By Jay Williams, Ph.D.
As a lifestyle expert, I spend a lot of time on the road traveling both to my clients and with my clients. Many times, the locations are exotic and there's no question the food is equally as alluring -- but not always in line with my healthy eating practices. I find that dining on mystery foods in a different time zone can tip the scales of any well-intentioned eating plan. But although it's often more challenging to eat healthfully when on the road, it's far from impossible.
GOOD: Do Your Research Ahead Of Time
There are countless resources online that will help you investigate healthy food options where you're travelling. Just Google the area of your hotel and you can find travel blogs and lists of nearby healthy markets and restaurants. (Trust me, if I can find a juice bar in the middle of Nicaragua, then you can find one anywhere.)
Another suggestion is to verify that your hotel room has a mini-refrigerator. That way, you can shop at a local market for healthy breakfast foods and snacks, such as whole-grain bread and nut butter, veggies and fruit to munch on, as well as almond or soy milk to drink with your coffee.
Also, consider a rental with a kitchen (or kitchenette) instead of a hotel. Not only will you have healthier eating options, but you can save tons of time and money by not eating every meal in a restaurant. Check VRBO or Vacation Rentals for options in your desired location.
BETTER: Arrive Prepared With Healthful Options
Preparation isn’t just for Boy Scouts. If you're on a special diet or want to eat smart on your trip, pack a few extra items. This will save you from deviating too far from your typical healthy diet while traveling. Here are a few "must-packs" I won’t board a plane without:
Instant oatmeal: It’s lightweight and easy to prepare -- all you need is a cup and hot water. Purchase some tasty low-sugar options, or if you want to make your own, try mixing together quick-cook oats, unsweetened dried cranberries, some shredded coconut, cinnamon and a little stevia powder. Divide into individual Ziploc baggies for each day of your trip.
Protein powder and a mini hand blender: Bring your favorite protein powder to make breakfast shakes. You can always find a banana around your hotel and use the ice from the hallway machine to make a little milkshake-like concoction. Just don’t pack your hand blender in your carry-on. (I learned that the hard way.)
Chia seeds and vitamins/supplements: When traveling, it's hard to get all your vitamins and omegas in, so packing green supplements and lightweight bags of chia seeds or flax meal to sprinkle on your oatmeal or in your protein shake will give you those extra necessary nutrients and help keep your immune system functioning properly while you travel.
BEST: Make Smart Choices When Eating Out
Dining out requires reminding yourself that health never takes a holiday. I've been in exotic restaurants with delectably yummy options where I've made a few exceptions (tasting the local cuisine is part of the travel experience). Enjoy a few deviations without guilt, so long as you resume your healthy eating plan for the rest of your trip.
Here are a few more suggestions to help you stay true to your diet when you're traveling:
- When ordering in a restaurant, always start with a large salad. Try for greens vs. lettuce for a higher nutrient content. I look for sides of veggies or grains that I can add on to the salad. And when you can, opt for dressing on the side. Local soups can be fun and filling. Avoid the cream-based versions.
- Pair the above with sides of beans, lean meat, or a fun (and small) appetizer. Steer away from sauces; they usually have cream, are high in sodium/MSG or contain other mystery substances that will leave you feeling less than thrilled that you consumed them.
- Don’t speak the language? Before I leave home I make "healthy version cards" translated to my destination lingo. Prepare something you can hand the waiter (and he can give the chef) that says "Hold the sauce," "Low-fat please," "Nothing fried" or "No dairy." Add a thank-you and a smile.
- When ordering a cocktail in another country, beware -- the amount of alcohol varies. For instance, Austria’s standard drink contains 6 grams of alcohol, while a drink in Japan contains 19.75 grams -- three times more powerful.