What Nutritionists Eat: Before a Flight

Here’s how the experts plan their pre-flight meals

When you are 35,000 feet above the ground, flying in a pressurised aluminium aircraft, culinary choices are limited. You are high up in the air, the density of air decreases, humidity is low—an environment the human body is not used to. This causes your body to dehydrate and your blood becomes more concentrated causing the circadian rhythm to go erratic. Plan your meals in advance with help from the experts to beat jet lag and have a healthy flight experience. 

The circadian rhythm informs the body when to wake up, eat and sleep in response to light. This goes haywire especially when you take a trans meridian flight. Lovneet Batra, Delhi-based clinical nutritionist says that before taking a long-haul flight, she prefers eating daal and rice or curd-rice. “These foods help me sleep better while flying,” she shares. Yoghurt has tryptophan which helps induce sleep. You can keep a box of almonds and walnuts as these are rich in sleep-promoting nutrients such as calcium and magnesium.

Bengaluru-based nutritionist Sheela Krishnaswamy decides her menu based on her flight departure time. “I normally don’t eat anything after dinner, so even if it’s a late-night flight, dinner will be my last meal.”

Stick to eating light like Krishnaswamy while you’re travelling. Make it a rule to avoid processed and fried foods, sugary items and white bread as these foods have a tendency to make you feel tired and you don’t want to feel bloated while strapped to your seat belt. If all the sitting makes your digestion sluggish, eating some probiotic-rich yoghurt will kickstart it.  

When you are flying, your physical movements are restricted, leading to gastrointestinal discomfort like bloating.  Batra has a solution: “right before I board a flight, I eat a banana which are remedies for tiredness, puffy eyes, and a bloated tummy.” Also, make it a point to avoid consuming gas-producing foods such as fizzy drinks, garlic, broccoli, potato, and some dairy products.

Don’t feel hungry inflight? Think your food tastes a bit like cardboard? It’s not you, it’s the cabin pressure. Researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany found that inflight cabin pressure at 2,400 metres numbs about one-third of our taste buds. Because of numb taste buds, there is a natural tendency to add more salt to your food. Be wary. Too much salt causes water retention which can again cause bloating and uneasiness.

To feel refreshed and energetic on landing, the experts advise to load up on fruits, fresh plain yoghurt, roasted chana and lots of water while you’re flying. To avoid jetlag, “hydration is key, as the cabin environment is dehydrating,” says Shweta Bhatia. Internationally, the consensus is that for every hour you’re flying, you should drink at least 250 ml of water. Decaffeinated coffee, herbal tea, mint tea, chamomile tea and plain water to soothe the stomach are also good options.
Still feel woozy and terrible post flight? “Ideally, allow your body to recover naturally, but if the jetlag is really difficult, take a melatonin supplement,” advises Batra. She adds that meditation is also helpful in reversing jet lag. A slice of lemon to your glass water can help alleviate the uneasiness. The vitamin C doesn’t just keep you hydrated, it also boosts your immune system.

In order to keep your body hydrated, make sure you stay away from alcohol. The dehydration induced due to the pressurised air makes blood more concentrated and alcohol amplifies this especially if you have not consumed enough water. Furthermore, being immobile for a long time in a cramped space also decreases the blood flow to the heart and increases the risk of blood stasis in the veins in the lower limbs, especially if you sit crossed-legged—a condition which is sometimes called the Economy Class Syndrome or deep vein thrombosis.

Food hygiene goes a long way in an enjoyable flight, and also impact post-flight gastro-problems and jetlag. What you consume can have an impact on your flying experience, so make it right.


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