- Snacks on a Plane: 8 Tips to Avoid Airplane Bingeing
- Beachbody Has Your Resolution Solutions!
- Best and Worst Gas Station Cuisine
- Test Your "Eating While Driving" IQ!
When you think about flying, it's nuts really. Here you are at
about 40,000 feet, screaming along at 700 miles an hour
and you're sitting there drinking Diet Pepsi and eating
peanuts. It just doesn't make any sense.
Snacks on a Plane: 8 Tips to Avoid Airplane BingeingBy Gregg Rossen
A confined space, no room to move, and air filled with the reek of tightly packed bodies—no, this isn't a description of a poorly run veal farm. Rather, it's an average day on one of the thousands of U.S. flights transporting multitudes of passengers to far-flung destinations. In these cramped quarters, it's easy to understand why Wolfgang Puck once said, "To me, an airplane is a great place to diet." After all, who wants to eat while elbow wrestling for the armrest on a plane packed to the overhead storage bins with other travelers?
Of course, Mr. Puck was likely referencing those mostly bygone days when air travelers could look forward to the question, "Would you like the chicken or beef?" But a coach passenger on a domestic flight can't expect one of those oft-ridiculed trays of airline food anymore. (Continental is one of the few holdouts still providing meals in coach, while most airlines only do so in business and first class.) In this era of declining air services and increased fees, travelers face a new aspect of dining en route—choosing which foods to buy onboard. On one hand, this presents opportunities for passengers to make their own meal choices, but at the same time, it introduces new challenges . . . like eating right at 30,000 feet.
Here are 8 ways to help ensure you get off the ground nutritionally the next time you fly.
- Plan ahead. How many times have you been hustling to make a flight and thought, "No time for breakfast," or, "I'll just grab something to eat at the airport"? The problem is, that's exactly what thousands of other travelers planned on doing too. So after making your way through the lines to get you and your luggage checked in, and the lines to go through security, you're famished and ready to scarf down anything you can get your hands on. Making sure to have a good meal before a flight and stowing some apples or
protein bars in your carry-on bag before you leave the house are significantly more important things to mark off your checklist than making sure you've got the latest issue of People to read on the plane.
- Pretzels v. nuts. Though the unpredictable airline industry may at some point find a way to monetize even these two ubiquitous airline snacks, at this point, pretzels and dry-roasted peanuts are generally free to passengers, and both are fairly healthy, fairly sensible snacks to take the bite off your hunger. A 1-ounce portion of pretzels contains approximately 3 grams of protein, and a 1-ounce portion of peanuts contains approximately 6 grams of protein. Peanuts are also excellent sources of calcium and potassium. But let's face it—when you're in an environment of forced inactivity (for example, you're packed in so tightly you can't cross your legs), calorie needs are simply not as great as they would be going through a normal day's activities. So for hardcore calorie-counters, you might want to consider that 1 ounce of pretzels contains about 110 calories, while peanuts ring in at about 160 calories.
- Beware the Pringles . . . . And by Pringles we mean the tempting but highly processed, high-calorie, low-nutritional-content snacks that airlines have started selling in an attempt to fuse air travel with the movie-going experience. On Northwest flights, passengers have a wide variety of snacks to choose from, including the Pringles Grab and Go! can, which, with 40 chips, pushes 400 calories. Other Northwest choices, like Twizzlers licorice (a 7-ounce package with close to 700 calories) and M&Ms (a 5.3-ounce bag with a whopping 750 calories), may seem enticing to the traveler needing a pick-me-up after the challenges of the check-in procedure, but the super-sized containers sold onboard mean calorie overload. Remember, while a movie may be showing onboard, it's a flight (i.e., a period of forced inactivity), not a trip to the multiplex.
- Vegetative states. Truth be told, many airlines have made great strides in providing healthy and/or low-calorie alternative foods to air travelers. Northwest offers a fruit and cheese platter as well as a vegetable platter on many of its flights. US Airways sells a breakfast fruit plate on selected flights, while United boasts a julienne chef salad. American Airlines' menu even offers a hummus and vegetables plate. And since even fast food giants like McDonald's offer a range of healthier choices in the salad and fruit departments, making a (hopefully) quick stop at the terminal's McDonald's on the way to the gate is a small investment in a narrower waistline. You should keep one thing in mind, though. In all cases, try to forego the additional dressings and "dipping sauces" included with these meals. Remember, in an airplane seat, you're confined like a sheep in a pen, so eating moderately is the key.
- Sandwich envy. Healthy and tasty sandwich choices abound these days on most airlines (though again, stay away from the mayo packs and "sauces" on the side). A $7 turkey club sandwich on US Airways, for example, has the makings of a healthy meal with its ciabatta bread, sliced turkey breast, turkey bacon, lettuce, and tomatoes. Leaving the side of "Dijonnaise" where you found it, on the side, this sandwich has a moderate calorie count, is fairly nutritious, and would likely keep you feeling full for hours. Similar choices can also be found on other airlines' menus. One thing to be a little more cautious about are sandwiches that combine multiple cheeses and meats, such as United's wrap sandwiches (for example, the Tuscan chicken/salami wrap also contains a slice of provolone cheese and garlic cream cheese—it's not like eating M&Ms for lunch, but it is slightly higher in fat than you might think, especially for a wrap). In all cases, check your airline's Web site before you travel to get a sense of what low-calorie and healthy choices you might have while traveling. Almost all major airlines are now listing their menus online.
- No drinkies . . . . No alcoholic drinkies, that is. Yes, it is sad, but the rules that apply to eating sensibly on the ground apply equally or more so when you're suspended miles above the earth. Sure, alcohol can be fun and it might help you shake off the tensions of the day by letting you snooze your way from Atlanta to Seattle. Maybe it's even a necessary evil to tolerate the inane conversation you're forced into with your talkative seat neighbor who's intent on sharing his or her views on politics or why his or her special trip to France/Fresno/Fredonia was so amazing. But in addition to being empty calories without nutritional value (we can discuss antioxidants some other time), alcohol also lowers your guard. That's right, call it beer goggles in the sky and the thing most likely to make you decide to throw caution to the wind and buy that 7-ounce pack of Twizzlers with its massive 700 calories. Remember, flying can be a way of getting to a party, but flying itself isn't a party. And if the temptation to drink rears its ugly head while you're still on the ground, when the loudspeaker announces a 2-hour delay in your flight, the no-drinks rule works well in the airport, too. Though drowning travel sorrows may be appealing, a sober traveler is about a million times less inclined to succumb to deep-fried mozzarella and buffalo wings in an airport Chili's than someone who's had a few. And by the way, you're better off without the sugary soft drinks or their chemical-laden diet counterparts (see "Best and Worst Gas Station Cuisine" in the Related Articles section below). Stick to water. Keeping yourself hydrated will make you come off the plane more refreshed than any amount of caffeine or alcohol will.
- Aisle seats. The area allotted to each passenger on a plane is measured and remeasured by countless engineers and designers all trying to maximize the economical usage of space. The result is that passengers find themselves in a state of forced immobility unlike many (or any) other experiences in daily life (unless you're a user of Japanese capsule hotels). With this in mind, sitting in the aisle seat frees you to get up and walk around with much greater frequency than passengers in the middle or window seat, allowing you to stretch and get your blood flowing. No, nobody will confuse a quick jaunt around the cabin with a run in the park, and it's not going to burn off a meal. But as tempting as it might be to grab a window seat to sleep all the way to your destination, it is a far more natural and healthy state for your body to have some movement, albeit limited, than no movement at all.
- B.Y.O. whatever. Of course, the best way to make sure you are eating healthy food while flying is to pack it yourself and hope it survives in your carry-on bags. Fruit, turkey jerky, sliced vegetables, and low-fat string cheese are just a few of the snack items that slip easily into your carry-on and will last for the duration of your trip. Sandwiches made without mayonnaise or fatty meats will last hours, and provide a pleasant alternative to a Big Mac on the tarmac.
Got something to say? Chat with the writers and other readers this Monday, January 12th, at 8:00 PM ET, 5:00 PM PT in the Beachbody Chatroom!
Best and Worst Gas Station CuisineBy Joe Wilkes
Sure, we all try to make the best eating choices, but sometimes events conspire against us and our options are limited. Maybe the supermarket's closed, or you're on a road trip with no civilization or Whole Foods in sight, or you're late for work and breakfast is going to be what you can grab from the mini-mart while your car's gas tank is being filled. While we'd never recommend your local gas station, liquor store, or convenience mart as someplace you could get a square meal, sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. At least if you're armed with some information, you can mitigate the damage.
The good news is that a lot of convenience stores have started stocking healthier options. Many offer energy bars, meal replacement shakes, fresh fruit, or even hard-boiled eggs. You might have to dig around the bottom shelf of the beer cooler to find fresh food, but sometimes it's there. It's worth asking about, at any rate. Opt for cottage cheese when you can, along with a plain meat and bread sandwich (condiments on the side).
If eating in your car is becoming a habit, you might consider stocking the glove compartment with some healthy snacks. Unsalted nuts are a good portable snack. Or maybe keep a few P90X® Peak Performance Protein Bars in the car for emergencies. You can even order them with a thermal pack to keep them fresh and melt free. But of course, the best-laid plans often go awry, so let's look at some of the main categories of gas station cuisine and how you can make some smart choices after you make the not-so-smart choice to eat at the gas station.
The "vegetable" course
One of the most tempting options is a bag of chips. They're crunchy, salty, fatty, and delicious! And they're super-easy to eat in the car, with the only drawback being a potentially orange steering wheel—that and the salty, fatty part. But come on, potato chips are basically potatoes, right? And potatoes are vegetables. I'm eating a vegetable! Lay off! But that 1.5-ounce bag of Lay's potato chips (that's a small bag, not a Big Grab) will give you 225 calories and 15 grams of fat. A similar serving of Doritos (corn's a vegetable, too!) will run you 210 calories and 12 grams of fat. Baked Lay's only run 165 calories, have 3 grams of fiber, and contain only a little over 2 grams of fat. The only problem is that they taste like Baked Lay's. A compromise in the fat-vs.-flavor battle might be Sun Chips, which have the same calorie count as the Doritos but with a third less fat. They're also made with whole grains, which deliver 3 grams of fiber per serving, which will help you feel full longer.
In the "dairy" category of crunchables, i.e., Cheetos, the diet news is getting worse. A 1.5-ounce bag contains about 240 calories, 15 grams of fat, and almost no fiber. The baked version has 195 calories, 8 grams of fat, and still virtually no fiber. Nutritionally speaking, eating most of the "cheez" doodles and their ilk is only slightly healthier than eating the bag they come in. If you're desperate for a nacho-cheese-powder delivery system, you might consider Corn Nuts, which contain about 185 calories and 6 grams of fat; however, they also have 4 grams of fiber.
If you're on a low-carb diet, you might take a look at the unappetizingly named pork rinds. A 1.5-ounce serving packs 24 grams of protein; however, that serving also contains 15 grams of fat, 6 of which are saturated. But the good news is that they contain zero carbs. The other problem with pork rinds and almost all of the snacks in the chip category is the high sodium content. A small bag of any of these crunchy delights will give you about a quarter to a third of your recommended daily allowance (RDA) of sodium. Too much salt in your diet can lead to hypertension, among other problems including fluid retention, which makes you look as puffy as the salty "cheez" doodle you just ate.
BEST: Sun Chips, Corn Nuts, baked chips
WORST: Cheese puffs, potato chips
The meat course
Most gas stations or stop-and-go markets offer hot dogs. They're usually pretty cheap—that's because they're made with pretty cheap meat. You can check out my "9 Foods Not to Give Your Kids" article in the Related Articles section below to read more about why not to eat them, including the fact that a lot of dogs may be full of carcinogenic nitrates and nitrites, sodium, and saturated fat. Given the choice between the devil you know and the devil you don't know, gas station hot dogs are definitely the devil you don't know. Unlike the rest of the junk food in the joint, no one knows what's in those fatty little tubes. They don't have labels with their nutrition information, and if you slather on some nacho cheese and chili, also of dubious origin, you're really playing Russian roulette with your stomach. If I don't know what's in it, I won't eat it.
Speaking of playing Russian roulette with your stomach, do you know what's in a Slim Jim? An original Giant Slim (28 grams) contains 150 calories (120 from fat) and 13 grams of fat, 5 of which are saturated. It also will give you well over 400 milligrams of sodium (420 milligrams to be exact)—that's almost a fifth of your RDA. Beef jerky only has 73 calories per ounce, almost no fat, and 12 grams of protein. It is still high in sodium, though, and that's before you factor in flavors like teriyaki, which can ratchet the salt levels up another couple of notches.
BEST: Beef jerky or nothing (do you really think gas station meat is a good idea?)
WORST: Hot dogs, Slim Jims
The dessert course
Chocolate and candy are the most tempting items at the gas station. Who couldn't use a little sugar rush on the way to that 8 AM meeting, or a little boost to help you drive those last 50 miles down the road? With most candy bars, you can tell from the label that you're in trouble. A Snickers bar, which contains a few peanuts, may delude us into considering it a not-unhealthy option. But it still has 273 calories, 14 grams of fat (5 saturated), and only a paltry 4 grams of protein. And some of the "healthy" granola bars you might reach for instead can be just as full of fat and sugar. As always, it pays to read the labels. Your guilty pleasure may be more innocent than the supposed healthy choice. For example, I had always thought a Hostess fruit pie (or "liquor-store pie" as my friends' 4-year-old delightfully calls it) would be a healthier alternative than its corporate shelf mate, the Twinkie. It has fruit, right? A Hostess apple pie, though, has 480 calories and 22 grams of fat, compared to a two-pack of Twinkies, which has 300 calories and 9 grams of fat. You're better off not splurging on any of the items on the gas station equivalent of the pastry cart, though. Instead, save your indulgences for something really good later.
If your sweet tooth won't be denied, look to dark chocolate without any fillings. It's high in antioxidants, so you'll at least get some health benefits. But don't eat the whole bar. Just have a couple of squares and save the rest for later—beware the melt factor, though. Also, you can look for low-fat sweets like Twizzlers or Gummi Bears, which will give you about the same calorie load as a candy bar but about a tenth of the fat. Candy that doesn't come in one big piece can also help you control portions, because you don't want to get all of your calories from sugar. Have a couple of pieces and put the rest in the glove compartment—out of reach—or even in the trunk, if you're really tempted. Aside from being fattening, the high glycemic value of sugary treats will ensure you'll just be hungry sooner, potentially starting a bad pattern of roadside snacking as the day goes on. Foods that are high in protein and fiber will help you feel full longer and give you a steady energy supply instead of sugar spikes.
BEST: Dark chocolate, Twizzlers
WORST: Pretty much everything else
And of course, something to drink!
Here's where you can really get killed, dietwise. Beachbody® nutrition advisor Steve Edwards doesn't call soda "The Worst Food on the Planet" for nothing (see "Nutrition 911, Part VI: The Worst Food on the Planet" in the Related Articles section below). A 12-ounce can of soda contains about 180 calories, all of them from high fructose corn syrup, the unhealthiest sweetener around. But of course, most convenience stores offer you more than 12 ounces to slake your unquenchable thirst. You can get the X-treme Gulp Mug at 7-Eleven—its 52-ounce capacity will give you over 800 calories, with absolutely no additional nutritional value. You could try one of those little Starbucks Frappuccino bottles instead. But they're even worse than soda. A teeny 9.5-ounce bottle contains 180 calories and 3 grams of fat. That's more calories than soda, and with extra fat! Who can resist? You can read more about these deadly coffee and juice concoctions in "Jumbo Juices and Crappuccinos" in the Related Articles section below.
Of course, the best thing to drink is a big bottle of water. There are tons of reasons to drink it (see "10 Reasons Why You Need to Drink Water" in the Related Articles section below), and it's a readily available beverage. If you really want a fountain drink or something with a little flavor or caffeine boost, go for some unsweetened iced tea or coffee—you'll quench your thirst and get a few antioxidants without the calories. And the caffeine boost can help keep you alert on the road. But watch how much caffeine you consume. Too much can make you jumpy, and it can have a diuretic effect, which can lead to dehydration, not to mention extra pit stops. Try to avoid sports drinks like Gatorade or so-called energy drinks like Red Bull—most of the energy comes from our old friend high fructose corn syrup.
BEST: Water, tea, coffee
WORST: Soda, sweetened coffee drinks, energy drinks, sports drinks
And to ensure you get the nutrients you need every day to stay fit and healthy, especially when you're on the go, don't forget to take your ActiVit® Multivitamins!
Got something to say? Chat with the writers and other readers this Monday, January 12th, at 8:00 PM ET, 5:00 PM PT in the Beachbody Chatroom!
Test Your "Eating While Driving" IQ!By DeLane McDuffie
What's more dangerous on the American roads, the speeding car that's racing toward you or the sticky honey bun that's racing toward your face? As we all know, eating and driving do not mix. Looking deeper into the perils of this, Hagerty Classic Insurance, insurers of many of those classic cars that most of us can't afford, researched and investigated statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. From this study was born Hagerty's list of the "Ten Most Dangerous Foods to Eat While Driving." Rank the top five "winners" from least dangerous to most dangerous.
- 5. Hamburgers. Grease is the word—grease all over your hands, steering wheel, clothes, and mouth! Handing a highway patrol officer your license and registration with your greasy fingers will go over really well. You better hand the officer a doughnut—#8 on the list—to smooth things over.
- 4. Chili. Chili shouldn't be eaten while operating a moving vehicle. It should be reserved for picnics, cookouts, tailgating in chilly weather, and the often-frowned-upon but highly underrated wedding reception at the local bowling alley. Chasing a chili-covered meatball that's sliding across your dashboard while you're parallel parking is unparalleled preposterousness, people.
- 3. Tacos. If tacos were explosives, there would be no one alive on the planet. We've all done it; one second, you're holding it, and then, the next second, you're standing in a taco salad garden. Not since the advent of the dynamite stick has something so small and unassuming created such devastation to the human psyche. Trying to control your leafy mayhem and watch the road at the same time can be too much for one person to handle.
- 2. Hot soup. If your goal is to burn your lips and face, spill liquid fire onto your lap, and careen from side to side just before you sail off the overpass, then we've got the soup for you.
- 1. Coffee. Probably a no-brainer to be #1 on this list, one would think that it would be a no-brainer to be more careful when handling this beverage. Besides its seemingly innate resistance to being contained, hot java lava—like its watery cousin, hot soup—has the pesky tendency to distract drivers and stain anything it comes in contact with. Oh, yeah, and it can scald you, too.
- Rounding out the list was any barbecued food at #6, fried chicken at #7, jelly or cream-filled doughnuts at #8, soft drinks at #9, and good ol' chocolate at #10.
Check out our Fitness Advisor's responses to your comments in Steve Edwards' Mailbag on the Message Boards. If you'd like to receive Steve Edwards' Mailbag by email, click here to subscribe to Steve's Health and Fitness Newsletter. And if you'd like to know more about Steve's views on fitness, nutrition, and outdoor sports, read his blog, The Straight Dope.
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