Editor’s Note: The holidays are history and, for many of us, that means a few extra, unhealthy pounds. Our new health writer, Claire Holt, gives us some sage advice for eating healthfully–even when we’re traveling.
“Up in the Air” starring George Clooney, has got to be one of the best travel movies of all time; at once comical and intensely emotional, it delves into the sometimes not-so-appealing aspects of travel, one of which can be food. A glass of wine from a plastic cup in an airport VIP lounge; a stale-looking salad served in a not-so-stylish plastic receptacle; coffee sipped from a Styrofoam cup.
When one travels frequently, simply maintaining one’s sense of self, adapting to the local time and getting from point A to B in time, are usually the top priorities. This means that getting our required servings of fruit and vegetables, often falls to the wayside. Instead of boasting Clooney’s enviable abdominals, we eventually start to sport a spare tire around our midriff, which greatly increases our risk for contracting illnesses like heart disease, Type II diabetes and bone and joint problems. Keeping our bodies lean and mean, even when we travel, is an aim we can achieve.
Here are a few practical tips for eating well on the go and celebrating food and travel, while making the healthiest choices possible.
Tip 1: Pretend the Walking Feast is Home: Many of us have spent a lifetime dreaming of taking a luxury cruise or hopping aboard an Orient Express-style train for the experience of a lifetime. When the dream finally becomes reality, indulgence is usually in the cards. After all, few other occasions offer the chance to try such a wide array of exotic dishes and international wines as an all-inclusive cruise or five-star hotel buffet.
On the other hand, if you are a frequent traveler, discipline is key and you need to remind yourself to eat as you would at home. Aim to eat only until you are hungry and make the healthiest choices you can. If you simply can’t resist dessert, make wise choices, sticking to healthy, low-GI (Glycemic Index) fruits like cherries, grapefruit, prunes and dried apricots. Reserve foods that are higher up on the GI scale (like canned pears, bananas and plums) for special occasions. If a night of partying at the cruise disco or downtown ‘it’ club is in order, study the calorie count of your favorite alcoholic beverages before showing off your best moves on the dance floor. Some ‘diet-friendly’ beverages include light beer or a small glass of white or red wine. Higher-calorie drinks, meanwhile, include gin, vodka, cognac and rum.
Tip 2: Choose Life: One of the most difficult things about eating out frequently is having access to raw foods like carrots, celery, peppers and ‘living foods’ like sprouts. If your cruise or hotel buffet is overwhelming, narrow your search for the perfect meal by serving yourself as many raw fruits and vegetables as you can find. Be on the lookout for sprouts, which are delicious served over a cold salad, in a sandwich or sprinkled over your favorite hot meal (all except alfalfa, which some researchers believe inhibit some immune functions).
Tip 3: Opt for a Kitchen: Frequent travelers should attempt to recreate the home environment by opting for apartment-style accommodations (or hotel rooms with kitchens) to enable them to enjoy at least one home-cooked meal a day. Some of the most famous tourist sites in a given city can often be the markets (take the colorful La Boqueria markets in Barcelona or Castries Market in St. Lucia, whose fragrant spices are guaranteed to send your senses into a frenzy). Having access to a kitchen even enables you to try your hand at a few local recipes, thereby enriching you both as a cook and a diner.
Tip 4: Watch the Fat! Contrary to popular belief, staying slim doesn’t involve avoiding fat; it simply involves consuming the right kind of fats. Aim for a good Omega-6 fat to Omega-3 fat ratio (2:1, respectively). Omega-6 fats can be found in avocados, seeds and nuts, while Omega-3s occur in wild fish, game, walnuts and flaxseed oil. If you’re ordering a Cob salad, for instance, which contains avocado, try to accompany it with a grilled wild Alaskan salmon or ask the restaurant to top your salad with a few walnuts. If you are able to cook in your apartment or hotel room, stock up on cold-pressed, extra-virgin olive oil and coconut oil, which will help keep your cholesterol levels down.
Tip 5: Stick to Organic, Seasonal Choices: If you are travelling to a new city, do some research beforehand and find out which local restaurants serve organic, seasonal foods. Not only will you widen your culinary horizons by sampling local produce, your skin and health will also benefit from toxin- and pesticide-free foods that are packed with flavor. On the same note, avoid processed, salty and sugary snacks. Beware of seemingly ‘healthy’ snacks like muesli and ‘health’ bars, which can contain high levels of sugar and salt. Aim for snacks containing less than 120 calories and less than 8 grams of sugar per serving. A snack bar should contain less than 1 gram of saturated fat for every 100 calories. Good snack choices to take on the go include whole grain rice crackers, low fat popcorn, baked tortilla chips and whole wheat bread sandwiches. If you’re traveling a long distance and you may not be able to stop for a healthy meal, take a small bag of raw nuts with you to keep those hunger pangs at bay.
Happy and healthy travels! – by Claire Holt, RFT Contributor