Many of us write off travel days as a lost cause when it comes to eating right. Fast-food gulped down while going from one airport terminal to the next is often the best we can hope for.
However, more airports are now providing healthier alternatives with meals that have more fresh fruit and vegetables, and less fat and salt.
The Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) has compiled its 13th annual Airport Food Review and found that airport food, once a great wasteland, is getting much better. Even vegetarians can now find something to eat. In fact, 76 percent of restaurants at 18 of the busiest U.S. airports offer at least one plant-based entrée.
Denver’s airport tops the list, with 86 percent of its restaurants found to be healthy. Chicago O’Hare and Detroit Metro were close behind with 85 percent.
Since 9-11, when security lines got longer and check-in times earlier, travelers began spending more time in airports, which meant they had to eat more meals at terminal restaurants, says registered dietitian Susan Levin, who helped compile the airport restaurant survey.
Levin says that while airports are offering healthier choices, they are also improving labeling.
“You can readily see the nutritional information on most packaged products to help you make a good choice,” she tells Newsmax Health. “Most labels also indicate whether or not a product is soy or gluten free.”
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Here are the top U.S. airports for healthy food, according to the PCRM, which bases its ratings on the percentage of what it characterizes as healthy restaurants in an airport’s terminals.
1. Denver International Airport (86 percent): Whether travelers are looking for a quick bite or want to sit down for a leisurely layover, there are plenty of options. Grab a Colorado Sunshine Wrap at Itza Wrap! Try a barley burger at Boulder Beer Tap House.
2. (tie) Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport, 85 percent: The garden burger at Online Café Bar & Grill or a veggie wrap at Slapshotz are both good choices. Hockeytown Café offers a variety of green entrées, including a Michigan salad topped with Traverse City dried cherries.
2. (tie) Chicago O’Hare International Airport, 85 percent: If you don’t have time to stop by for a freshly made salad at Zoot Café, Fresh Attractions, or Farmers Market, you can grab a Cibo Express red pepper power wrap and go. Before you check in, you’ll also want to check out the chili at Goose Island Beer Company; lentil and chickpea salads at Argo Tea; or the veggie roll, edamame, and seaweed salad at Wicker Park Sushi.
3. (tie) Los Angeles International Airport, 83 percent: Healthful options range from international to California cuisines. Try an Asian or kale salad, or opt for the soba noodles with kimchi-marinated vegetables at Lemonade restaurant. Encounter Restaurant offers a California market salad with sides of steamed bok choy, asparagus, and butternut squash purée.
3. (tie) Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, 83 percent: Travelers on the run can grab an Asian peanut-tofu wrap from Euro Café, a cup of Moroccan lentil soup or Smart Fit salad from Cosi. Stop by National Airport Grill for a grilled vegetable entrée made with squash, zucchini, and baked eggplant.
4. (tie) Baltimore/Washington International Airport, 80 percent: Silver Diner offers portobello vegetarian stir-fry, an all-season summer salad, and a hearty autumn veggie chili with kidney beans, mushrooms, carrots, and squash. Maryland travelers can stop by Chesapeake Café or Rams Head Tavern for a variety of fresh cut greens, including ample servings of seaweed salad.
4. (tie) Washington Dulles International Airport, 80 percent: Early risers can stop by Capitol Ground Coffee for a quick breakfast or light lunch, which might include a Greek Islands Salad or the Veggie Special, piled high with spinach, tomatoes, and roasted red peppers. There is no need to worry about mystery toppings at Green Leaf’s, where you can pick and mix your own salad.
5. (tie) Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, 79 percent: Fliers won’t go hungry when they load up with a Brussels sprouts or kale salad from Chelsea’s Kitchen, chickpea lettuce wraps from La Grande Orange, or a healthy burrito bowl from Sir Veza’s Taco Garage, which omits use of trans fats.
5. (tie) Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, 79 percent: Urban Taco and Cantina Laredo offer a variety of veggie-packed tacos, tostada salads, and burritos, while UFood Grill offers a unique Tofusion bowl. Looking for a veggie plate? Stop by Cousin’s Bar-B-Q for Southern classics, including baked beans, corn-on-the-cob, green beans, black-eyed peas, and okra.
6. San Francisco International Airport, 76 percent: Passengers can pick up more than a dozen healthy options, including beet salad, tofu wraps, or udon noodles from Plant Café and Pinkberry.
7. Newark Liberty International Airport, 74 percent: Travelers should seek out Smashburger’s Harvest Salad made of fresh greens, balsamic tomatoes, raisins, dried cranberries, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and balsamic vinaigrette, or stop by Garden State Diner for the signature veggie triple decker (hold the cheese).
8. Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport, 73 percent: Lefty’s Lonestar Grill serves veggie burgers and salads, while Mango Taco Truck offers squash tacos and fresh mango slices. Travelers with a sweet tooth can stop by Fruteria for a jicama salad, packed with cucumbers, cantaloupe, tomato, and avocado topped with lime vinaigrette.
9. Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, 72 percent: Year after year, French Meadow Bakery and Café is this airport’s hub for creative, healthful menu items including black bean chili, roasted beet and pear salad, and grilled tempeh Reubens.
10. (tie) Orlando International Airport, 71 percent: Travelers looking for healthful fare can opt for cannellini bean bruschetta, spaghetti squash, arugula salads, and roasted veggie wraps with lemon hummus at McCoy’s Bar & Grill.
10. (tie) Miami International Airport, 71 percent: Counter – new this year – has a bean-filled burger that goes on a bun or in a salad with more than 21 fresh vegetable toppings.
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