Make your way through the departure terminal of just about any international airport and you run a gauntlet of food outlets all glowing in that suggestive way that says "Hey you, don't you deserve a snack?" There's the donut counter, finger lickin' chicken, burgers with melted cheese and fries, fruity smoothies - and you've got another half hour to kill before gate time but guess what? Most of them are not your best body buddies.
Especially if it's a long haul flight, they're going to do you wrong in the gastro-intestinal department and you'll pay the price with a bloated, gassy gut and bad sleeps when you finally hit the pillow. Here are a few to avoid, but don't go overboard. Nobody likes a food sheriff. All things in moderation.
They might be fast to prepare, easy on the pocket and fast to chow down but there's nothing fast about they way burgers, fried chips and fried chicken are digested by your body. Particularly when that body is sitting squashed in an economy-class seat, immobile for long periods. Fast foods are high in carbohydrates, refined sugar, salt, fats, low in nutritional value, fibre and water content, which means a bloated stomach and clogged digestive system.
It's a long flight, you're watching a movie or about to peel the foil off your sumptuous airline-prepared meal, the wine and beer is there for the asking so why not? Problem is alcohol causes the body to dehydrate, and since you're already experiencing the effects of dehydration in an aircraft cabin you're getting a double whammy. Partake by all means but drink at least twice as much water as alcohol.
Named for their cross-shaped flowers, cruciferous vegetables include broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, onions, Jerusalem artichokes and beans. All are high in carbohydrates known as oligosaccharides, which cannot be broken down in the small intestine. Once they hit the large intestine though – boom – the bacteria there roll up their sleeves and get to work, fermentation begins and your insides become a gas balloon. Eating these veggies is wonderful and healthy as part of your normal diet, but not so great if you're immobilised in a cabin pressurised at 8000 feet. Eating them pre-flight will have the same effect. You'll probably feel bloated and uncomfortable, you might even experience cramps and that next trip to the toilet, well let's just say you might drown out the engine noise.
Sweetened, fizzy drinks are going to make a bloat baby in your stomach, a gas giant in your gastro-intestinal tract. Most fizzy drinks are high in sugar, which is also likely to mess with your sleep patterns. If you crave bubbles stick to carbonated water, or champers.
Since it's a diuretic you'll be running to the toilet more often, you won't sleep well and it can make you wired and jittery. Too much and you'll be hyped up like a Jack Russell.
Nil by mouth
In a 2008 study published in the journal Science, researchers found that as long as food is plentiful, animals' sleeping and waking patterns are meshed with the light-dark cycle of a normal day. However when food is made available only during normal sleep times, animals will shift their circadian rhythms so that they are awake during those hours. So far this experiment has only been tried and proven to work on rodents but human brains have the same clock gene and the inference is that if we starve ourselves pre-flight, we can manipulate our body clock, adjust our sleep-wake patterns to suppress the light-dark cycle that normally regulates our day and possibly overcome jet lag more quickly. But if the rodents have a choice, they'd probably eat at the normal times, graze their way through the departure terminal's food outlets, gobble whatever comes off the food trolley and suffer the jet lag.
What's your meal plan when flying? Post a comment below.
See also: Revealed: How your plane meal is made