Before Your Flight
Amidst the chaos of packing and “airporting,” it can be tempting to buy a meal at the departures gate or on the plane. However, these foods are usually high in salt, fat, or sugars, and it’s better to bring a snack pack from home.
“Don’t fall prey to processed airport food that will leave you feeling run-down and sluggish,” says Dr. David Greuner, cardiovascular surgeon with NYC Surgical Associates. “Make sure the food and drinks that you are eating before a long flight are low sugar, slow burn carbs, and moderate protein. I’ll typically bring hummus packs and grain crackers, vegetables that won’t perish easily, homemade trail mix, and a protein bar to hold me over until my next meal.”
Skip the queue at the fast-food counter and fill up on these nutritious eats before boarding your flight. They’ll give you a healthful boost and make that long-haul plane ride a more enjoyable experience.
Water: The first rule of “Flight Club” is to stay hydrated! Scrap that can of soda pop or bottle of booze, and instead, drink lots of water. Dr. Greuner says this is especially important for combating harsh cabin air, notorious for drying up the mucus membranes in the ears, nose, and mouth and leaving you vulnerable to infection.
“Dehydration on flights can make you susceptible to some less-than-pleasant health issues – and in rare cases, dangerous ones like deep-vein thrombosis,” says Dr. Greuner. “Pack an empty water bottle to fill up at a fountain when you get through security, and make sure you’re drinking enough water to offset the dry conditions.”
For something more flavorful, Registered Dietitian and Certified LEAP Therapist Stacie Haaga has a solution: “Lemon or citrus water will help to ensure that you’re hydrated. But they also support healthy digestion and keep your blood flowing on a long flight.”
Protein: There’s no need to cart a rotisserie chicken onto the plane to get a dose of protein. How about munching on some nuts and seeds during your flight? Or for something more substantial, eat a protein-packed meal before boarding.
“Fill up on nutrient-dense protein and healthy fats like coconut, nut butters and avocado before long flights,” says Haaga. “You’ll be more satisfied and are less likely to get ‘hangry’ during a long flight with limited food options.”
Vitamin C-rich fruits and veggies: Crammed into a crowded cabin, who knows what germs are wafting in the air? A dose of vitamin C can help protect you from getting sick by keeping your immune system healthy.
“I personally even take vitamin C a few days before I plan to travel to prepare my system for any germs in the air,” says Dr. Greuner.
Vegetables and fruits are the best sources of vitamin C, so consider packing a portable bag of grape-sized tomatoes, kale chips, oranges, berries, or chopped up peppers.
Magnesium-rich foods: Dark, leafy greens are your BFF before boarding, as well as nuts and seeds. These magnesium-rich foods can help trigger sleep and relieve muscle tension, according to Dr. Carolyn Dean, Medical Advisory Board Member at the Nutritional Magnesium Association.
“Eat kale, spinach, Swiss chard, avocado, as well as pecans, almonds, pumpkin seeds, and so forth,” says Dr. Dean. “These are all high in magnesium content, which facilitates sleep-regulating melatonin production.”
Or grab a smoothie made with these ingredients, along with a dash of ginger for additional anti-inflammatory properties. Dr. Dean says it’ll help you deal with the air pressure changes and stress of a long flight.
After Your Flight
Just because you’ve disembarked doesn’t mean that your body will bounce back instantly, especially if changing time zones.
“When landing, make sure you are eating the right foods, especially when you are going to have jet lag,” says Dr. Greuner. “Sleep deprivation actually messes with feelings of hunger so be mindful of your intake of foods and that you are not overeating.”
Upon arrival, refuel on these foods to help recover from the long journey:
Antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables: Chow down on an orange or peach, or blueberries, strawberries, dried plums, or grapes. “Antioxidants will boost your immune system,” says Haaga. “The water in the produce will help to re-hydrate you after hours in the air.”!
Green Tea: It’s a better choice over caffeinated drinks: “Green tea contains powerful antioxidants and have been shown to increase blood flow and increase overall well-being,” says Haaga.
Protein: Yes, Virginia, you need to eat more protein to stay energized! Going on a carnivorous binge isn’t necessary though, especially when you’re still adjusting to the time zone, and there are plenty of ways to get your protein fix.
“Opt for some lighter meals that are protein-rich to keep your energy up,” says Dr. Greuner. “Try nuts, almond butter with crackers, cheese, yogurt, and so forth.”
Dark chocolate: Believe it, baby! Dr. Dean says that dark chocolate without the sweeteners can help with jet lag, since it’s a magnesium-rich food.
Honey: A spoonful of honey in a hot drink may just do the job in juggling jetlag. “A little honey before bedtime can help you sleep soundly by keeping your liver happy and stocked with glycogen,” says Haaga.
Foods to Avoid
Sometimes, the truth hurts: no matter how alluring, avoid these foods when in flight. It will make the journey a lot more manageable.
Sugary and processed foods: “Avoid refined sugar and processed carbohydrates like candy, cookies, sweetened beverages,” says Haaga. “They won’t fill you up very long, will make you sluggish, and will leave you wanting more all the way till your destination.”
Alcohol: A tipple may seem like a fun idea, but it’s more likely to damper your flight experience.
“Avoid anything you know causes you gastric distress or makes you feel bad, like alcohol,” says Haaga. “Alcohol will also interrupt your sleep and could make jet lag worse. If you need alcohol to help calm your nerves, try listening to self-hypnosis or guided meditation before and during your flight instead.”
Caffeine: The same rules apply for coffee and other caffeine-rich drinks: avoid ‘em. It’s more of a hindrance than a help for flying.
“Avoid consuming alcohol and caffeine for they slow the hydration process,” says Dr. Greuner.
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