Holidays, while everyone’s favourite times of the year, can often be when any healthy eating regime goes out the window – especially if you are on a free-from diet. Nutrition and wellness expert Neha Jamani shares some smart tips to help you eat well on holidays.
We let loose a little when vacationing, and let’s face it, the best part of a holiday is often the joys of discovering new flavours and cuisines. But, coming back with extra weight around the waist, or worse, having TO suffer poor health as a result of not being able to meet usual dietary restrictions for intolerances or conditions such as diabetes, is not only stressful, but also takes away from the pleasures of the holiday per se!
Let the planning begin!
Before you fly
Do your homework
Research the local cuisine so you know what to expect when you get there, making a note of the healthy dishes. Check in with friends who may have visited before and ask for restaurant recommendations where you know you can find food suitable for your diet. Local food blogs are also a good resource to turn to scout restaurants that offer healthier menus. When using online review sites for researching, use specific key words like vegan, gluten-free, paleo and so on, depending on your lifestyle, to find the right ones.
Find alternative accommodation
Instead of checking into a hotel, consider alternative accommodation, like serviced apartments or vacation rentals, where you can have a lot more control over what you’re eating. Having a kitchen is great, and especially useful if you have, or are travelling with someone who has special dietary requirements or food allergies.
Learn the language
Familiarise and learn a few words in the local language like ‘no sugar’, ‘no salt’, ‘sauce on the side’, ‘grilled’ and so on – simple tweaks that you can use in restaurants to make a dish healthier. If you have food allergies and are travelling to a country where you don’t speak the local language, food allergy translation cards are extremely helpful – they are basically wallet-sized cards that explain your allergy or dietary restriction in the local language. Check out www.allergytranslation.com or www.selectwisely.com.
On the plane
Most leading airlines these days are accommodating of health needs and special diets so pre-select a meal to your preference. Additionally, it’s a good idea to bring your own snacks on-board and skip the airline’s typically salty snacks that can contain added sugars and other nasties, and are often not suitable to specific diets. Many airlines increasingly do offer healthy snack options too, so opt for that piece of fruit over a chocolate bar next time! And most importantly, remember you don’t have to eat whenever something is offered – it’s a common mistake to over-eat or drink on flights, often out of sheer boredom, so make it a point to only eat when you’re hungry, and ideally, around mealtimes when you would normally be eating anyways.
The low humidity level and dry atmosphere can result in dehydration if you are not careful, which in turn can lead to dry skin, headaches, muscle cramps and fatigue. It also exaggerates jetlag, so steer away from alcohol and caffeine on the flight. Instead, drink plenty of water often, and stick to juices and herbal teas as alternatives.
Adjust your body clock
When you get on the flight, adjust your watch to the local time zone of your destination so you can start to adjust your stomach – this is especially important in the case of long haul flights. If the snack trolley comes around and its 4AM at your destination, skip it, simply because you wouldn’t eat in the middle of the night. Which is why, again, bringing your own snacks is helpful, so you can eat at appropriate times.
When you’re there
Pack a snack
When you are out sightseeing, carry a small cooler bag with you so you can take along a few nibbles that are suitable for your diet, plus fruit, yoghurt, and fresh juices. Check out the local supermarket and scout out some local healthy snack options. Also make sure to carry drinking water along and make it point to hydrate as thirst can sometimes be mistaken for hunger.
When choosing meals, look for food cooked using seasonal local produce as much as possible, and don’t abandon your ‘5-a-day’ policy even on vacation. It’s always a good idea to try the local fruits – they will be fresh, healthy and possibly something you may not find at home normally.
Plan your meals
While you will want to sample the local cuisine, every holiday meal doesn’t have be an opportunity to go food crazy. A good strategy is to allocate one indulgent meal per day – so plan ahead if you know you will be going somewhere special, keeping the rest of the meals that day light. Also, even if you want to sample local delicacies, but they are not suitable for your diet (milk-based desserts for lactose-intolerant people, for example), then, rather than eating a whole one, order portions to share. When planning your days, take into account mealtimes so you can ensure you are near a suitable restaurant option when you need to eat – if you don’t stick to eating on time, you will end up gorging on unhealthy food at odd hours.
Be aware of what the locally available options are, that are suitable for dietary restrictions – often traditional cuisine can have some delicious dishes that not everyone is familiar with (for example, ancient grains such as buckwheat are widely used in many classical cuisines, making some local specialties ideal for gluten-intolerant people), so you can make the right choices.
When at a restaurant, don’t hesitate to ask for dishes to be modified, dressed or prepared differently; this is probably easiest when the kitchen is not too busy so you may want to consider eating at non-peak times. Choose meat items that are grilled, baked, roasted or poached, and dishes that are steamed, grilled over fried or sautéed, opt for more vegetables and request for dressing and other accompaniments to be served on the side.
Be tech savvy
Getting a local dining and restaurant app on your phone is very helpful to seek out places with a healthy menu. Or, just use review sites to look up restaurants and view the menu so take a look at it ahead of time to see what’s available.
Balance the buffets
Big hotel breakfast buffets are often the downfall of many a healthy eating resolution, so make sure you don’t fall victim to the tempting arrays of pastries and fresh fry-ups. Be choosy, have lots of fruit, and don’t go overboard every single morning. At all buffets, it’s a good idea to use smaller plates – it’s an easy way to watch your portions. And, don’t skip the salad bar - filling up on veggies at the start will ensure you eat less of the unhealthy stuff.
Snack ideas when travelling
Great to snack on with fresh fruits or vegetables. If you have an allergy or intolerance to dairy, you can also make quick nut milk at breakfast time by mixing one tablespoon nut butter in one cup of water.
Skip the commercial breakfast cereals at the hotels and opt for a more nutrient-dense granola option; it also makes for a great snack.
Dried fruit and nuts
Always a good option, easily transportable and keeps well at room temperature.
Apples banana, citrus fruit, unripe avocados keep well for a couple of days. You can also make yourself a simple delicious meal using mashed avocados over toast seasoned with a little salt and pepper.
if you are not a vegetarian, jerky is the ultimate travel food. Since ancient times in many cultures, dried meat was one of the primary sources of nutrition when travelling. Just try and find a brand that isn’t full of processed ingredients.
Health food bars
Choose one with minimally processed ingredients, or if you have extra time on hand, make your own before you travel.
Chia seeds, flax seeds, bee pollen, goji berries make a nice addition to a bowl of fruit and yoghurt.
There are a number of good individual and blended green powders in the market. Carry some along and add it to juice, it’s an excellent way to get extra vitamins and minerals.
If you are someone who doesn’t like the taste of water, drinking herbal teas is good way to ensure you stay hydrated.
If you have a sweet tooth, pack some dark chocolate Ñ it will help you resist tucking in the first sweet treat you see.