If you'd prefer hummus over a hamburger as you dash through the airport, you're increasingly in luck.
More than eight out of 10, or 83%, of the restaurants in 15 of the nation's largest airports have at least one vegetarian item on the menu -- low in fat, high in fiber and good for your heart, according to the most recent annual assessment by a major physicians group in December.
That's up from 57% a little more than a decade ago.
"There's certainly a higher demand for healthier options, and restaurants are attempting to meet that demand," says Susan Levin, nutrition education director for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, which has been conducting the survey since 2001. "And while some restaurants might be still a little confused about what a healthy meal looks like, at the very least they are trying more and more every year."
Detroit's Metropolitan Wayne County Airport, which ranked last in the first survey, was No. 1 this year. It's the third-consecutive year that Detroit came out on top, with every one of its eateries offering at least one healthy bite.
The survey considers healthy meals to be those that are vegetarian, cholesterol-free and low in fat.
Charlotte-Douglas International Airport showed the most progress, with 81% of its restaurants offering low-fat meals this year compared with 72% in 2010.
Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International ranked the lowest, with only 71% of its eateries having a healthy option.
"We have more than 100 restaurants, food and beverage outlets throughout our airport, offering a huge variety of choices for our customers, including many with healthy eating options," says John Kennedy, spokesman for Atlanta's airport. And, he says, "Starting next year, we shall be phasing in our new food and beverage program of 125 new outlets, which will be offering an even greater variety."
A broader trend
The uptick in healthy eats is part of a broader trend in the travel and hospitality industry to offer consumers higher-quality food and services -- from low-fat snack boxes sold on a flight to low-calorie options at many hotels to spots in the airport where a weary traveler can get a massage.
At airports, in particular, many passengers find themselves with a lot of time for food. Fliers have to arrive early to get through security and then cool their heels until they can board, Levin says. They're also inclined to grab a snack on the ground because airlines nowadays seldom offer free meals.
"It's a little confusing about what we can carry past security in terms of food and beverages," Levin says. "You're probably not going to get food service on a plane unless it's a significantly long flight, so all of these things contribute to passengers seeking food options once they're in the airport."
It's important to have healthy food options when you hit the road to offset the stresses of travel, Levin says. Staying hydrated makes you less vulnerable to the germs in the jet's cabin. And high-fiber, low-fat foods can boost energy and help digestion.
The importance of healthy eating isn't lost on travelers. A TripAdvisor survey of 1,000 U.S. travelers last summer found that 65% believed healthy eating was important on vacations, though 81% admitted they were likely to overindulge. "A burger and fries is almost a ceremonial rite to kicking off their vacation," says Bryan Saltzburg, general manager for TripAdvisor Flights.