Have you got your vacations all planned out for 2013? Are you still sticking to your New Year’s resolutions?
Travelling is a great opportunity for eye-opening adventures. In terms of nutrition and food however, it could spur in two directions. There are the young backpack travelers that often count pennies and end up relying on cheap fast food, and the more cautious eaters that want to indulge into the whole cultural food experience.
As a young 19-year-old, I committed to a healthy and whole eating lifestyle seven years ago. It has been that long since I touched McDonald’s or any unhealthy and processed foods. This causes some inflexibility while traveling, but my stubbornness does not give up that easily. It can be difficult and more pricy to commit to healthy habits while traveling, but it reduces your chances of a surprised face when you step back on the scale after a vacation.
If you have are able to find accommodation that offers a partial or full kitchen, that is the best option since purchasing fresh foods and cooking them yourself is both pleasurable and healthy. Realistically speaking however, this is often rare when traveling. Not to fret however, because there are other tips.
Tip one: Keep healthy snacks in your travel bag or vehicle
Whether you are on a plane, in a car, or walking by foot, snacking is inevitable. Tt’s not a wrong thing either, but what you are snacking on does matter. If you love seaweed or kale chips, both are excellent snacking options. Instead of sugary power and granola bars, try a fresh fruit, plain nuts (almonds, walnuts, sunflower/pumpkin seeds) that are natural, whole, and packed full of vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids. Steer towards fresh fruit stands in tropical countries especially. The juices ooze out of the fruit like no other; how could one resist?
Tip two: Choose whole grains over processed flour products
Choose whole grains over processed flour products. Pancakes, bagels, confectionary items, and pastries might satisfy your sweet tooth, but it certainly does not benefit your daily caloric intake, and it skyrockets your glycemic index too. Remember Goldilocks? Well she was right that oatmeal is more nutritious, fibrous and less fattening. Choose whole grains like brown or wild rice, and don’t just go for the squishy, airy “whole wheat” bread. True whole grain bread is generally dark in color, grainy, not fluffy, and requires quite a bit of jaw exercise to chew. Don’t waste your money on gum when you can practice on wholesome bread!
Tip three: Remember portion size
Depending on where you are, portion sizes can be a major contributor to weight gain. If traveling in Asia or Europe, this is not so much of an issue. In North America however, splitting an order with a friend or packing half of the meal before starting is a wise option.
Tip four: Stay away from dressing and sauces
Why ruin your vegetable with creamy, over artificially flavored liquids when the best is to go plain? I eat salad without any dressing, but this is not a feasible solution for many. So go the Israeli way and dress up salads with 3 healthy ingredients: olive oil (preferably cold pressed extra virgin), fresh squeezed lemon wedge/juice and a little salt.
Tip five: Look out for grocery stores
All of this may seem difficult on a trip, but when you try a little more than look for the next McDonald’s, it is actually easier than it seems. If you spot a grocery store, supermarket, or even better, a fresh farmer’s market, take advantage and purchase fresh produce for the road.
Tip six: Make special requests at restaurants
It is their service to you — especially if you have special dietary needs. Some countries are not as developed or educated about allergies, so if you are celiac, lactose intolerant, or vegan, your food precaution radar should be on high. In Taiwan for example, restaurants generally don’t know what “kosher” or “gluten free” is. Visit www.happycow.com before travelling if you’re a vegan or vegetarian. You’ll find a global directory of veg-friendly restaurants and health food stores. People are generally attracted by the word “Food” like a magnet, but we should not ignore the essential physical component.
Tip seven: Never stop walking
Put those sturdy feet to use and race those miles. Too many people underestimate the power of walking and rely too much on vehicles that make us lethargic. If you are on a road trip, walking is probably not a feasible option, but once you arrive at your destination, utilizes those precious toes if it is a reasonable walking distance (10-45 minutes). Make use of public transport which often still requires some exercise such as climbing stairs in the Skytrain (Metro Railway) station. Generally reaching a bus stop also requires some walking effort.
I like to marinate my travel days with the whole and full experience which includes food, history, culture, people, sightseeing, exercise and spirituality. On our family vacations, my parents feared I would be undernourished because of long walking distances and refusal to consume fast-dining options. I proved them wrong. I managed with grocery stores and fresh farmer’s markets. Even in department store food courts, I found steamed or boiled vegetables with a special request of no sauces or dressings. I stuck to Sashimi, plain tofu and vegetable bean stews for protein, and purchased or carried plain oatmeal with me. Hotel buffets were a smart option because a huge healthful breakfast filled with fruits, oatmeal, nuts and vegetables generally kept me full until the late afternoon.
There are too many messages these days that confuse people. One day coffee is good and the next study will say something different. The same goes with fish, oils, grains and almost everything that is edible. Stick to the concept that the more whole, unprocessed and real the product is, the better it is for you.
No one should come back from a trip dismayed with a weight gain or sickness due to unhealthy eating habits. Even if budgeting and spending allowance is limited, there are always cheaper dining options. McDonald’s in Canada or Israel for example are often more expensive than cheaper and better quality foods in restaurants or supermarkets. Also, in the long run, you would probably suffer more physically and pay more for medical bills. Part of travelling is being exposed to new features, places, people and culture, but the other part is also making sure your body is strong enough to accomplish all these wonderful experiences. And by strong, I mean smart and healthful eating.