“I had the best meal in my flight” – said no one ever! Flying in a pressurised cabin over 10,000 ft in the air does things to your body which makes food unpalatable. From complaints about dry and itchy skin, feeling bloated, sluggish digestion, headache, nausea and sometimes even picking up an infection! What you eat on flights affects how to you feel for hours afterwards.
Image Source: Gorilla-Ink by DeviantArt
First, lets look at what our bodies go through during a flight:
1. Sense of smell is diminished: The dry and cold cabin air affects our mucous membrane lining our nasal cavity and reduce the sense of smell. (Ref1)
2. Taste buds become numb: About one-third of our taste buds become numb and salt is perceived to be 20- 30% less intense while sugar 15-20% less sweet (Ref2).
“In the air, food and drink tastes as it does when we have a cold” says aroma chemist Dr. Andrea Burdack-Freitag, explaining effects of reduced pressure in the aircraft cabin on our taste experience.
3. Moreover, your Immunity system is compromised: Susceptibility to cold and other infections increase in a closed environment where even the per person sq ft space becomes tight. The reduced humidity in flight cabins dries out the mucous in our nasal cavity which is our first line of defense against bacteria and other harmful microorganisms. (Ref3)
4. Also the Dehydration you feel is real: The drop in humidity and cold air dries out our skin and early symptoms of dehydration begin to set in.
5. Add to that the Stress of flying: Stress does bad things to the body. The energy to the digestive system is diverted, fat burning in your body comes to a halt, ‘stress-eating’ is another reason you will crave an energy fix (until the stress is so high that you lose your appetite). Your body does not like to be at a heightened state of alert for too long.
What You Can Do?
Your body is trying to cope with all these changes and food is literally the last thing it needs. Your digestive system would do well to take a break and allow the rest of the body to relax and cope with its environment.
The best thing to do for your body, while in-flight is to observe a Fast.
The fasting need not be for the entire day (although that would be best, especially on long haul flights!) You can certainly make it easy on yourself by having a light snack before you board your plane.
Nothing greasy or sweet or dehydrating. Avoid fast foods which have too much salt in them (as do most airline food, in order to stimulate your numb taste buds and to keep the food from getting spoiled).
Light Snacks You Can Enjoy Before Your Flight:
- Freshly prepared Salad
- Freshly prepared Sandwiches
- Mild Tea (if you need something Hot) or Decaf Coffee
- Yogurt with fresh fruits
Best Things You Can Have During Your Flight (if you really need to!):
- Water (lots of it!)
- Tea over Coffee (Green Tea or Decaf is better)
- Plain nuts – almonds, walnuts and peanuts (carry them in a small bag with you)
- Any fruit (like Banana, Oranges, etc which can can carry with you)
- Unflavoured yogurt
Absolutely Worst Things You Can Have
- Fruit Juices
- White bread / buns
Is this article sucking the fun out of flying?? If your stomach is rumbling and the kind lady comes around with a food tray, you can have a few nibbles and still get away with eating well.
You will see a few images below of typical flight meal trays and you can scroll through to see which bits would be good for you and which ones you should ideally leave out. Have a look:
To summarise, your body is coping with a lot of stressors and digesting a full meal is the last thing you should put it through. Fasting is the best therapy and will keep you away from most maladies associated with flying. Staying hydrated before and through the flight will also be another huge win for your stressed body systems.
Give these suggestions a try next time you fly.
Ref1: Flight Catering by Peter Jones
Ref3: Common Cold Transmission in Commercial Aircraft: Industry and Passenger Implications. Hocking M.B. and Foster H.D. JEHR Vol3, Issue 1, 2004