Nutritional airline food? Now that’s an oxymoron.

Airline food is on a par with dreaded hospital food but it is important considering the millions of annual airline travelers who ingest airline morsels especially during the holidays. So before your next trip you may want to consider a recent study led by Dr. Charles Platkin director of the Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center and editor of DietDetective.com that examined the health values of 11 major airlines’ in-flight food choices.

In addition to the best mile-high “calorie bargains” and “calorie no-nos” the study also considered nutrients and menu innovations towards healthy, tasty, inexpensive, sustainable foods.

The airline that takes First Prize in this study as the healthiest airline is….ding, ding, ding… Alaska Airlines.

Alaska Airlines inherits Virgin America’s (VA) top spot. The airline worked hard to inherit the food footprint of VA, and surpassed VA by offering better individual snacks and healthier meals.

Other things airline travelers should know include:

  • After 15 years, American and Delta are leading the pack in offering complimentary meals in economy class on domestic flights..
  • Airlines are offering individual small packages of snack foods and getting rid of packages of snack foods.
  • The “Shame on You” award goes to Frontier for its failure to respond to the study with answers to food and water safety questions. Spirit Airlines finally responded to the survey after two months.
  • American and Hawaiian Airlines are most improved on the nutritional scale.

Tray of airline food photo taken by Mike Linksvayer.
Tray of airline food photo taken by Mike Linksvayer.

When traveling DietDetective offers the following consumption tips:

  • Avoid eating lots of heavy carbs such as pasta with thick, dense sauces, breads, muffins or cakes as these will leave you feeling cranky, lethargic and not satisfied.  Your blood sugar levels will spike and fall, which will negatively impact how you feel. Instead, enjoy small meals, lots of raw or steamed veggies, and fruits because those will have a more positive impact on your mood, attitude and behavior. Eating healthier will leave you feeling sharper and more energetic rather than bloated and lethargic.
  • Research shows that people typically consume most, if not all of the food that’s placed in front of them. So, avoid snack boxes unless you’re splitting them with a few other people, or it is your main meal.
  • What about the water? According to the study, travelers should avoid drinking water from the tap on a plane, which also means staying away from coffee and tea. Even though the EPA has instituted the Aircraft Drinking Water Rule (ADWR)to “ensure that safe and reliable drinking water is provided to aircraft passengers and crew,” there are a couple of reliable researchers who believe there may be harmful bacteria in airline water because the water tanks are not frequently emptied. (Really?!?!?) so because the tanks are not emptied on a daily basis the water just sits there for long periods of time.  Buy bottled water in the airport as well as coffee or tea; you can probably ask the flight attendant to heat it up for you.

To read more results from the Diet Detective study including the food-service offerings from several of the more popular airlines, Diet Detective’s comments and ratings go HERE.