Staying Healthy While Traveling
by Elson M. Haas, MD © 2014
When I am traveling by air and staying in hotels, I usually pack some compact, nourishing foods such as almonds and sunflower seeds, healthy protein bars, a couple of organic apples, and at least a quart or more of purified or spring water. I also bring a variety of herbs and nutritional supplements, such as the antioxidant nutrients, to deal with travel stress and chemical exposures, plus some tinctures for protecting my throat and supporting my immune system.
The following list will give you some ideas about practical snacks and supplements that you can take with you when you travel. Sometimes I use these snack foods as the basis for a simple meal, perhaps including something delicious from a local market, such as a piece or two of fruit or a salad. The supplements include:
- Vitamins C and E, selenium and beta-carotene, or an antioxidant formula that may include even more protectors and immune supporters, such as glutathione, L-cysteine, and lipoic acid
- Digestive supplements like enzymes, hydrochloric acid (HCl), probiotics, i.e. healthy bacteria,
- Emergen-C or Power Paks, which are low sugar, powdered nutrients to put in my water.
- Note: See more about my Nutritional Travel Kit in Chapter 16 of Staying Healthy with Nutrition.
When traveling to third world countries or any area where food and water contamination is a concern, supplements are a must. Microbes do not populate and grow well in acidic environments or with stronger competitive microorganisms; therefore, taking protective HCl (hydrochloric acid as betaine hydrochloride, often with pepsin for helping digest proteins) and probiotics regularly can offer protection from food contamination and food poisoning. I also drink only purified or bottled water, I make it a point to peel all fruits, and when eating out, I try to stick to cooked foods, and take HCl and enzymes with every meal.
I also often use a natural GI tract soothing disinfectant to protect against getting infested with microbes. One such product is Gastromycin by Nutricology, and contains grapefruit seed oil, aloe, bismuth, and DGL, a licorice extract. It has worked for me and many of my patients over the past decades. I take 2 to 3 or 4 caps for GI upset or after any eating any suspected bad food, or before meals if I sense a need or if using it regularly on a trip of if going to a pot luck.
Tips on Staying Well when Traveling Abroad
- Boil or filter all water to “absolute 1 micron” or finer before drinking.
- Drink only beverages such as bottled water, canned or carbonated bottled drinks, beer or wine, or beverages made with boiled water.
- Make sure ice is made from boiled water only or avoid it.
- Eat only cooked food, served while still hot. Avoid uncooked vegetables and salads.
- Eat only fruits that can be peeled.
- Avoid all raw foods including un-pasteurized milk and cheeses, raw or rare meats, raw seafood, and shellfish.
Eating at Restaurants
When eating out, assess the cleanliness of the restaurant before you decide to dine there. When traveling and selecting restaurants, it can be helpful to get advice and referrals from local people who are in the know, or check them out online. If you have particular concerns about certain types of foods, such as vegetarian, low fat or low salt, or if you just need a place you can be assured is conscientious and clean, read a restaurant review or check with the hotel staff for guidance. Also, use your gut feelings and nutritional intuition; this may require paying attention with all of your senses. You can also search for online reviews, which are very popular these days.
It’s also helpful to purchase simple foods you can eat in your hotel room, such as water and lemons (to drink lemon water), other fruit, bagels, nuts, or cheeses (especially if you have a little fridge). This reduces the number of meals eaten out and any room service cost.
It is wise to limit the number of meals you eat out because of the many hidden ingredients, such as sugar, fats, excessive salt, and chemical additives, as well as exposure to other people’s germs. Also, there is a tendency to eat more than usual and to have less discretion about the amount of calories and fats you consume, especially when eating at buffet-style restaurants or fast-food establishments.
For example, most baked goods and sauces used in restaurants are high in calories from sugars and fats, unless they are labeled differently on the menu or unless you really know how the chef is preparing the food. Techniques of food preparation are not usually oriented to lower-fat or lower-sodium dishes. Fried foods are often cooked using lower-quality oils, which tends to be a common practice.
Since restaurants are in the business to turn a profit, they often attempt to cut costs with cheaper ingredients, bulk items and processed foods that are less likely to go bad. They may not be buying the best or most wholesome fruits, vegetables, or other ingredients, and it is unlikely that they are purchasing organic foods in place of cheaper chemically treated ones. However, there are exceptions throughout the country, as restaurants using organically grown foods are springing up and thriving.
Yet, it’s also quite common for even the most expensive restaurants to cut corners by using less expensive ingredients or by buying preserved foods in large quantities; this is another opportunity to use your discernment. I usually ask the wait staff very specific questions about how the food is actually prepared, what ingredients are used, and whether any healthful alternatives are available within their restaurant. If they are perplexed by this questioning and unaware of common health concerns, then they will go to the chef. If I am unsatisfied with their answers, I may choose to eat elsewhere. This can be a way to educate if done sensitively, and possibly instigate change.
We must be particularly cautious when choosing where we eat away from home. A survey of 45 state and local government agencies found that only 13% were enforcing the FDA Food Code cooking temperatures for pork, eggs, fish, and poultry! And only 64% required hamburgers to be cooked to 155 degrees F, the minimum temperature necessary to destroy E coli bacteria.
In any situation in life, we are usually presented with positive and negative choices. Restaurants are no exception. I have written more about this in chapter 11 of Staying Healthy with Nutrition. Of course, most restaurants offer many flavors, specifically sweet, salty, spicy, sour and bitter. However, many of us focus primarily on two or three, particularly excessively sweet and salty foods. For a balanced diet, seek out a variety of flavors over the course of the day whenever possible.
Eating on Airplanes - Since we are exposed to so many stressors when we fly–poor air quality, dehydration, germ exposure, a variety of chemicals, extended sitting and inactivity–we want to avoid further stress from eating the wrong foods and drinks. We need to take extra special care of our bodies when we travel. In particular, we should avoid excessively salty foods and alcohol, which contribute to dehydration and can lead to sinus problems, constipation, swollen legs, and low energy.
- I usually order special vegetarian meals when I fly, and that way I at least avoid processed foods and animal protein, both of which put extra stress on the body. Special airline meals need to be ordered when you make your travel arrangements. Of course, meals on airplanes are much less common these days.
- I also travel food-ready with snacks, a healthy sandwich or a container of rice and veggie leftovers, and good waters. This is even more important for longer trips, as are all these concerns and cautions. Other wholesome travel snacks include: fresh fruit, nuts and seeds (almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds), trail mix (nuts, seeds and raisins), protein energy bars, and whatever else you like that’s healthy and travels safely. (Remember that eating perishable foods, when they are kept too long at room temperature, is the greatest single cause of food poisoning.) You can also buy healthy carry out meals or snacks in many airports.
When traveling by plane, I also recommend:
- Taking vitamins and additional antioxidants, including vitamins C and E, selenium and zinc, as well as some extra minerals, to prevent the ill effects of airplane stress and germ exposure.
- Drinking water before, during and after your flight helps to prevent the adverse effects of dehydration and constipation.
- Consuming packets of powdered vitamins C and Bs (or liquid Bs), with minerals (such as Power Paks by Trace Minerals Research) in liquids is helpful in improving hydration and protecting cells and tissues from the stress and radiation exposure of travel.
- Once you arrive (or in flight), you can take aloe vera capsules or other laxative, cleansing herbs to keep the digestive tract moving, taking one or two caps at bedtime are helpful. Note: Try your choice of herbs before you travel so you can predict their effects. The best way to check your body’s response to cleansing and/or laxative herbs is by trying them on a weekend when you’re going to be at home for the day. You don’t want surprises when you travel.
- After you land, drink plenty of water and make sure you sleep well. You can balance your sleep in your new time zone by taking 1-3 mg melatonin at your new bedtime. One way to prepare for this is to take melatonin for a couple days before your trip at the time for sleep in the area to which you’ll travel. So, if in California going to New York, for example, take it a couple days at 8pm so as to reset your body’s clock. You may sleep a bit earlier or longer.
- Prepare for the enjoyment of outdoors, wherever you are. If you are going to be in a city, bring comfortable shoes. Consider taking a bus tour of the city, identifying the areas that are interesting and safe, and then set out on a walking tour or on your own in the areas you identified on the tour. If you’re in a natural setting, plan hiking, camping, playing at the river, or a few days of relaxing at the ocean. Rekindle your connection with the Earth: this will have benefits that will last beyond this journey, continuing to enrich the whole of your life.
Have a safe and great trip!