Eating on a plane used to be common practice. But in the age of COVID-19, many passengers are understandably less inclined to remove their masks to take a mid-flight bite ― or to even have a snack at the airport.
As a result, it’s more common to eat at home before embarking on a flight. Those with longer travel journeys may even eat a large meal to carry them through the day. Still, not all preflight eats are created equal.
Tracy Lockwood Beckerman, a registered dietitian based in New York City, said it’s worth considering your overall health as you prep for travel, including what you eat and drink.
“Immune systems are tested, digestive systems are thrown off and hydration takes a hit,” Beckerman said. “That’s why it’s so important to eat foods that will keep your immune system strong, keep you hydrated and are easily digested before flying.”
So, which foods are best avoided on a day when you’re traveling by plane? Below, Beckerman and other nutrition experts share the worst things to eat and drink before flying.
“It’s super common for dehydration to set in when flying, thanks to the lack of humidity and dry air in the cabin,” Beckerman said. “That’s why it’s not the smartest to have a sodium-laden meal the day before or morning of your flight.”
Beckerman advised going easy on the salt shaker, opting for snacks without added salt and consuming more fresh foods to avoid dehydration-related headaches, constipation and fatigue.
“In general, because of pressure shifts, some people retain water during a flight, so something overly processed or too high in sodium might exacerbate this issue,” said Vanessa Rissetto, a registered dietitian in New Jersey and co-founder of Culina Health. “Best to stay hydrated, try some electrolyte tabs or coconut water to help with hydrations and try whole foods like veggies and fruit, or lean protein to help you feel your best.”
“Because flying may cause some folks to feel bloated or extra gassy, thanks to the changes in cabin pressure, it’s wise to avoid anything with carbonation beforehand, like seltzers, sodas or kombucha,” Beckerman said.
She noted that these bubbly beverages can worsen digestive air pockets, causing you to feel “extra belchy, bloated or gassy” during your flight.
“By steering clear of them, you can keep extra air and bubbles to a minimum in your digestive system,” Beckerman said.
Jonathan Valdez, owner of Genki Nutrition and media spokesperson for the New York State Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, offered similar advice. He noted that carbonated beverages can expand inside your GI tract and lead to more unpleasant bloating if you are already gassy.
“However, if you’re feeling nauseous because of motion sickness or turbulence, carbonated drinks can be helpful,” Valdez added. “You have to weigh the pros and cons.”
“Alcohol consumption tends to cause dehydration and has a different effect on the body than if you were to have a drink at ground level due to the low barometric pressure in the cabin and the low oxygen concentration in blood,” Valdez said. “Therefore you are more likely to get inebriated faster and urinate frequently.”
Beyond personal health and comfort, laying off the alcohol can help foster a safe airplane environment. Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, previously told HuffPost that many of the most outrageous incidents of flight attendant abuse “include alcohol as a contributing factor.”
“Certain foods such as onions, asparagus, beans, cabbage, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts can contribute to intestinal gas and bloating because we do not have the necessary enzymes to digest certain carbohydrates known as FODMAPs found in these foods,” Valdez said.
“This, along with a gas expansion that happens inside your stomach and intestines during flight elevation, can lead to uncomfortable gas and flatulence,” he added.
Indeed, We all know beans tend to make you gassy, but cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and kale tend to take longer for the body to digest, which also can lead to bloating and gas. So, you may want to stick to veggies like spinach or zucchini on flight days.
“A cup of joe can leave you dehydrated in an already dry environment,” Valdez said, adding that coffee also has a mild diuretic effect, which can lead to more frequent trips to the bathroom.
Beyond the dehydrating effects, caffeine can also keep you awake during a flight, which is often an opportunity to catch up on sleep. The need for more frequent bathroom visits can also interfere with your ability to doze during your travels.
If you have a sensitive stomach, you might want to steer clear of foods that can mess with your digestion. That includes highly processed snacks like candy and fast food, which often contain ingredients that could unsettle your digestive system.
“If you’re a nervous flyer who experiences GI disturbances while on a flight, I would be sure to stay away from things that are over-processed,” Rissetto said. “Maybe some toast and avocado for fullness, or a small piece of fruit that would help for me to feel full but not upset my stomach.”
Basically, if you’re hoping to reduce your risk of any physical discomfort, try to keep it simple with your flight day eats.
As Valdez said: “A balanced meal that satisfies your thirst with water and hydrating fruits contains moderate amounts of complex carbohydrates and lean protein, and low in added sugars and sodium is ideal.”