Travel these days is tough enough without feeling ill when flying. With in-flight food scarce, passengers have learned to bring their own snacks to stave off hunger during air travel. While you think some of your picks for onboard snacks and foods are healthy, you would be surprised to learn that you may have been bringing the wrong foods aboard your flight, according to a dietician.
Kate Scarlata is a Boston-based licensed dietitian and nurse and a New York Times best-selling author with more than 25 years of experience. She understands the effects that certain foods travelers take for granted can actually have before and during a flight.
“My big area is digestive health. Nearly 20 percent of people in the United States have irritable bowel syndrome, and that can be a concern when traveling,” said Scarlata. “But in general, people don’t like to experience digestive conditions, but they do when traveling. Gas expands on a plane, so if you have gas in your intestines, it will get worse. So you should eat snacks that will keep that at bay.”
So before you board that next flight, check out Scarlata's picks, below, for the worst foods you can eat on that plane and why they’re so bad for you.
Sulfur-Rich Protein Foods
Consuming foods like protein powders, eggs and meat before a flight isn’t a good idea because it feeds microbes that create hydrogen sulfide gas, said Scarlata. “It takes about three to five hours before passable gas is produced from the foods you eat, so if you are hopping on a one-hour commuter flight, the food you ate before boarding the plane or while on the plane should be fine,” she said. “But for longer flights, adjusting your pre-boarding meal or snacks might be helpful.”
Nuts including almonds, cashews, chestnuts, flaxseed, hazelnuts, and pistachios are rich in fermentable fibers, which is a perfect recipe for intestinal gas, said Scarlata. “These fibers are fermented by our residential gut microbes and although these foods are healthy for most people, they can cause troublesome gas in your gut,” she said. “The bigger problem is that gas in your intestine expands while mile high in a pressurized cabin.”
Most dried fruit – especially in large quantities – adds sorbitol and fiber to the intestine, said Scarlata. "That pulls water in and creates a gut full of intestinal gas," she said. Dried fruits also tend to be higher in sugar and calories, according to this post in Very Well.
Sugar-Free Gum and Mints
These snacks are rich in sugar alcohols like mannitol, sorbitol and xylitol, said Scarlata. "These alcohols may speed things through your digestive tract a little too quickly," causing bloating and diarrhea. You do not want to be on a flight -- especially a long one -- battling these symptoms.
While this food is a staple in a healthy Mediterranean diet, you may want to think twice as a travel snack, despite its convenience. "It's common knowledge that legumes including chickpeas (used in hummus), dried beans, dried peas, soybeans, and lentils cause gas, something you may want to avoid in the mile high club," said Scarlata. This advice also applies to things including bean dips, edamame hummus, and black-eyed pea dips.
Granola Bars With Chicory Root Extract
Chicory root is a rapidly fermented fiber and may contribute to travel bloat, said Scarlata, so look on the ingredients label before buying and packing them. Granola bars with nuts and/or dried fruit can also be a problem inflight.
Scarlata created a simple equation: onion plus garlic equals inflight gas. This food also tends to include beans, which is also a no-no inflight for the obvious reasons, and tortilla chips, which tend to be high in sodium and cause bloating. And spicy food can cause an upset stomach and an irritated bladder.
While tasty, these snacks are high fat and salt and have little nutrition, said Scarlata. This also includes the airline-favorite snacks of pretzels and peanuts. “Too many heavily salted products can make you hold more fluids that cause bloating, along with swelling in the hands and feet,” she said. “They can also bring on symptoms of acid reflux.”