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How to eat well when flying

Sky High Nutrition

Some scientists are now advocating the benefits of fasting during long haul flights as a way of reducing jetlag

Long haul flights (and even short haul flights) can play havoc with our digestive system and circadian rhythms. Shifting time zones, in-flight meals containing food you may not normally eat, the potential of eating five meals in one day and the fact that your digestion doesn’t function optimally in the air, can leave anyone feeling totally out of whack. Not to mention the Magnums they bring round mid-flight these days and or the snacks you grabbed in WHSmith because there were no other options on your way through the airport.

Here, nutritionist Nicola Moore www.nicolamoore.com gives her advice on eating well as you traverse the world.

Stick to mealtimes

In order not to disrupt our digestion any more than we have to, nutritionist Nicola Moore suggests we avoid constant snacking in the air. Our digestions, she explains, is slower in the air so her optimum advice would be to stick to  allocated mealtimes instead so your system isn’t put under any more stress than necessary. “Some scientists are now advocating the benefits of fasting during long haul flights as a way of reducing jetlag,” says Nicola, which would make sense because it stops your system getting stuck in a particular time zone. However she says, if you were to practise this then it’s incredibly important to stay well hydrated with water.

If you snack, snack smart

If however, fasting really isn’t an option for you or you really can’t last between meals then she suggests packing healthier snacks, not just grabbing whatever you can in the departure lounge. “Nuts are portable and don’t take up too much room,” she says, “Also blueberries are helpful for supporting the gut microbiome as well as being hydrating. I also like the Deliciously Ella Oat Bars which are less sweet than her protein balls  – try the Cacao and Almond.” Others that are low in sugar but big on taste (and good for the sweet-toothed) are Livia’s Million Squares which are a healthier alternative to Millionaire’s Shortbread and use dates instead of sugary caramel www.livias.co.uk.

Take on for take-off

If you can’t stand the idea of plane food in any shape or form, then don’t think twice about making your own homemade food but bear in mind the restrictions over taking liquids on board. You may get stopped at bag check if you’re carrying last night’s Chilli Con Carne for example. Sandwiches may be portable but Nicola suggests using Pitta bread instead of heavy bread, which you can then fill with lots of goodness and they wrap up and store well in your hand luggage. “My ideas for fillings are: tuna and salad, chicken and avocado, hummus and salad or sliced falafel and salad leaves,” she says, “It’s amazing how much you can stuff into a pitta as an alternative to plane food.”

If you’re looking for a great non-spill lunchboxes and containers look no further than www.black-blum.com who have a fantastic array of steel and wooden ones.

The airport food edit

If you don’t have time pre departure to make yourself some food, then most airports now house a Pret a Manger which Nicola agrees sell a wide range of salads, often well balanced with protein, natural fat and fibre. “You can’t go wrong with them,” she says. Pret also offer healthier snack alternatives than many fast food outlets including nuts, fruit and pots of apple and nut butter.

For the bloat-prone

One fact of flying that not many people know about, is that your digestion doesn’t work as well at altitude. “The air pressure in the cabin appears to have quite an impact on your gut,” explains Nicola, “Most notably with regards to the Microbiome which can’t digest food as well.” If this concerns you, or if you suffer from bloating or just want to feel tip top on arrival, it could be beneficial to eat before you fly. “Consider having a balanced meal an hour or so before take-off,” says Nicola, “And eat again once you’ve landed.”

If you have to eat the plane food…

Often we are so hungry by the time the plane food comes round that we inhale whatever is put in front of us. However, it’s worth taking a minute to pause and think about making the healthiest choice. “I’d suggest going for the protein part of the meal first and avoiding too much of the bread-style elements,” says Nicola, “This should help keep you fuller for longer and reduce cravings for the rest of the flight.”

How bad is in-flight alcohol?

If you’ve ever had alcohol on a flight, you may well know that it goes to your head faster than on the ground. This is because our body and liver don’t quite function at full capacity when flying. Alcohol also, explains Nicola, has a big impact on the gut microbiome, which is a key area for performance and energy. Therefore if you want to be sharp for that meeting on arrival, it would be beneficial to steer clear of the G ‘N’ T’s  (it can also make jetlag worse), but if you do want a drink Nicola suggests having it at meal times only and drinking at least one glass of water to every glass of alcohol consumed. Her healthier drinks trolley alternative would be a Virgin Mary which is filling, hydrating and low in sugars.

Hydration on high

We’re all aware of maintaining hydration in the air but do you know why? According to experts, drinking water actually helps to avoid the risks of deep vein thrombosis. Another reason for us to stay hydrated up high is because a well-hydrated brain works better cognitively. Nicola suggests travelling with a refillable water bottle (she likes Swell for keeping drinks hot or cold. ”I’d say that drinking water throughout your flight – especially if it’s a long one, is one of the most important things you can do.”

And finally…

A nutritionist once told me a great piece of advice which was – if you can’t find anything good to eat whilst travelling, wait to eat until you do. It’s important to remember that you don’t have to eat an iced bun  just because it’s put in front of you.


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