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John Whyte, M.D., MPH Headshot

Healthy Eating And Travel: Not An Easy Mix

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With the unofficial start of summer comes lots of heat (it feels like a swamp right now in Washington, D.C.!) and lots of travel. It's often during the summer that I enjoy traveling on the train. It's quiet, there's legroom and we don't have to take our shoes off to board! But travel's never 100 percent comfortable, is it? Have you ever used the restroom on a moving train? And then of course, there's the issue of food.

Lately I've been trying to eat before I get on board, but on my last trip I was hungry from running around the city. I'd brought my laptop because I had work to do, but it was mealtime and all I could think about was food. It's not like I was going to starve before I got to Penn Station in New York, but I sure was unhappy. I think the person next to me might have actually heard my stomach growl. So I got up and made my way to the café car.

When I got there, I was overwhelmed. Not by the great choices, but by the hamburgers wrapped in plastic (ready to be popped in the microwave), the salt-filled cups of noodles, the cans of sugary soft drinks and the diet ones with artificial sugar. There were personal-sized pepperoni pizzas -- also destined for the microwave -- and sandwiches with processed meat on white bread. And of course, lots of chips. I went back to my seat.

When I got home, I looked up Amtrak's menu to see if it was really as bad as I thought. Actually, I discovered that I wasn't being completely fair. Somehow I missed the fact that they have a couple of salads on the menu. You can get a packet of nuts and dried fruit, some hummus and flatbread or some yogurt. I also could have asked for two-percent milk. It reminds me of what the airlines are doing these days. A number of them are offering healthier choices, like a snack box that includes olives and almonds, or one with seasoned tuna and unsweetened applesauce.

Now, I hate to complain, since it looks like Amtrak and the airlines are trying. I'm sure that serving fresh, unprocessed food would be an enormous logistical challenge. And I'm sure there are people who enjoy those hamburgers and pizzas. But for those of us who travel a lot and are trying to eat healthy ... I wish they would do a little more.

You see, even those "healthier choices" aren't always the best they could be. Yogurt sounds like a good choice, but it's usually the type that's filled with sugar. Breads and crackers aren't usually made with whole grains. Protein often comes from processed meat, which tends to have a lot of salt. You might get peanuts or almonds, but they're usually pretty salty too.

Often, I find that choosing a snack or a meal when I'm traveling is a matter of choosing the "lesser evil." Or, I end up eating the same thing over and over because it's the only good option. Some of the airlines are better than others and to the ones who are really making an effort, I say thank you! Now I just wish we could have the same abundance of healthy options as unhealthy ones.

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