Travelling can be a challenge for anyone on a special diet, especially for those on a low FODMAP diet. This is because every ingredient in take out dishes and convenience store items must be looked at to avoid potential trigger of symptoms. And when there is a limited number of choices, such as in an airport, eating on a low FODMAP diet can be particularly difficult. Here are some tips to help make eating at the airport on the low FODMAP diet easier.
Eating past security
Once you have been cleared the security gates, you may have time to grab something to eat before lining up for boarding. Hot meal options are usually limited to fast food or pub food, while cold food options are usually prepared and packaged. Here are some guidelines to follow in eating at this stage of your travel.
- Stick to soups and salads without crackers and croutons. Most airports do not offer gluten-free bread, crackers, or croutons, so enjoying vegetable soup with or without protein or salads with protein and vinaigrette dressings are safest. Disclaimer: soups and dressings in takeout facilities often contain some traces of garlic and onion for seasoning. Ask for ingredient information before purchasing.
- Grab a fruit cup. At most airport markets or kiosks, there is usually a fruit cup option that consists of honeydew melon, cantaloupe, grapes, and pineapple, which are all low FODMAP friendly fruits.
- Get a burger without bread. Opt for a lettuce wrap to dress your protein so you can enjoy a high-protein meal before heading for the plane. French fries or sweet potato fries are usually a safe option too as long as they do not share a fryer with gluten-containing menu items. Just ask the server to find out.
- Stick to water or unsweetened tea. Carbonated beverages, drinks sweetened with high fructose corn syrup, or alcoholic beverages could trigger digestive symptoms that will make your flight an uncomfortable journey. Stick to natural beverages like unsweetened tea, water, freshly squeezed lemonade, or safe fruit juices like cranberry or orange juice (as long as they are free of high fructose corn syrup).
Snacks for the plane
Airport markets are limited to prepackaged choices like nuts, dried fruit, granola bars, prepackaged fruit cups and sandwiches, chips, pretzels, and other snack items. Read labels carefully before your purchase to avoid any symptom flareups upon take off. Here are a few safe items you can take with you on the plane.
- Fresh or dried fruit: grapes, honeydew melon, cantaloupe, pineapples, oranges, and slightly unripe bananas are common airport offerings and are safe choices. Raisins, dried bananas, and dried pineapples are safe dried fruit options. Steer clear of fruit snacks consisting of mango, apple, peach, pear, and watermelon as these fruits are high FODMAP.
- Nuts and seeds: A serving size of 20 macadamia nuts, 18 assorted nuts, 32 peanuts, 10 walnut halves or pecan halves, 10 pieces of almonds are considered low FODMAP according to Monash University. As far as seeds are concerned, 2 tablespoons of pumpkin seeds or hulled sunflower seeds are safe low FODMAP choices.
- Popcorn: Up to 7 cups of plain popcorn is considered low FODMAP. Lightly salted popcorn may be your best bet when it comes to prepackaged snacks. Be cautious of cheese flavored or kettle corn type popcorn since they may contain lactose and/or fructose ingredients that are not FODMAP safe.
- Granola (certain varieties): Keep it simple when it comes to granola. Some granola bars may contain high fructose corn syrup, honey, or molasses to keep the bar together. These ingredients can wreak havoc on your digestive system. Stick to granola in its loose form so you can pick and choose which ingredients you are consuming with each bite. Choose granolas that are wheat-free and stick to the safe nuts, seeds, and fruits listed above. A simple nut, raisin, and sunflower seed mix, or something similar would be a safe choice.
In the air options
Once you are on the plane, choices for snacks and meals are even more limited, so it is probably best to try and find something before entering the gate. However, if you had no success finding anything, or are short on time, here are some tips on choosing safe in the air snack options.
- Stick to non-carbonated drinks or water for beverages. Most drinks are carbonated and sweetened on the plane and can cause stomach upset. Therefore, stick to water, tea, coffee, tomato juice, or orange juice (make sure there is no added high fructose corn syrup in the orange juice. Keep alcoholic beverages limited to one and avoid adding in carbonated drinks or sweetener to such beverage choices.
- Skip the free snacks. The free snack options usually consist of pretzels and peanuts. Peanuts may seem like a safe choice, but from experience these nuts are often coated in honey and wheat-based powders to provide flavor. Other common, and off-limits offerings are cookies and 100-calorie packs that are usually not gluten-free.
- Research and reserve your in-flight meal ahead of time. If you are taking a longer flight, then you may get a free in-flight meal. In this case, be sure to include your dietary restrictions in your reservation. Many airlines are starting to offer vegetarian, kosher, and gluten-free meal options. Call the airline to check out what foods are being offered in such meals to be sure they are low FODMAP.
- Choose a safe in-flight snack. If you do not get a free in-flight meal, then some airlines may offer in-flight snack packs or small meal options. However, the small meals options are often sandwiches or wraps that contain lactose-containing milk products and wheat flour-based breads. Stick to salads, jerky, nuts (from the safe list), and potato chips for your in-flight snack.
After review of these guidelines, it is clear to see that you are better off trying to find a snack to take on board with you since in-flight snack options are varied and limited. Be prepared and do your research ahead of time to see what dining options are available past security and be sure to leave early enough so you have enough time to purchase such snacks before boarding. Safe travels!
Written by Staci Gulbin, MS, RD a Board-certified dietitian.