[Click below to listen to an audio version of this article]
Most airport food courts and convenience shops are minefields for your metabolic health, full of snack foods or candy that are high in calories and empty carbs but low in nutrients. That combo puts you on a fast track for sky-high glucose just as you get on the plane. (And here’s why that’s a problem.)
Making matters worse is how demanding air travel is on your body. Being jet-lagged can influence your body’s ability to process glucose, and poor sleep can increase your appetite for calorie-dense high-carbohydrate foods. The stress of hectic travel and crowds may also affect your food choices for the worse.
A vicious cycle ensues. Convenience foods make your blood glucose spike and crash, leaving you feeling sluggish and exacerbating the exhaustion of travel and jet lag.
Fortunately, you can eat better when you travel with a bit of preparation. Below, find some easy-to-pack snacks and metabolically friendly options to buy on the go.
The Best Airport Snacks to Prep at Home
The idea of bringing food through security may give you pause, but TSA’s food regulations are surprisingly simple: Solid food items are generally allowed. Liquid or gels are what’s problematic, so if you have any, you’ll want to pack them in a separate container that’s less than 3.4 ounces. For your drink, bring an empty water bottle from home. Many airports have water bottle filling stations. H2O (and plenty of it) is the best way to stay hydrated when you fly.
All that said, there can be some ambiguity at security, and the TSA officer on-site always has the final say on whether what you’ve packed is permitted. To get an answer on a questionable item before your trip, you can send AskTSA a photo via Facebook Messenger or Twitter.
Here are some ideas for homemade snacks that should get through security without difficulty:
Chopped salad: Scour your crisper for sturdy vegetables like kale, carrots, and cabbage. Chop everything up and toss with toasted pumpkin seeds and a little bit of your favorite dressing (with no added sugar!). Hearty vegetables stand up to being dressed in advance but if you want to store dressing on the side, make sure it’s in a sub-3.4 ounce container like this one. Bonus: This clear-out-the-fridge salad helps avoid spoilage of food left behind while you’re on the road.
It’s best to keep a salad like this cold, and you can do it with travel-friendly ice packs. Just be sure they’re frozen solid when you head through security. If they’re melted, they’ll need to meet the TSA requirements for other liquids.
Vegetable sticks with hummus: Cut up some non-starchy raw vegetables and pair them with homemade or store-bought hummus (just keep the container under 3.4 ounces).
Celery and peanut butter: Slather some celery sticks with your favorite sugar-free nut butter. Sprinkle them with a little cayenne to spice things up.
Easy deviled eggs: You don’t have to break out a bowl and a mixer. Just top halved hard-boiled eggs with a thin smear of mayonnaise, some spices you love (smoked paprika, furikake), slices of avocado, radish, or prosciutto, and you’re good to go with a snack rich in protein and nutrients. If you plan to eat on the plane and you’re worried about the smell, opt for plain boiled eggs instead.
Tuna salad on seed crackers: Homemade flaxseed crackers serve as a perfect crisp surface for salads and spreads. Unlike traditional crackers, they won’t spike your blood sugar. Top with tuna salad, chicken salad, or guacamole. The soluble fiber in flax can help you avoid travel-related digestive distress.
Salmon cucumber boats: Halve an English cucumber and hollow it out by removing the seeds with a spoon. Mash canned or smoked salmon together with cream cheese, and fill in your cucumber boats with the mixture. If you want to feel fancy, top with minced chives. It’s like a party hors d’oeuvre that will energize you and keep your blood sugar on an even keel.
No Prep Required: Things You Can Buy and Bring to the Airport
If pre-trip food prep feels too much for your to-do list, here are some conveniently packaged travel snacks you can buy before you go.
Olive packets: Available at Trader Joe’s, a portion-controlled pack of Greek olives has around 60 calories and 6g of fat to help hold off hunger. Olives also have monounsaturated fats and antioxidants beneficial for cardiovascular health and combating inflammation.
Trail mix: Bypass the options filled with sugary dried fruit and pick up a trail mix packed with nuts and coconut flakes for a touch of sweetness that won’t spike your blood sugar. Shopping tip: You might see these blends labeled “keto” trail mix.
Nut butter packets: Nuts are an excellent source of healthy fats, micronutrients, and omega-3s, and these nut butter packets are a convenient way to pack a lot of calories in a small space. Just be sure to check for added sugar.
Poshi brand steamed and marinated asparagus: It’s restaurant-quality asparagus in a pouch, flavored with fragrant herbs including rosemary and oregano and marinated in heart-healthy extra virgin olive oil. The green spears are rich in micronutrients (including vitamins B and K), as well as antioxidants and fiber.
Epic brand meat bars : Epic Provisions makes a line of clean, lean, shelf-stable meat snacks. Their meat bars have as much as 13g of protein and are made from beef, chicken, venison, turkey, or pork. Unlike other jerky brands containing up to 9g sugar per ounce, Epic’s keto-friendly bars contain less than 1g of sugar.
Whole fruit: While fruit is higher in sugar, it also has fiber to help blunt a glucose rise and delivers antioxidants and micronutrients. Some of the best traveling and least-likely-to-spike options include oranges, strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries. Even better: pair them with a nut butter to help minimize the blood sugar impact.
Sardines: These tiny fish contain lean protein and healthy fats. Plus, new research supports sardines’ possible protective effects against Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Just beware that canned versions may trigger extra TSA screening that could land your fish in the trash can. Play it safe by looking for sardines or other fish sold in pouches.
If You Must Buy Food From an Airport Store
If you find yourself empty-handed and hungry at the airport, the convenience store may be your only option. Be wary of healthy-looking energy bars and snack boxes, which often contain added sugars and refined grains and are likely to cause a blood sugar spike in some people—just the thing you’re trying to avoid before getting on a plane. Instead, look for these common options:
Nuts: Nuts are a highly satiating food and one of the only vegan-friendly options you’re likely to find in just about any airport store or vending machine. Choose a blend of raw mixed nuts that includes Brazil nuts, and you’ll get your daily value of selenium, a micronutrient with powerful metabolic benefits. Beware of flavored varieties, which can be full of sugar.
Dark chocolate: Aim for very dark (80% cocoa or more). The higher this percentage, the lower the amount of sugar it contains. You can find a few metabolically friendly candy brands here.
Hard-boiled eggs: A plain hard-boiled egg provides protein and heart-healthy fats with an almost negligible amount of carbs and is sometimes available in grab-and-go packages.
String cheese: Often available near kids’ foods, these convenient snacks are high in protein and very low in carbohydrates.