While you might prefer to bring a snack like hummus or Greek yogurt onto your flight, unfortunately none of those items can make it through security. But you don’t want to fly hungry! Sitting through those long expanses of time with nothing to do is already tough enough. If you’re going to endure changing air pressure and screaming children for a couple of hours, the least you can do is get yourself a snack.
Snacks at the airport can be pricey — most of the time, it’s cheapest and easiest to head to the nearest Hudson News or other quick kiosk and buy pre-packaged food for your flight. When you arrive, you’ll likely see an array of bagged snack foods, a wall of candy, a couple of expensive yogurt cups, and a skimpy selection of fresh fruit. Among the bagged options, there are popcorn bags, trail mixes, mixed nuts, and chips of all kinds.
Sometimes, airlines are courteous enough to provide free options while you’re in the air. Some of these options, however, aren’t exactly the most nutritious. We kept both of these snack sources in mind while creating this list of the unhealthiest options you might eat on an airplane.
At every newsstand, there are hordes of candy options available. It can be tempting to grab a bag, assuring yourself that although the bag is large, you’ll only eat a few morsels. But when you’re stuck on a plane for hours with nothing but your candy to occupy your time, you’re likely to eat far more than you intended. Sugary candies such as gummies and small chocolates are fun to eat and can be a great treat to share, but there’s a reason dentists warn you away from them. The sugar can mess with your teeth; not to mention these candies are low in nutritional value and high in calories.
While plain popcorn can be a healthy snack to satisfy your salt cravings, coating it in caramel adds on hundreds of calories and tons of sugar to an otherwise light bite to eat. The sticky exterior of each kernel can wreak havoc on your tooth enamel; plus, it’s all too easy to consume upwards of 500 calories if you blow through the entire bag during your flight.
Cheetos and other orange-coated snacks can be fun to eat when you’re craving a crunch, but eating cheese dust is not the same as snacking on real cheese. Cheese puffs contain lots of carbs and fats without providing many other nutrients — they’re mostly what people think of as “empty calories.” One serving can have anywhere from 150 to 200 calories, but there’s usually more than one serving in a bag.
Airports sell all kinds of chocolates and chocolate bars — only you don’t get these treats in miniature sizes like you would on Halloween. These chocolates come in full-size bars, which can range from 200 to 400 calories each. While chocolate — especially dark chocolate — is perfectly healthy, eating so much of it (along with the caramels, refined sugars, and other sweets stuffed inside) isn’t exactly a nutritious choice.
Airlines offer a variety of snacks in-flight for free — depending on the airline, you may be offered chips, peanuts, or something else. Cookies are a common choice, however. Delta Airlines is famous for offering Biscoff cookies, while other airlines such as JetBlue offer small chocolate chip cookies in a snack-sized bag. When posed these sugary options beside more nutrient-dense snacks like peanuts or even pretzels, it can be tempting to opt for the baked goods. But if you’re trying to avoid a sugar crash, you’d be better off with any other snack they have to give you.
When choosing a satisfying snack, you want to look to include either protein or some sort of fats. The most nutritious snacks are filled with vitamin-rich foods, as well; but to stay full and properly fueled, eating some protein or fat is a bare minimum. To make crackers a little healthier, try dipping them in hummus or spreading them with cheese. Crackers, however, are still not your most nutritious option — they’re mostly made of simple carbohydrates. Most brands of crackers don’t have much fiber to them, either, and contain processed ingredients.
Most airports sell whole fruit at their various snack stations and kiosks. Fresh fruit has more fiber and less sugar than dried options; plus, bags of dried fruit mixes often contain at least four or five servings. Before you know it, you might inhale well over the recommended daily limit’s worth of added sugar on just one plane ride! If you want dried fruit, consider opting for trail mix to balance it out with healthy fats from almonds and other nutritious nuts.
Many bottled or canned fruit juices contain less actual fruit and more added sugar than you’d expect. A glass of orange juice does have vitamin C, but it also could contain fructose or other added sugars. Save on these additives by eating fresh fruit instead and opting for water on your flight. Water is also better for keeping you hydrated while you’re up in the air.
At many airports, you’ll find small stores with packaged snacks and sandwiches. Often, these stations offer muffins wrapped in cling-wrap as a snack option near the fruit. But a muffin is far from a healthy snack. Unlike muffins you might bake at home, which can be made healthy enough to eat for breakfast, these pre-packaged muffins should be thought of as dessert.
Potatoes in and of themselves aren’t bad for you — but fry them and cover them in salt and it’s a very different story. Potato chips are often an option for a free snack on flights. No matter if these chips are regular, blue chips, or some other wacky flavor, they’re probably not that good for you. When potatoes are fried, it creates a chemical compound that’s also used in plastic production and found in cigarette smoke.
A smoothie might seem like a healthy drink to grab from the kiosk before your plane takes off. But most bottled smoothies are loaded with added sugar and skimp on the fiber from fruit. Unlike the smoothies you might make at home, these don’t include protein or healthy fats. You’ll be left with a sugar spike and subsequent crash, having consumed lots of fruit and sugar but not much else. Unfortunately, you can’t bring your own healthy smoothies through security; you might want to forego smoothies entirely for another snack.
Snack mixes like Chex Mix and other cheesy blends can be delicious and entertaining to eat; you get something different in each bite. However, they’re usually loaded with sodium and simple carbohydrates.
No matter whether you prefer regular or diet, you’re not doing your body any favors by drinking soda. Regular soda contains large amounts of sugar and zero nutritional value otherwise. Diet soda contains artificial sweeteners and other chemicals that could do some damage to your health. Opt instead for water or one of these hydrating healthy drinks.
Just because it’s marketed as a healthy snack bar doesn’t mean it is. Check the labels of your granola bars and protein bars before you purchase them. Some of these bars, such as Clif Bars or Power Bars, contain enough carbohydrates and sugars to fuel some serious exercise. But if you’re snacking at the airport, you’re not about to go on a hike — you’re going to sit sedentary on a plane. Look instead for snack bars with nutrient-dense ingredients such as nuts, seeds, and fruit, along with protein and natural sweeteners.
Pretzels on their own aren’t too terrible of an option — they’re relatively low-calorie and don’t contain much sodium for being a salty packaged snack. A yogurt-covered pretzel, then, might also sound benign. After all, they’re coated in yogurt! But these snacks should be called candy-covered pretzels, not yogurt-covered pretzels. The dense coating is made mainly of sugar and has little nutritional value to speak of. While a serving of 20 mini pretzels contains around 110 calories and less than a gram of sugar, a serving of just eight yogurt-covered pretzels contains around 200 calories and 18 grams of sugar. Even still, eating these might be better than eating nothing on board. If you don’t eat during your flight, it could have some unexpected consequences.
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