Picture this: you’re driving down an endless stretch of highway, waiting to board a flight, or perhaps you’ve just arrived at a distant relative’s graduation party, and The Feeling hits. The empty, pit-in-your-stomach, light-headed feeling of hunger. You know it’s not long until the fatigue, inability to concentrate, and loss of all sense of social decency begin to take hold. But the landscape is bleak. There is nothing to eat but junk food.
Or is there?
We’ve all been in a situation where there are seemingly zero healthy food options (and you have no choice but to pile your plate with corn dogs…) So we’re venturing into these nutritional deserts to help you figure out what to eat when there’s nothing to eat.
WHAT TO EAT WHEN YOU’RE STUCK AT…
These days, most airports are filled with restaurants, a few of which are bound to have some healthy menu items. But let’s say you don’t have time to go hunting down a locally-sourced salad bar. Let’s say you’ve only got a bookstore and a coffee shop…
Nuts are a great option when you need to slay the hunger dragon, fast. They’re one of the most nutrient-dense foods you can eat, packing around 170 calories, 16 grams of fat, 6 grams of carbohydrate, 4 grams of protein, and 2 grams of fiber in just one ounce! If possible, choose raw nuts over roasted, as raw nuts can contain higher amounts of antioxidant vitamin E – an important nutrient that helps protect against free radical damage, promote healthy vision, brain function, and a strong immune system.
A Banana or an Apple
Even the most basic of airports will usually have apples and bananas for sale – they may be a little bruised and battered, but that doesn’t change their nutritional value. Both of these fruits contain around 30 grams of carbohydrate and 3-4 grams of fiber. The carbs will provide a quick source of energy, while the fiber will help stabilize your blood sugar and keep you fuller, longer. The soluble fiber in bananas and the pectin found in apple skins, act as prebiotics, helping to feed your good gut bacteria. This is especially important when you’re traveling, as our gut bacteria play a crucial role supporting our digestive and immune health. Read more about the best ways to feed your good gut bacteria here.
Full-Fat, Decaf Latte
If your coffee order is usually the exact opposite, i.e. skim latte, extra shot, you may want to listen up. By switching to whole or 2% milk, you’ll add a few more calories and grams of fat. If this beverage is going to serve as your primary source of fuel for the next few hours, more fat and calories are a good thing. Additionally, the extra fat will help stabilize your blood sugar, so you stay full, energized, and satisfied longer.
Why decaf? Caffeine causes our bodies to produce cortisol, a stress hormone which raises our blood sugar. If you combine caffeine with the natural sugars in milk and cut out all the fat, you could have a one-way ticket aboard The Blood Sugar Rollercoaster. While the high may be fun at first, what goes up must come down, leaving you hungrier – and not to mention crankier – than you were to begin with.
Don’t forget to hydrate! The humidity in a pressurized airplane cabin drops to about half of what it is normally outside and can lead to dehydration. In addition to dry eyes and swollen feet, dehydration can contribute to fatigue, irritability, and hunger. Make sure to bring some water with you and re-stock during the in-flight beverage service.
While you can’t bring your own beverages into the airport, you can bring your own food. I, personally, have brought an entire rotisserie chicken through security. True story. Our best recommendation for eating healthy while traveling is to plan ahead and pack your own healthy snacks.
Smarty Tip: Save old takeout containers for traveling. Instead of toting around pricey plastic or stainless steel that you have to save and wash, these can be thrown away when you’re finished – just make sure you recycle!
Even when you’ve got options, the nutrient-density of airport food can be a little lacking, so keep an eye out for our SmartyPants On-the-Go packs. Inside you get a full serving of vitamins, minerals, and omega 3 fish oil all in one amazingly delicious gummy package. We use the forms of nutrients that are easily absorbed by the body whenever possible, our fish oil is eco-friendly, and our gummies are non-GMO, contain no synthetic colors, flavors, or preservatives, and are gluten, casein, and allergen-free. The perfect backup when you’re on the go and in need of nutrients!
A GAS STATION
Like airports, most gas stations will stock some kind of mixed nuts, fruit, and water. A couple of other healthy options you can find on the road include:
Jerky is an almost perfect balance between fat and protein, and a good source of B vitamins and zinc – two nutrients that are particularly important when traveling as they support energy production and immunity. But many commercial brands are coated with flavorings and preservatives. Fortunately, one of the best things about road trips is that you can often find locally-produced goods and goodies at gas stations. When you make a pit stop, keep an eye out for homemade jerky, which usually just includes meat, spices, and a bit of sugar for taste.
In a mere one ounce, 150 calorie serving, this gas station staple delivers 14 grams of fat, 6 grams of carbohydrate, 6 grams of protein, and 2 grams of fiber! You also get vitamin B1, B6, folate, and over 80% of the Daily Value for antioxidant vitamin E. Sunflower seeds are also an excellent source of selenium and magnesium – two nutrients which are needed for hundreds of functions in the body, including energy production, proper thyroid and immune function, healthy aging, and sleep. These minerals are not abundant in many foods, so when you find a good dietary source, don’t pass it up!
Crudité & Peanut Butter
Crudité is a fancy word for sliced vegetables, which many gas stations have in their refrigerated section. To jazz things up, try dipping your veggies in peanut butter – you can often find mini-size condiments for sale in gas station travel sections. Peanuts contain healthy fats to help you absorb the vitamins in the veggies, as well as some extra antioxidant vitamin E and protein.
String Cheese & Yogurt
Individually packaged string cheese and yogurt not only deliver hunger-busting protein and fat, they’re also some of the best dietary sources of bioavailable calcium, or, calcium that our bodies can absorb and use easily (at SmartyPants, we’re all about those bioavailable nutrients.)
When choosing a yogurt, opt for an unflavored, plain variety. You can sweeten it up with honey, which you can usually find provided for free at the coffee/tea station.
Protein and meal replacement bars seem to have taken over the world, but buyer beware: while many of these bars may appear to be healthy, thanks to clever marking language and pretty packaging, they can be filled with a multitude of highly processed ingredients and additives. If your gas station has bars, try and choose one with the fewest number of ingredients – preferably those you can recognize and pronounce. Additionally, look for bars that contain at least five grams of protein and, ideally, less than a third of the total calories from sugar. Bonus points for fiber. We like KIND bars, organic Cliff bars, and Kashi Go Lean bars.
This one may come as a shocker, but potato salad can be a relatively healthy food choice. Potatoes, when cooked and then cooled, contain something called resistant starch. Resistant starches pass through the digestive tract unchanged – they are resistant to digestion – and function similar to soluble fiber in that they act as prebiotics, helping to feed our good gut bacteria. Research shows that resistant starch can have powerful health benefits, including improved insulin sensitivity, lower blood sugar levels, reduced appetite, and improved digestion.
A classic fruit salad consists of melon, grapes, and pineapple – all of which bring something special to the nutritional buffet. Watermelon and melon are loaded with water and fiber, which will help keep you hydrated and feeling full. Grapes contain powerful antioxidants known as polyphenols. You may have heard of resveratrol? This antioxidant famous for promoting heart health is found in the skins of red grapes. Finally, pineapple contains bromelain, an enzyme which helps promote digestion – especially helpful if you just so happen to accidentally sample some of the extra spicy chicken wings, or grandma’s homemade rigatoni.
Shrimp are a nutritionist’s dream. They’re low in fat, calories, and carbs while packing as much protein as a steak in a 3-ounce serving! In that same serving, you also get 75% of the Daily Value for vitamin B12, 50% of selenium, over 50% of phosphorous, 30% of choline, copper, and iodine, and antioxidants to boot! In addition to selenium, shrimp contain astaxanthin, a powerful nutrient that has been shown to promote heart health, skin health, increased endurance, and overall healthy aging. In terms of free radical fighting power, one study showed that astaxanthin displayed the highest antioxidant activity when compared to other carotenoids.
Cheese is one of those foods that can turn from healthy snack to belt-busting binge fest, fast. The key to keeping cheese consumption to a moderate level is to understand what you’re eating. Much like mixed nuts, cheese is a dense source of calories and nutrition, with one ounce delivering around 115 calories, 9 grams of fat, and 7 grams of protein.
What does one ounce look like? Two dice. Or, one piece about the size of your thumb. Our advice when sampling from the cheese board is to take a few cubes – along with a generous helping of fruit and veggies – and step away from the wheel. You’re much less likely to clean the platter if you’re not within striking distance.
If there was a popularity contest amongst dips, hummus would be the prom queen. Everybody loves hummus, and for good reason. The delicious garbanzo bean spread is an excellent source of monounsaturated fats, fiber, protein, vitamin B6, folate, and manganese. One quarter cup (because, let’s be honest, no one is eating just one tablespoon) contains 6 grams of fat, 9 grams of carbohydrates, 5 grams of protein, 4 grams of fiber, and only 100 calories! Sounds too good to be true, but it’s not. It’s hummus.
From the Menu
Depending on which state you live in, many bars are required by law to sell food. If your bar has a menu, look first for anything that’s not fried. Next – in order of priority – look for dishes that contain vegetables, protein, and fat. These macronutrients will keep you full and slow the rate at which alcohol enters your bloodstream. Some good options include mini sliders or wraps – you can ditch the bun or wrap and just eat the filling – cocktail shrimp, chili, and deviled eggs.
If the bar does not serve food, many will at least have snacks. The best option is mixed nuts, but if your only choices are pretzels or chips, go for the pretzels. Chips are typically fried in vegetable oil, and, when exposed to high heat, vegetable oils can become damaged, or oxidized. Consuming oxidized fats can lead to free radical damage in the body, so it’s best to avoid fried foods when you can.
Last, but certainly not least. Try and alternate every alcoholic drink with a glass of water. Water will not only help keep you hydrated, support liver function, and mitigate the dreaded, morning-after hangover, it will also help your wallet by cutting your bar bill in half!
Know anyone going on a trip, or could use some healthy inspo? Share this with them!
What are your favorite healthy go-tos when you’re in a nutritional jam? We’d love to hear in the comments!
Posted on January 18, 2017