Whether you're traveling by plane, train, or automobile, there is always something about hitting the road that always brings with it some ravenous hunger (or is that just me?). As a result, when packing for your trip, it’s important to pack some fuel for your body. Of course, not all snacks are created equal, and that becomes particularly true when traveling. While you may have many active adventures planned on the other end of your travel, the process of getting to those adventures may involve more than a few sedentary hours.
“Prolonged travel can have variable effects on health,” says Tamanna Singh, MD, a doctor of clinical cardiology and cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic. “With air travel, some people can be impacted by fluctuation in oxygen levels, changes in air pressure, and temperature swings. The air pressure on planes is quite low, which means less oxygen is getting to your body. This can lead to fatigue, shortness of breath, and can cause gas expansion in the gut and stomach discomfort.” Moreover, as Dr. Singh notes, “airplane cabins also have low humidity, which contributes to dehydration.” Even if you’re not flying, sitting still for as little as four hours can lead to increased risk for developing deep venous thrombosis (aka clots in the legs). According to Dr. Singh, this can stress the heart and make it challenging to get adequate oxygenation in your body. As a result of all of the above rationale, she emphasizes that it is particularly important to pay attention to what you’re putting into your body any time you're traveling.
To make sure that you’re well-prepared to enjoy every moment of your travel plans, we asked Dr. Singh for more expert intel about what foods she recommends bringing on your next trip for optimal cardiovascular health, and which ones you should attempt to avoid.
The top healthy travel snacks and beverages, according to a cardiologist
1. Water and electrolytes
Due to the increased risk for dehydration that generally accompanies travel (especially by plane), Dr. Singh recommends plenty of H2O and electrolytes. Be sure to pack a reusable water bottle in your carry on, and bring along some electrolyte packets or tablets, like those from Cure Hydration or Nuun. Drink plenty of water before you leave, drink it on your flight (or in the car), and continue hydrating (yes, even more than usual) while on your vacation. This will also help prevent traveler's constipation.
2. Coconut water
Speaking of the importance of staying well-hydrated when traveling, coconut water is packed with hydration-boosting electrolytes, including potassium and magnesium, which makes it more hydrating than regular water. In addition to keeping you hydrated, electrolytes help regulate your pH and control muscle contractions, which is especially beneficial for travelers spending long hours outside swimming, hiking, or doing any physical activity in warm weather. "Coconut water could be a good choice for rehydration after a long or intense workout, an illness during which you experience vomiting or diarrhea, or after a day out in the sun," Serena Poon, CN, a chef and certified nutritionist previously told Well+Good. Coconut water also contains vitamin C, which can help keep your immune system strong when traveling. Look for low sugar options, like those from Vita Coco or mix up your own by adding Laird Superfood's coconut water mix.
3. Whole foods that are high in protein, like yogurt, hard-boiled eggs, or peanut butter
Given the propensity for folks to experience symptoms of gastrointestinal unrest—including indigestion, bloating, and stomach tightness—during travel, Dr. Singh recommends high-protein snacks that do not promote gas, meaning minimal fiber. That could be anything from a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to crackers with mild cheese, hard-boiled eggs, applesauce, or a turkey wrap. Low-salt tortilla chips with guac, trail mix, and Greek yogurt are three other delicious ideas. After you arrive at your destination, Dr. Singh reminds you that fiber is a super heart-healthy nutrient that should return to being a key component in your meal rotation.
4. Fresh fruit
Speaking of whole foods, eating truly unprocessed ingredients is always a good idea—but especially during travel. Dr. Singh recommends fresh fruit that doesn't have a high fiber content for the same reasoning above. This might include cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon, nectarines, peaches, and ripe bananas. You can also peel fruits and whirl them into a smoothie to take with you on the road. All fruits pack a potent amount of heart-healthy vitamins and minerals, like vitamins A, B, and C, plus the carbohydrate content will keep you energized (without spiking your blood sugar) in the air or on the road.
Are there any foods we should limit when traveling?
According to Dr. Singh, there are a few food categories that could cause digestive issues or abdominal pain when flying. “Given the increased risk for gas expansion and abdominal bloating on planes, I suggest avoiding gas-producing foods and fried or fatty foods,” says Dr. Singh. This includes the following:
- Red meat: The richness and saltiness of the meat could cause indigestion, nausea, or dehydration (and it's generally not recommended for heart health).
- High-fiber foods like beans, legumes, and cruciferous vegetables: These are some of the most nutrient-dense foods, but Dr. Singh says that in travel situations, their high fiber content could result in a lot of extra gas buildup.
- Dehydrating beverages: While you may be tempted to order coffee or alcohol mid-flight, Dr. Singh notes that the dehydrating properties of these drinks make them less than ideal for travel. “Patients with heart failure should particularly avoid dehydrating beverages as they are quite dependent on adequate fluid-electrolyte balance,” she adds.
Overall, Dr. Singh recommends that we “stick with whole foods or unprocessed, nutritious snacks that have a good balance of protein, carbs, and healthy unsaturated fats.” The result? A truly spectacular (and heart-healthy) vacation.
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