Let’s face it; traveling can be hard on the body. Long flights with jet lag, extended periods of sitting, a lack of exercise and prolonged eating on the run. Don’t get me started on plane food and the general airline proclivity for serving micro-waved nutrient-deficient-sodium-jacked mush. (Side note: did you know that pressurized cabins affect our taste buds? This is why airlines spike in-flight meals with sodium and extra flavouring agents). For those of you travelling by car, highway service station fast food dining options are not much better.
What’s a health conscious traveler to do? Prepping tupperwares full of holistic meals and bringing them along is fantastic, but not always an option, especially when you’ve been without a kitchen for weeks on end. And frankly, some people just don’t have the time or desire! I get it.
I’m writing this piece en route home from a 2.5 week trip to Asia, currently in the air flying from Bangkok to Tokyo to Chicago to Toronto. As a celiac, I’m highly allergic to gluten (one bite of bread, sip of beer or spoonful of MSG flavoured food and I’m vomiting in agony for 36 hours). Fun times! Dealing with this allergy has forced me to become super conscious of all I consume when eating in airports, hotels and restaurants. The result (besides not getting sick anymore) has been increased energy, less jetlag and no weight gain despite much less exercise than usual. Sure, for those of you with no allergies, grabbing a bowl of ramen or a slice of pizza is easier, but I truly believe your body (and waistline!) will thank you.
Here are some tips on travel-proofing your diet.
- Eat local fruit. And if “local” means you’re buying that banana at Starbucks near your departure gate, so be it. Pick the banana or boiled egg over the breakfast muffin. Once you arrive at your destination, pick up fruit at the local market or grocery store. If concerned about cleanliness, get fruits that must be peeled like mangos, oranges, papaya etc.
- Hot water meals. In this picture above you’ll see my in-flight meal of “Holy Crap” cereal and the remnants of a fruit plate purchased at the Bangkok airport. I asked the flight attendant for a cup of hot water and presto – instant healthy and filling meal. While it’s not as delicious without yogurt, a green smoothie and fresh raspberries, it does the trick when in a pinch. The alternative menu option was white pasta with “basil flavor chicken” mmmmm. No thanks!
- Ziploc bags of trail mix. Make your own or pick a ready made healthy unroasted, unsalted kind. Be careful about ones with chocolate chips as they tend to melt in hot climates and make a nasty mess. I like the larger freezer bags as they don’t rip as easily.
- Drink when you’re not thirsty. So what if you have to stop a few more times on the highway or bug the guy sitting in the aisle seat; drink way more water than you think you need. Your skin will thank you after the super dry recycled plane air and you’ll stay more satiated and avoid snacking on junk.
- Prunes. Ok don’t laugh. SO many people tell me they get constipated while travelling. It’s a thing. A big, very common thing. If you suffer from this horrible affliction, never underestimate the power of the mighty dried prune. They’re healthy, full of fiber and go well in that “Holy Crap” cereal mentioned above. Go figure.
- Probiotics. At home I recommend the capsules that must be refrigerated, after all these are live bacteria. Look for capsules that contain at last 10 billion parts per dose. However, when travelling I use the shelf stable kind – no fridge needed. While not as strong, they do the trick. Probiotics are a godsend on the road as they help protect your gut from foreign invaders. Eating local yogurt is also a great way to help your tummy adjust to new local bacteria and prevent both constipation and diarrhea.
- Plan for Protein. Bring a bag of protein powder from home. I use a vanilla flavoured gluten free vegan brand when travelling. Vanilla goes well in both plain water as well as fruit juices, which are easy to find on the road. Adequate protein keeps your energy levels up and hunger levels down, and powder is especially handy when you’re short on options.
- Ask for “No Sugar”. Like in many tropical countries, the fruit smoothies, iced coffees and juices in Thailand are delicious. Then I saw how much liquid sugar they use in making just one glass. Woah. Same goes for poolside mojitos and pina coladas. Ask for less, or no sugar syrup. Your taste buds will adapt, and you may even start to prefer it.
- Melatonin. As far as sleeping meds go, I’ve tried my fair share. Nothing wrecks a diet faster than sleep deprivation. Tired people are often hungry people (or “hangry” – hungry and angry – if you ask my husband about yours truly!), and they usually gravitate towards the fatty, sugary and salty snack variety. If you’re taking a long flight, dealing with time zone changes or just sleeping in a new uncomfy bed, melatonin can be the difference between a restful and fitful night’s sleep. It’s a naturally existing hormone in our body and won’t cause drowsiness the next day. A few rules though: take it 30 minutes before bedtime and don’t take more than 2 or 3 mg at a time. More can make you sleepy and depressed the next day!
Above all, enjoy your travels, indulge in what makes you happy and keep your health in mind next time you’re served up some salty plane food mush!