Blog & Recipes

What to Eat & Drink on a Long Flight


Do you have any vacations or trips planned? Flights, especially long-haul ones, can be hard on the human body. It’s no wonder that after landing at your destination, you can feel pretty crummy. Ever wondered why or if there’s anything you can do to reduce these effects? Let’s find out!

Firstly, dehydration. It can be easy to become dehydrated when travelling for an extended period of time. Between flying at a high altitude in an airplane with very low moisture content, as well as rushing around busy airports or trying to catch some shut-eye - it can be easy to forget to drink fluids and become dehydrated.

To prevent dehydration, always make sure to have a water bottle with you in the airport and on the plane (you can buy water at the airport or bring an empty reusable bottle with you to refill once past security). Aim to drink mostly plain water, other healthy choices would be milk and milk alternatives, smoothies, soups, and decaffeinated coffee or tea (without sugar). You can learn more about staying hydrated by clicking here to read our blog post covering the topic.

It may help to be mindful of your caffeine intake, as caffeine can be a nervous system stimulant which can hinder your body’s circadian rhythm (your natural sleep and wake cycles) from adjusting to different time zones! To learn more about the effects of caffeine, you can click here to read our recent blog post! It may also help to be mindful of your alcohol intake, as alcohol can have an affect on how you’re feeling (especially if you drink enough to have a hangover) and excessive intake may lead to behavioural issues.

Secondly, gas, bloating, and abdominal pain. With the change in altitude and pressure during flight, it is not uncommon for people to experience gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms such as bloating, gas, and abdominal cramping or pain.

If you experience these uncomfortable GI symptoms, try to avoid gas-producing foods such as:

  • Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, etc.

  • Legumes such as beans, peas, and lentils

  • Any other foods your body may find hard to digest

  • Carbonated beverages

  • Greasy, deep-fried, high sugar, and/or creamy foods can exacerbate digestive problems

Peppermint has been found to have a relaxing effect on the bowel and can help relieve abdominal pain, so pack some peppermint tea bags and then just ask for hot water in-flight to help calm your irritated gut!

If gas and bloating are still causing you discomfort, you can try over-the-counter medications such as Gas-X or Beano to help.

Thirdly, get moving! Not only can this help your body pass uncomfortable gas, but walking during a long flight is also protective for your cardiovascular system. Have you ever noticed swelling in your feet and ankles after a long flight? This is actually your blood pooling in your lower legs due to sitting for so long! This is why getting up intermittently during the flight to move and stretch is so important, to keep your blood circulating effectively. Many people may also choose to wear compression socks during flight to prevent lower leg swelling.

A great side effect of staying hydrated is that you’ll have to get up frequently during the flight to use the bathroom. Take advantage of these bathroom breaks by walking the aisles a few times and/or doing some gentle stretches to keep your blood circulating, muscles loose, and joints limber during a long flight.

Finally, jet lag. The human body is just not built for long-haul, international flying. However, there are some things that you can do to lessen the impact of jet lag during your trip. Researcher at Harvard University found that by resetting your ‘feeding clock’, you can actually help to adjust your circadian rhythm. To reset your feeding clock, try eating meals and snacks as per the destination’s time, rather than the time of your departure city. This may mean that you do not eat meals during your flight (maybe only light snacks to help minimize hunger) so that you can have a meal upon arrival.

Finding a healthy meal in-between flights in a busy airport terminal can seem daunting, but it’s not impossible! If you’re able to, try perusing the airport’s website to find

healthy restaurant options before you arrive. Choose meals that are similar to the healthy eating patterns you have developed at home. Aim for half of your plate to be covered with vegetables or fruit, and be wary of restaurant condiments/sauces/dressing which can be a daunting source of excess fat, sugar, and salt. For example, you could select a salad with mixed vegetables, lean protein (chicken, fish, tofu, or legumes), and ask for an oil-based vinaigrette on the side (so you can determine how much you add) or try a sandwich on multigrain bread with lean protein (chicken, fish, tofu, or legumes) and loaded with vegetables. You can even purchase a sandwich or wrap at the airport before you depart to have on the plane, instead of being stuck with the provided in-flight meals!

As much as you can, try to pack your own healthy snacks to have on hand in the airport and on the flight. Ensure you check what food may or may not be allowed through security and customs, depending on your departure and arrival destinations.

If you’re concerned about keeping some foods cold for hours until you’re ready to have them, try freezing some items (such as the grapes or homemade granola bars) to keep everything cold.

Some healthy, on-the-go snack ideas are:

  • Fresh fruit (grapes, bananas, oranges, etc.)

  • Dried fruit (apricots, mango, etc.)

  • Unsweetened apple sauce

  • Bite sized vegetables (baby carrots, grape tomatoes, etc.)

  • Unsalted nuts and seeds (you can make your own trail mix with nuts, seeds, dried fruit, and some dark chocolate)

  • Single serving peanut or almond butter packets - spread on multigrain crackers or have with sliced fruit

  • Roasted edamame or chickpeas - click here for recipe!

  • Popcorn

  • Dry oatmeal - you can ask for hot water on the flight to cook it when you’re ready for a snack!

  • Pre-portioned cheese (such as Babybels) or hummus with whole grain crackers

  • High fibre, low sugar granola bars (such as KIND or Lara bars) - or, even better, make your own no-bake gluten free energy bars, click here for the recipe!

  • You can even pack yourself a sweet treat, to keep you going through all of the possible delays and snags of international travel. Try making our chocolate matcha truffles ahead of time and freezing them, click here for the recipe.

Finally, be kind to yourself. Travelling can make following your normal, healthy lifestyle challenging. Give yourself a break! Once you’ve made it through travelling and to your destination, make sure to do what you intended to do on your holiday - relax! A healthy lifestyle is not “all or nothing”, it is everything in moderation. If you’re travelling to a foreign country, enjoy trying their cuisine without shame or guilt! Once you get back home you can return to your normal routine of eating healthy and staying active.

If you travel frequently or are wondering how to manage a condition (like diabetes or celiac disease) when travelling, book an appointment with Alex or Stephanie today!

#travel #flying #airport #international #healthyeating #healthysnacking

  • Facebook - Black Circle
  • Instagram - Black Circle
  • Twitter - Black Circle

© 2017 Vancouver Dietitians