Helpful advice for frequent expat travellers who want to keep their healthy eating habits while travelling on an airplane and stay away from some less than appetising plane food.
It’s perplexing: have you noticed how as soon as you step on the plane, you reach for the fatty, salty or sugary foods, even if you are usually careful? Research shows this isn’t because of a gung-ho holiday attitude: food actually tastes different on planes.
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Pumping up the flavour
“In the air, food and drink tastes as it does when we have a cold,” says taste scientist Dr Andrea Burdack-Freitag, following her findings at Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics. This numbing of your senses — caused by low pressure in the plane and the psychological effect of the cabin environment — reduces your sense of taste.
That’s why food on airplanes can often taste rather bland. And it is that blandness that is responsible for those unhealthy options, as you seek to pump up the flavour with added fat, sugar and salt.
Tomatoes taste better
But not everything that tastes great in the skies is harmful to your health. While the cabin environment makes some foods taste insipid, it makes others taste better. One example is the humble tomato — which, says Dr Burdack-Freitag, can provide ‘a harmonious taste experience’. This partly explains why Lufthansa was reported to serve 1.8 million litres of tomato juice every year.
The taste of umami
As airlines are responding to calls of travellers seeking ways of how to eat healthy in flights, they are experimenting with flavours. Some are replacing excess salt with umami ingredients, such as celery. Meanwhile Dr Burdack-Freitag and her team are developing revolutionary new ways to enhance flavours, using ingredients such as coffee oil.
Tips on how to eat healthy in flights
But if your airline has not yet seen the light, what can you do? Medical Director at Bupa Global Dr. Amit Sethi advises the following:
- Avoid main courses that are drowned in sauce as they are often loaded with butter or sugar.
- Pick a dish that has good amounts of lean protein and vegetables.
- Watch out for white bread, white rice and pasta, as these could leave you feeling bloated afterwards.
- Pack nuts and fruit in your hand luggage and munch on them during the flight instead of desserts or snacks.
- Find healthy alternatives to refined sugar like fruits that you can buy within the airport.
- Don’t forget to drink lots of water to keep hydrated before, during and after your flight.
- Don’t forget that a relaxing drink in the air may be one you later regret as the cabin’s dehydrating environment combined with the effects of coffee, tea and alcohol can leave you even more dehydrated.
- Consider packing your own healthy meals — sans liquids and pastes — to monitor the kind of nutrients you’re consuming.
- If you can, eat and sleep at the times you would at your destination. This will help you stave off jetlag.
- Walk around and stretch during long flights to kick start your energy and rid yourself of the groggy feeling you get when flying in high altitudes.