As a nutrition company, we spend a lot of time talking to people about their health, mostly about the challenges of trying to maintain a healthy diet. And we've found that one of the hardest places to eat well is the airport.
We all know that airports could do a better job of replacing fast food joints with healthier restaurants (Chipotle, please!) and offering better options in their stores.
But it's also true that when traveling, we're pat of the problem! We're often stressed and distracted. We're carrying several bags, running to gates, dodging crowds, avoiding bathroom lines, and frantically trying to get somewhere on time. And because we're so focused on our destinations and not our health, it's easy to make poor decisions when it comes to food.
Since it's our mission at SmartyPants to make it easier for you to be healthy, all the time, everywhere, and since it's summer and we all love to travel this time of year, we've created a list of five common airport (and airplane) foods to avoid. They may seem like healthy choices, but actually they're not.
1. Trail mix
A prepackaged mix of dried fruit, granola and nuts has mistakenly gained a status of "heart healthy." The truth is that one cup of regular trail mix has about 700 calories (that's a lot for a snack!) and an excess amount of sugar, oils, and preservatives.
Pre-packaged trail mix is more like a dessert since it's typically loaded with extra salty nuts, sugar-packed fruits like dried bananas (the crisps are fried!) and chocolate. So unless you're doing a strenuous hike on mountain trails and need the fuel, trail mix isn't the ideal snack for you.
What to eat instead: Make your own trail mix at home and take it to the airport with you. Before your trip, stop by the nearest supermarket where nuts and berries are sold in bulk and mix your favorites together. Look for raw (not roasted) almonds, walnuts and peanuts with low or no salt. Sprinkle in naturally dried fruits such as raisins, apricots, or cranberries. For extra nutrition, try adding seeds, such as pumpkin or sunflower, instead of nuts.
People often hear the word smoothie and think it's a healthy snack or meal replacement, but most are very high in sugary ingredients such as fruit juice, frozen yogurt, honey, and bananas or they contain a lot of fat (think ice cream, peanut butter, syrups or chocolate). Some smoothies can have as many as 600 calories — more than a fast-food hamburger!
What to eat instead: Keep it simple and make sure the ingredients in your drink are minimal. Any smoothie that includes nonfat milk, almond or soy milk will likely give you a good dose of protein, as well as vitamin D, B-12, and/or calcium.
If you’re having a smoothie as a meal replacement, look for one with at least five grams each of protein and fiber; it will be more likely to hold off hunger for more than a couple of hours.
3. Pre-packaged salads
Salads in airport coolers always look healthy, but the truth is, we know nothing about the contents of that clear plastic package. The greens could also be weeks old, devoid of its health benefits. And the pre-packaged salad dressing that comes with it is often loaded with sugar, salt and excess fats from unspecified oils.
Pre-washed greens have also been linked to outbreaks of E. coli and other bacteria so you may think twice about buying these salads.
What to eat instead: You can always try to wash and bag your own lettuce and veggies at home before you leave. But if this isn't possible (for most of us, it's not) consider your upcoming travel when you do your weekly or biweekly shopping. Pick up some bars that are lower sugar (we love the new low sugar Kind bars. They have only 4g/serving) and other items that keep for a while (carrots, celery, apples) so you can quickly throw them in your carry-on.
Seaweed snacks or pre-packaged veggie sushi or California rolls with brown rice from Whole Foods are also great meals to take with you. They're yummy, they pack well, and they're very healthy.
If packing anything isn't possible, look for the protein bistro box offered at some of the airport coffee chains. These are great snacks because the ingredients are simple (and you know exactly what you're getting) and the portion size is controlled for you.
4. Fruit-flavored yogurt cups or parfaits
This might be hard to believe, but some fruity yogurts have more sugar than a candy bar. A single serving of yogurt can contain as many as 25 grams of sugar, which is what you're supposed to have in an entire day according to the American Heart Association (six teaspoons for women, nine for men).
What to eat instead: One stick of string cheese has less sugar than yogurt and won't overload you with calories. Another simple snack is pre-packaged hummus and pita chips, but keep in mind, hummus is considered a liquid so you can't take it through security.
5. Red or white wine
Whether you're at an airport bar or already in the air, you may want to avoid drinking wine. Changes in air pressure, fatigue from the travel day, and the subsequent dehydration can cause alcohol to be more potent than usual. Also, when we're tipsy and dehydrated, we tend to make poor choices about the ways we replenish the electrolytes we lost from the alcohol. We tend to go for sugary drinks and greasy foods.
What to eat instead: Order a sparkling water with lemon or lime. The effervescence is a nice way to perk yourself up without side affects of alcohol. The lemon or lime also gives it a more interesting taste.
Another way to stay healthy on the road...try SmartyPants vitamins On-the-Go. The gummies are delicious and offer convenient single-serving packets of multivitamins, omegas and vitamin D that are perfect for travel.