Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Airline Snack & Food Survey with Ratings

According to Airline Transportation Association, there will between nearly 24 million passengers traveling over this Thanksgiving season. Knowing what are the ‘best’ and ‘worst’ choices is a valuable tool for any traveler, so DietDetective.com once again rated the best ‘Calorie Bargains’ and “Calorie Rip-offs” at 35,000 feet.

DietDetective.com issued the 2010 Airline Food Survey rating foods for eight airlines. The survey assigned a “Health Score” (5 stars = highest rate, 1 star = lowest) based on snack/on-board food service offerings, number of healthy offerings, airline cooperation, fruit and vegetable offerings, and improvements. The survey includes health ratings, cost, comments, food offerings, calories, and exercise equivalents.

“This year United provided the ‘healthiest" choices in the sky, while Continental had a fall from grace, US Airways received the lowest rating, and Virgin America and Delta were the least cooperative (and also received a low health rating),” says Charles Stuart Platkin, PhD, MPH, public health advocate, editor of DietDetective.com and visiting assistant professor at CUNY School of Public Health at Hunter College.

Below are the surveyed airlines’ “Health Scores” (Health Score: 5 stars = highest rating, 1 star = lowest). For full survey resultsincluding full listings of the snack/on-board food, comments, ratings, cost, calories, exercise equivalents, and tips go to www.DietDetective.com.

DietDetective.com Annual Airline Snacking and Onboard Food Survey with Health Ratings for 2010

United Airlines (800-864-8331, www.united.com)

Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information:Very helpful.

Health Score: (****)

· Best Bet: On flights longer than two hours go for the Tapas; it has some great foods, including almonds, olives, hummus and bruschetta – nice, and guess what? It's their top-selling snack box. The Lite is also very good and balanced at only 430 calories. For flights longer than three hours, United has a plethora of choices, but I really like the Turkey sandwich at 600 calories including the sauce and chips -- skip those if you want to save the calories. (It’s also their best-selling freshly prepared snack box.) The Chicken Caesar Salad and the Fruit Tray are also good choices. All the meals are served with dressing on the side, so try to use only half. As far as the individual snacks are concerned, wow, those are some pretty high-calorie items! For breakfast, your best bet is the Smoothie or the Yogurt Parfait -- nice and healthy. Or you can have the Ham and Swiss Croissant -- it's not too high in calories. Skip the Continental Breakfast -- at 783 calories it's a bad start to your day.

JetBlue Airways (800-538-2583, www.jetblue.com)

Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information:Very helpful. They're always nice and cooperative.

Health Score: (*** 1/4)

Best Bet: If you’re really hungry, try the nuts. They have protein and good fat and will satisfy you. Eat them one at a time. The animal crackers are OK but not very nutritious. Try to stick with no more than one snack. Just because they offer more doesn’t mean you have to take them, especially if you’re not hungry. In terms of the meal boxes, the Shape Up is the clear winner -- pick that over all the others.

American Airlines (817-963-1234, www.aa.com)

Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information:Very helpful.

Health Score: (*** 1/8)

Best Bet: Your best bet is the Cheese & Cracker Snack Tray. Just skip the cracker packages. The Premium Nut Blend is a strong nutrition choice, but make sure to split it with at least two other people. If you're traveling alone and don’t have a lot of willpower, take a third of the nuts and give the rest back to the flight attendant. Nuts are very high in calories, but the remaining choices don’t offer much in terms of nutrition, and they’re just too high in calories. If you're on a longer flight, the Boston Market Chicken Caesar Salad with chips and dressing is a pretty good meal choice. Also, it's nice that the dressing is on the side (use it sparingly). Make sure you split the Boston Market Deli Chicken Pesto and the Boston Market Turkey Carver -- they are way too many calories for one person.

Delta Air Lines (404-773-0305, www.delta.com)

Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information:Not helpful at all -- I had to contact them repeatedly -- they are back to their old ways.

Health Score:(***) Delta's individual snack choices are not very good, but their meal choices on longer flights are reasonably healthy. Still, they can do much better.

Best Bet:Of the breakfast options (on flights of 3 ½ hours or more) your best bet is the Breakfast Snack, which has light yogurt and a fresh banana. In terms of snack boxes, the Travel Treat is a good option because of the tuna and the raisins, and it's also low in calories. Delta also offers a fruit and cheese plate that’s available for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The cheese is very high in calories, but it’s still a nice option if you skip the crackers; at least you're getting some nutritional benefit from what you're eating. Skip the turkey, egg salad and Canadian bacon croissant at all costs. For lunch/dinner options, there is the veggies and ranch -- nice, low in calories, but watch that ranch dressing! Also, I don't think this will be very filling. The roast beef (eastbound) and turkey sliders (westbound) are both high in calories.

Continental Airlines(800.523.3273, www.continental.com)

Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information:Helpful.

Health Score: (** 1/2)

Best Bet: In terms of snacks, if you have a family of five or six (not very likely) and wanted to split the almonds, it’s really the only snack choice that has real nutritional value. You should avoid the chips and pretzels, and the beef jerky is very high in sodium. That doesn't leave too many snack options. All the snack packs are very high in calories. I realize they're meant to be shared, but even so, there is no one standout among them. There are elements in each that are OK; however, if I had to choose, the Savory is probably the best -- just watch that fruit-and-nut mix. In terms of meals, for breakfast, the yogurt is not too bad. For lunch or dinner, the Grilled Chicken Spinach Salad is the obvious best choice so long as you watch the dressing -- that could put it over the top. The fruit-and-cheese plate is not bad if it's a meal, not just a snack, and the same for the other choices except for the burger. Also, pass on the dessert: It’s not worth it.

Southwest Airlines (214-792-4223, www.southwest.com)

Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information: Very helpful, really very nice people.

Health Score:(**)

Best Bet: Go for the nuts and skip the pretzels and other items.

Virgin America (877-359-8474, www.virginamerica.com)

Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information: Horrible. This is the second year in a row that Virgin America believes they don’t need to provide the information almost every restaurant and food product must offer to customers.

Health Score:(**)

Best Bet: In terms of snacks, the PopChips and yumBar are low-calorie choices; the others are high in calories and not good choices. Virgin offers a wide variety of meals, but the focus is not necessarily on health and calories. The chicken sandwich appears to be your best bet. For snack boxes, go with the Veggies and Hummus or the Protein Meal.

US Airways (480-693-0800, www.usairways.com)

Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information: Dreadful -- it's a tossup between Virgin and US Airways for least cooperation, and Delta is a close third. It was a real struggle getting any information whatsoever.

Health Score:(*3/4)

Best Bet: The CafePlus is not terrible because at the very least you get the protein from the tuna, and it's low in calories. Maybe you can get rid of the cookies (give them to the flight attendant as a gift). Not much else. The Breakfast box is very high in calories and offers little in terms of nutrition.

Diet Detective Tips on Healthy Air Travel.
Even if you ate before you left home, you are still going to get hungry. We often underestimate the amount of time a trip can take. A two-hour flight could mean four or five hours of travel. Keep in mind that you can take most foods through security, but you need to check the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) for the latest rules about carrying on food and water: www.tsa.gov/311/index.shtm
Here are some ideas for snacks you can bring or buy in the airport:

- Water: Buy it after the security checkpoint to take onboard. Dehydration can cause or exacerbate hunger, jet lag and fatigue.

- Cereal: Kashi, Shredded Wheat or other low calorie cereals. Look for portable, low-calorie choices, under 120 calories per cup. You can also look for cereal in a cup--portion controlled 1.5-ounce packs that are easy to store and easy to use.

- Fruit and salads: Stick with fruits like apples and oranges that can withstand some rough treatment. You can even bring a banana if you put it in a container such as a banana saver (www.bananasaver.com). Grapes or almost any other fruit can be carried in a plastic container. Also, they often sell cut up fruit or salads in the airport. They’re a bit more expensive than bringing your own, but at least they’re healthy alternatives to what is served on board.

- Energy bars: Although they tend to be high in calories and fat, they are generally better than a slice of pizza or a candy bar at the airport. Choose Larabars; they have nothing but healthy ingredients.

- Frozen VitaTops:They're healthy, low calorie, and by the time you’re ready to eat one, it will be defrosted and taste fresh. (www.vitalicious.com)

- Nonfat yogurt: Yogurt is a great portable snack. You can purchase it after you go through security.

- Sandwiches: Pre-cut them into portion-controlled sections so you can pull them out at different times during the trip without making a mess. Chicken, turkey, cold cuts and cheese (on 100 percent whole-wheat bread) are all great options for sandwiches on the go.

- Soy chips and PopChips:Yet another portable, low-cal, high-fiber snack. (www.glennys.com, www.popchips.com)

- Peel-and-eat tuna and salmon cups: Chicken of the Sea makes these easy-to-open cups that give you a quick protein source. With no draining required, this wild-caught tuna or salmon is perfect for on-the-go lunches and snacks.

- Nuts: They're a good source of protein, and they help fend off hunger. Portion them into 1-ounce bags (about 160 calories each).

- Dried or freeze-dried fruit and vegetable snacks:Eat dried fruit in moderation; it's high in calories. (e.g., www.sensiblefoods.com, www.brothersallnatural.com, www.funkymonkeysnacks.com)

- All Natural Fruit Roll Ups (no sugar added).Check out Stretch Island Fruit Company's Original Fruit Strips, FruitaB├╝ and Smoooshed Fruit Rolls (www.stretchislandfruit.com)

- Whole Wheat Crackers. Make sure to get 100 percent whole-wheat crackers such as Ak Mak (www.akmakbakeries.com), Dr. Kracker (www.drkracker.com), Mr. Krispers (mrkrispers.elsstore.com).

- Beef jerky: Especially if you're a low-carb fan, but not if you're watching your sodium.

About The Diet Detective

· Charles Stuart Platkin, Ph.D., M.P.H., The Diet Detective, is one of the country's leading nutrition and public health advocates, whose syndicated health, nutrition and fitness column, the Diet Detective appears in more than 100 daily newspapers nationally, including the Honolulu Advertiser, and the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. Platkin is the host of WE tv's series, I Want To Save Your Life. Platkin is also the founder of DietDetective.com, (an Everyday Health / Waterfront Media License). Dr. Platkin is an assistant professor (visiting) at the CUNY School of Public Health at Hunter College in New York City.

He is a member of the American Society for Nutritional Sciences, the American Obesity Association, Society for Public Health Education, Society for Nutrition Education, The American Public Health Association, Sigma Xi (Scientific Research Society), the Delta Omega Honorary Society in Public Health and the American Council on Exercise. He received his undergraduate degree from Cornell University, a law degree from Fordham University, a Masters of Public Health from Florida International University, and a Ph.D. in Public Health from Florida International University.

Platkin is the author of five books. His first book, "Breaking the Pattern" was a bestseller in hardcover; it has been used by addiction clinics to assist patients with resolving drug and alcohol-related issues and more than 20 universities around the country as a text to teach behavioral change techniques to nutrition and dietetic counseling students. His latest books are The Diet Detective's Count Down (Simon and Schuster, 2007) and The Diet Detective's Calorie Bargain Bible (Simon and Schuster, 2008). Currently, he is working on his sixth book called The Diet Detective's All American Dietto be published by Rodale (www.Rodale.com) in January 2012.

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