manage my food and eat healthy through Airports and Flights?

At the Airport

Whether you find yourself constantly traveling for work, or just take a single vacation each year, being hungry at the airport can sabotage your healthy eating habits. Many of the millions of people coming in and out of airports across the world think they have no choice, and believe they have to eat “unhealthy” airport food because it’s the only thing available allowing their surroundings to control their lives and their health. The good news is, we DO have choices and can take charge of everything we put in our mouths, here’s how to get yourself jet-set!

Know what to buy or bring

Make a plan before you go. Check online for a list of airport restaurants or to inquire about your airline’s food options. If no healthy snack or meal options seem available, try to eat a balanced meal containing carbohydrates, vegetables, lean protein like fish, eggs or lean meat and not too much fat, salt or sugar before you leave (why under “jet bloat” below). What you ingest in the hours before your flight can affect digestion, bloating, fatigue and stress, so airport food choices are probably the first important decisions of your trip!

Bring your own! One way to know for sure that you'll have food that suits your body and appetite is to bring your own. Protein-rich snacks such as Juice PLUS+ Complete Bars, unsalted nuts, fruits like apples, bananas or dried fruit can all help reduce bloating and dehydration while flying.

Drink water. Ensuring the minimum recommended 1.5 litres of water per day is especially important as it can help with both digestion and hydration.

Walk around the food area of the airport to check out all your options before making a choice. There is usually fresh food available if you look for it!

Try a Juice Bar. Many airports now have juice bars that make fresh squeezed green juice, smoothies or cold pressed juice in bottles.

Fresh fruit or fruit salads are always a good healthy option. If you're in a rush to make a flight, grab a fruit cup, banana or apple to take on the plane.

Yogurt, which can often be purchased at airports, is a filling protein that can help soothe the gastrointestinal tract and promote digestion.

Sandwiches. Look for whole-wheat or whole-grain bread, lean meat or vegetarian fillings, and tasty, healthy condiments like mustard or pickles.

Salads. Aim for lots of colour in the lettuce and veggies and avoid heavy dressings or sauces.

Grilled Foods. Look for restaurants offering plain grilled lean meats, avoiding greasy or fried foods to facilitate digestion.

Sushi, which is light and easy to digest, is readily available in many airports. However, beware of using too much high sodium soy sauce which could promote water retention during the flight.

Nuts. Nuts are great source of heart-healthy fat and protein. However, be aware that one serving – about 30 grams – contains approximately 200 calories and 15 grams of fat and many bags sold in airports contain as many as 10 servings! To help avoid eating an entire bag mindlessly, try to purchase smaller portioned bags.

Drinks that help to soothe the gastrointestinal tract such as water, black, herb or peppermint tea.

Breakfast. If you have not had time for breakfast at home (Break the fast…fast!), a fibre rich whole-wheat bagel or bread can be a good choice if topped with something light or plain. If you're in a rush to make an early flight, this is easy to take on board.

If healthy food is nowhere in sight and your stomach is growling, try to grab a tall skim latte. The milk has some protein and calcium and may be enough to tide you over until you can eat properly.

Know What to Avoid

"Jet bloat" is a common condition among airplane passengers which refers to "the body's increased volume of gas that occurs from airline travel" where more gas expands in our bodies due to higher altitude. The air on a plane is very low humidity, so one should aim for foods that are both non-diuretic and easily digested.

Alcohol. Though a pre-flight cocktail at the airport might calm your nerves, it can also make your flight more unpleasant due to the dehydrating effect of alcohol which can lead to headaches and other feelings of discomfort.

Caffeine. Coffee, energy drinks or soft drinks can have a mild diuretic effect promoting dehydration as well as disturb normal sleeping patterns. 

Fried, greasy, rich, or processed food items can be more difficult for our bodies to digest when we are sedentary and at a high altitude since these foods tend to stay in the stomach longer and might trigger acid reflux.

Chewing gum. Though gum might help for ear popping, the continuous chewing can make us swallow more air and cause extra uncomfortable gas. 

Unclean or Un-safe Food.  The last thing anyone wants when traveling is a case of food poisoning. Foods that require refrigeration - like meat, cheese or milk - should be eaten within two hours without refrigeration.

Irritating foods. If you tend to get stomach upset while flying, avoid foods and beverages that are often shown to irritate the stomach like salty, spicy or fatty foods, and alcohol, carbonated or citrus beverages.


Now that I’ve helped you healthfully manage food through the airport, check out my next article to see how to manage food once on board!