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Cut The Fat Eating Healthy In The Air

(May 2000)

Welcome aboard Fat Air, where the sky is high, and the fat and calorie counts are too! It's amazing that the miniscule portions on your airline food tray can often be more fattening than a Big Mac™, fries, and a cola from McDonalds©! Scary! So what can you do about it?

eFit, the online diet and fitness network, is fighting back and helping to educate travelers. After studying menus from fifteen different airlines, eFit's nutritionists estimate that the average airline coach meal contains approximately 1,054 calories! If you are keeping score, that's twenty-four more calories than the aforementioned McDonald’s© meal.

However, eFit isn't out to bash airline food, which is already the proverbial favorite topic of airline jokes. Instead, their goal is to make airline travelers think twice before accepting the flight attendant's offer of chicken or beef. With an estimated 640 million people flying every year, the effect of such meals on the health of travelers is a legitimate concern. Most airlines work very hard on their meal planning, often spending millions of dollars to make the right selections. Despite this, however, most airlines fail miserably with respect to the high calorie, fat, and sodium levels that exist in their in-flight meals.

As a former flight attendant, I am not a big fan of airline food. The only time I became a big fan, literally, was when I worked business class on international flights. I ended up gaining fifteen pounds in one year! Therefore, this study and its findings do not surprise me. I was only surprised that it took so long.

So, how did this survey come into being? eFit President and CEO Charles Platkin was on a long flight when he started wondering about the calories, fat, and sodium in the food he was being served. Platkin and his nutritionist then set out to analyze what each airline serves in the skies. eFit asked fifteen airlines for their coach and first-class dinner menus, recipes, and nutritional breakdowns. Sadly, the airlines were not too cooperative with the survey, and only three airlines sent in the requested nutritional breakdowns.

However, that didn't stop eFit from completing the study. Instead, they calculated the breakdowns themselves, working from the airlines' in-flight menus, average recommended portion sizes, and standard nutritional measures of fat, sodium, sugars, and calories.

So how did the airlines do? By far the most fattening skies belong to Midwest Express. A sample dinner of four baby-back ribs with barbecue sauce, green beans, rice, tomato and spinach pasta, cornbread, and lemon pie topped the charts at 1,643 calories and 91 grams of fat. On the other hand, the svelte skies belong to British Airways, where the fruit yogurt, lamb medallions in mint jus, new potatoes, and fresh fruit dinner measured in with 534 calories and 21 grams of fat.

However, according to American Airlines' executive chef David Colella, "passengers want comfort food when they fly." He says that when American Airlines decided to change a dessert from a brownie to an apple, customers demanded the brownie back. So, if the majority of people want the fattening food, where does that leave the health-conscious traveler? I can give you the answer in two simple words: Special Meal.

I order a special meal, usually a fruit plate, every time I fly. Often I end up being the envy of most passengers around me. On my last United flight, people asked me how I got a special meal. Do you have to be special to get a special meal? No, and the best part of special meals is that you may order one at no additional cost. Surprisingly, most people don't take advantage of this great deal. Most airlines offer special meals in many categories, such as low-calorie, low-fat, low-sodium, vegetarian, kosher, diabetic, Hindu, children's, and other restricted-diet options. If you would like a special meal on your next flight you need only to call the airline at least 24 hours in advance to request it.

eFit offers this additional advice to health-concious flyers:

  • Eat before you board if your flight time is expected to be four hours or less.
  • If you have not ordered a special meal, pick the offered one that sounds less fattening. Select roasted, baked, grilled, or steamed, over sautéed, fried, stir-fried, Alfredo, or creamy.
  • Do not eat everything on your tray.
  • Bring your own food on board, like vegetables, pretzels, oatmeal, or instant soup. Flight attendants can supply any needed hot water.

    For more great tips and advice, visit eFit's travel section at

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