Getting There

Air – How to eat healthily when flying overseas

A recent survey by airport parking provider Purple Parking showed that frequent flyers often have trouble finding balanced and nutritious meal choices at airports. Purple Parking asked nutritionist Sarah West to share her advice on how to eat healthily in the airport and on-board.

Food choices

Frequent plane travel can be tiring, stressful and uncomfortable, so it’s worth knowing which food and drink to stick to in order to minimize the negative impact on wellbeing.

  • Airplanes are renowned for spreading germs due to the confined space, so give your immune system a boost before you fly with plenty of colourful, antioxidant-rich fresh fruit. Berries have a high water content which also help to minimize dehydration.

  • Drink plenty of clear fluids, such as herbal teas and water, to help avoid dehydration. Stay away from caffeine-heavy drinks or alcohol, as these will only dehydrate you further. Too much salt can also have a negative effect on hydration levels, so avoid crisps, pretzels or salted nuts before you fly.

  • Digestion is more difficult at 35,000’, so meals should be light and relatively low in fat. Choose chicken or fish dishes that can be grilled or steamed and add a side of vegetables or salad.

  • Wholegrain sandwiches packed with lean protein like ham, fish or chicken help to keep you feeling fuller for longer, thereby avoiding the need for mid-flight snacks.

  • Add a source of protein, such as natural yoghurt or whole nuts, to each meal or snack. These help to balance sugar levels and provide the necessary energy. Natural yogurt can also help ease digestion.

Before leaving home

Whilst the liquids you can carry through airport security are still restricted to 100ml containers, solid food is actually permitted. So prepare some healthy snacks to take with you. A tub of fruit, nuts or a sandwich can be tucked into hand luggage to be eaten at the airport or on the plane.

Be aware that some countries don’t permit certain food types, such as meat or dairy, to be brought in from overseas. Check their regulations.

Before the journey, take a few minutes to research your departure terminal to find out what restaurants and cafes there are and if possible check out the healthy options on the menus. For instance most UK airports have a Pret A Manger or EAT café onsite which offer some healthy choices. And some of the larger airports like Heathrow or Gatwick have seafood bars offering light, though fairly pricey, options.

In-flight dining

When flying, particularly long-haul, you are at the mercy of the airline for the dishes and snacks they provide. If you’re likely to be eating on board it is worth researching their menus. If you’re with a carrier that provides complimentary food, call ahead of time to discuss the likely options. By giving a minimum of 48 hours’ notice you can often pick a meal that suits your specific needs, such as vegetarian, gluten-free, low calorie or low sodium.

Even budget airlines should provide a selection of healthy snack and meal items, although these will vary depending on the carrier and will often need to be purchased onboard. You can pre-order meals in advance with some airlines.

For a handy guide download the Healthy Guide to Airport Foodand follow the tips for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks.

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