Seasoned travelers know to embrace the unexpected. But when it comes to food, eating the unknown can set you perilously off course.
"It's possible to enjoy your vacation without letting it derail your diet as long as you plan ahead," said Erin Hobday, Nutrition and Diet Editor for SELF Magazine.
Before you head off on your next trip, take the following advice for planning ahead, snacking smart and enjoying your getaway, without letting yourself go.
Regardless of the length of your trip, you're going to want a snack. Be prepared and bring healthy options with you.
"If you're going on a road trip, I recommend packing a mini-cooler of healthy sandwiches, filtered water and fresh fruit," nutritionist Christine Avanti said. "If you're flying, you can pack a brown-bag lunch as opposed to succumbing to the salted nuts and preservative-loaded packaged snacks the airlines offer."
Hobday recommends making sure you book a hotel room with a fridge "so you have healthy snacks and meals on hand. Pick up high-fiber cereal and skim milk, fat-free yogurt, fresh veggies and fruit." That way you'll stave off the urge to splurge on 2 a.m. macadamia nuts or MSG-filled party mix.
Also, try to do some basic research on the cuisine eaten where you're headed and look for restaurants that serve lighter, healthier fare. Local specialities tend to be high-fat, deep-fried or sugar-laden goodies. Your stomach and waistline will thank you if you know to balance out oily curries with oven-baked tandooris.
Trying new foods is one of the best parts of travelling, so make a game-plan for what you know you'll want to devour. "Choose which decadent specialties you really want to splurge on," Hobday said. "Have one indulgent item per day, and then choose lighter fare at the rest of your meals."
It's not always possible to find fresh and healthy options on the go. If you're in a jam there are a few packaged goods and fast foods to look out for or take with you.
"At a convenience store, grab a Luna bar, bag of soy chips or small handful of nuts. They all contain a mix of carbs and protein, so they'll keep your blood-sugar steady and keep you feeling full," Hobday said.
Not all snack or "energy" bars are created equal, though. In addition to the Luna Bars (her favorite is the Sunrise flavor), Avanti also recommends Cliff Builder Bars and Go Organic Bars (available at Whole Foods and Trader Joe's).
"If you are not suffering from high-blood pressure, turkey and salmon jerky are fantastic low-fat 'packaged' proteins. ... If you are vegetarian you can enjoy veggie jerky or seitan strips [both available at most Whole Foods and Wild Oats markets]," Avanti said.
Yogurt can be another excellent source of low-fat protein. Check the label before you buy though because some are drowning in sugary syrup. Zero or 2-percent fat Greek Yogurt is best.
Lastly, if you must do fast food, "choose a salad with low-fat dressing -- beware high-calorie add-ins like cheese -- a baked potato with chili, yogurt with fruit and granola, or even a [plain] burger. A McDonald's hamburger has just 250 calories, not bad for fast food," Hobday said.
You can find a full "Fast Food Guide" on Avanti's Web site www.christineavanti.com, which outlines the healthiest (and worst) fast-food meals at most major chains. To view click here.
Beware of Traps
"Keep an eye on portion size," Hobday warned. "When you travel you tend to eat out more and restaurants tend to serve up enormous helpings." She suggests working around this by sharing entrees, asking for to-go containers and ordering appetizers as main courses. For more information on how to dine out and maintain your diet click here.
"Don't be afraid to ask [your server] questions. ... That way you can avoid choosing seemingly healthy veggies or fish that are covered in butter or a sugary sauce," she added.
Also beware of calorie-heavy alcohol intake, which tends to increase on vacation. "Choose a 100- to 120-calorie beverage, such as a glass of wine or a vodka and soda, and sip a glass of seltzer water for every alcoholic drink you enjoy to slow your consumption," Hobday said. Learn how to lose weight without dieting by clicking here. It's also important to choose nutritious options to keep you going strong. For this, Avanti suggested "taking a potent probiotic ... a great way to strengthen the immunity of the GI [gastrointestinal] tract." Her favorite is Biogia, which is available in most pharmacies in the United States.
Super Snack Ideas
For an easy grab-and-go snack, Avanti suggested low-fat string cheese with fresh or dried fruit, which she said "also pairs well with whole wheat crackers or pretzels." For sandwiches, she prefers the lean protein of turkey.
If you have time, "try making a healthy trail-mix with an ounce of nuts and an ounce of air-popped popcorn or pack portable fresh foods that won't spoil easily," Hobday said. "If you have a fridge, put together a parfait with layers of plain low-fat yogurt and berries or snack on baby carrots dipped in a quarter cup of hummus." For more healthy treats click here.
For more delicious ideas and healthy-eating info, check out the following Web sites:
The Government's Guide to Ethnic Food
Mayo Clinic Tips