Vacation time is around the corner, which means you may come face to face with airport food. Although recently many airports have started offering healthier fare, there are still many unhealthy choices available; making healthy choices can be difficult, especially when you’re really hungry or thirsty and have nowhere else to go. I was curious to know which foods nutritionists would never grab when faced with this dilemma, so I asked seven nutritionists who like to travel what foods are on their no-no list.
“I like to read, write or fall asleep when I board a flight, so drinking something with lots of caffeine, sugar and a slew of ingredients … has zero appeal to me. In addition, the dry cabin air during the flight is dehydrating enough, so adding a load of caffeine to further promote the process is something I avoid. My in-flight drink of choice is water, and I’ll occasionally take a cup of tomato juice over ice.”
— Christy Wilson, R.D., culinary dietitian, writer and founder of ChristyWilsonNutrition.com
Cold Airport Sandwiches
“I will not touch cold sandwiches from airports. Trust me, I LOVE bread, but there is nothing good from the bread in sandwiches at airports. Aside from being plain nasty in taste, they are caloric dense, nutrient scarce and overly sized. [The] same can be said about the fillings of the sandwich, which often are full of highly processed meats with old lettuce.”
— Manuel Villacorta, M.S., R.D., founder and author of Whole Body Reboot, WholeBodyReboot.com
“I don’t eat it at home, so I certainly wouldn’t eat it while traveling (especially if I’m stuck on a long flight). It falls in line with one of my rules: “Eat as if,” which basically means choose and order food the same way you would if you were making it at home. I don’t own a deep fryer, so fried food is a no-no.”
— Danielle Omar, M.S., R.D., integrative dietitian at FoodConfidence.com
Yogurt Parfaits and Fruit Smoothies
“I avoid the large yogurt parfaits or fruit smoothies made up with sugar-filled frozen yogurts. This is because even though they are typically promoted as healthy, they all can actually be extremely high in either added sugar or hidden additives and preservatives that may aggravate the gut. I look for options that provide more protein, dietary fiber and/or healthy fats with ‘cleaner line’ labels, such as plain Greek yogurt, nuts (that have not been roasted in added vegetable oils), chopped vegetables and hummus mixes, or natural nut or protein bars without artificial sweeteners or added sugars.”
— Australian dietitian Kara Landau of the Travelling Dietitian, TravellingDietitian.com
“I would never reach for super-sugary foods like elaborate coffee drinks and candy, since they provide minimal nutrition and leave you feeling even more jet-lagged. Instead, I opt for quick, easy, fresh options like hummus, fruit, nuts, bean burrito bowls with salsa, or veggie soup.”
High-Sodium Drinks and Snacks
“As a frequent flyer, I’m thrilled that there are so many more healthful choices in airports of the world, but there are still food and beverage choices I would fly right by. Because dehydration is one of the side effects of air travel, I avoid foods and beverages high in sodium (which only make matters worse). Skip the Bloody Mary mix and choose plain tomato juice, or better yet, go for grapefruit or orange juice, which is low in sodium and high in vitamin C, which can help ward off cold and flu germs floating around the airport and onboard.
I also avoid heavily salted nuts and snack chips and choose plain roasted nuts if available. If I need to crunch on something to soothe travel stress, most airport kiosks and even newsstands stock healthy snacks such as packaged cut-up fresh produce, such as apples, carrots and celery. Also, when people buy these foods, it signals an increase in passenger demand, so airport outlets will keep offering healthier choices on the fly.”
“When I am passing through the airport, muffins have always been something that call out my name. Most airport or commercial muffins are huge, meaning a ton of calories and most likely a ton of fat. Even if the muffin is marketed as ‘low-fat,’ it tends to have a ton of sugar. I always crave comfort food when traveling, and this is one I always avoid.”
— Ilyse Schapiro, M.S., RDN, co-author of Should I Scoop Out My Bagel?: And 99 Other Answers to Your Everyday Diet and Nutrition Questions, to Help You Lose Weight, Feel Great, and Live Healthy
Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. She is the author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen: More Than 130 Delicious, Healthy Recipes for Every Meal of the Day.