When you’ve been looking forward to your vacation for weeks, the last thing you want is to end up feeling gross once you get there because the flight threw your digestion off. And when your destination is farther than a quick jaunt to the next state over? Forget about it.
What’s the deal with that anyway? Why does stepping foot on an airplane automatically equal digestive distress for so many people? According to Sophia Malek, MScN, culinary nutritionist for Bob’s Red Mill Natural Foods, there are a lot of factors at play.
“A lack of hydration, prolonged sitting, and eating fewer fiber-rich foods can all wreak havoc on your digestion.”
“Any time we remove ourselves from our scheduled lives, we open up the possibility of the dreaded traveler’s digestive woes,” Malek says. “A lack of hydration, prolonged sitting, and eating fewer fiber-rich foods can all wreak havoc on your digestion—and that’s if you choose not to have a libation or two.”
So before you order that in-flight mimosa or break into a packet of mixed nuts, listen to Malek’s tips for what to eat to keep your digestion happy, no matter how far away you’re flying.
Keep reading for the healthy travel snacks and meals Malek recommends for better digestion while flying.
What to eat
First thing’s first: Identifying why your digestion rebels against you as soon as you’re officially OOO. “More than anything on a flight, the lack of water and physical activity is what gets you,” Malek says.
So, the first thing to add to your above-the-clouds wellness kit is a water bottle. Plus, staying hydrated will encourage frequent walks to the restroom, so you’re covering two bases at once (and hopefully not annoying your neighbor too much).
Next, you can turn your attention to snacks. Malek recommends stocking your carryon with fiber-rich, easily digestible foods like whole fruits with nut butter, shelled pumpkin seeds, and Bob’s Better Bars (psst: score a pack for free with code WELLGOOD).
“What I love most about Bob’s Better Bars is how balanced they are nutritionally,” she explains. “They feature fiber-rich oats, protein from peanut butter, and a natural sweetness from honey. They’re small enough for your carryon, but offer the nutrition to fill you up.” (Pro tip: Throw in a few extra so you’ll have snacks at the ready for your whole trip.)
“It’s a good rule of thumb to [choose] a meal that is about one half veggies, a quarter protein, and a quarter wholesome carbohydrates.”
No matter how full you get, odds are on a long-haul flight you’re eventually going to want to eat a real meal. Malek suggests buying food beforehand (her go-to is a whole wheat egg and avocado sandwich), but when that’s not an option she has a formula for determining what to select from the meal cart.
“It’s a good rule of thumb to [choose] a meal that’s one half veggies, a quarter protein, and a quarter wholesome carbohydrates,” she says. Her favorites are southwestern salads, whole wheat tuna sandwiches with veggies, oatmeal with berries and nut butter, or the fruit and cheese plates many planes offer. Just consider it cultural research: le fromage, s’il vous plaît?
What to skip
Malek doesn’t advocate for fasting in flight (unless flying stresses you out, in which case you should wait to eat until you feel calm since stress slows digestion), but there are certain foods she avoids.
At the top of that list are foods high in protein or fat (so processed meats like jerky and sausage are out). Both macronutrients take a long time to digest, which can make you (and your digestion) feel sluggish.
Next on her do-not-eat list are refined carbs, like the roll that usually comes with airplane dinners or those mini bags of pretzels or cookies. “Simple carbohydrates like white bread don’t offer much in terms of nutrition other than energy, which isn’t a top priority while sitting for hours at a time,” she explains.
Protein is great after a workout, but on a flight you should opt for macro-balanced, fiber-rich foods.
As for drinks, Malek suggests skipping cocktails and coffee in favor of water or peppermint tea, which aids in digestion and is available on most flights. “Caffeine dehydrates and increases nervousness,” Malek says. “Also, I’ll pass on cheap plane wine, which is just a headache in a glass! Alcohol dehydrates the body and interrupts digestion.”
To review: Protein is great after a workout, but on a flight you should opt for macro-balanced, fiber-rich foods. Hydrate often, save the cocktails until you land, and BYO fiber-rich snacks—and that’s your ticket to a bon voyage.
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Top photo: Getty/VladTeodor
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