Traveling light: Low carb diet tips for travelers
Delayed flights, long lines and lost luggage aren't the only frustrations plaguing today's low carb travelers. For the estimated 35 to 50 million people in the US who are leading a low carb lifestyle, eating at airports or other mass-transit restaurants presents numerous challenges.
Travel is becoming more low carb friendly
"Mass-transit eating facilities are not known for their healthy or diet-friendly fare -- but the situation is improving as eating establishments respond to customer demands," says Ann G. Kulze, MD, LowCarb Energy expert panelist and author of Dr Ann's 10-Step Diet: A Simple Plan for Permanent Weight Loss and Lifelong Vitality.
What to order
Eggs: "When I am forced to eat a mass-transit meal, my first low carb thought is always eggs," says Derek Alessi, LowCarb Energy fitness expert and author of Lose Fat Forever. "Eggs -- especially the egg whites -- are a great source of protein. In fact, eggs have the highest absorption of any natural protein at a 96 percent value. That means 96 percent of the protein you consume from eggs will absorb into the body." To give a reference point, Alessi says the absorption point of chicken is approximately 58 percent.
In the past, experts were reluctant to recommend eggs, but Alessi says you shouldn't worry. "I know some people are afraid of egg yolks because of the saturated fat content and the cholesterol; however, yolks are a great source of iron. I usually recommend four whites to one yolk, but when you are eating mass-transit [meals], you can't be too precise," he says.
Bunless items: Alessi also looks for food that can be "de-bunned." When on the go, Alessi orders a hamburger or chicken sandwich and removes the bread. "If I am fortunate enough to be at a restaurant that offers a salad, I will ask for the bunless burger or chicken to be put over the salad," he says.
Protein: Frequent traveler and diabetic Trish Phetteplace, 52, of Eugene, Oregon, is all too familiar with the difficulties of maintaining a low carb diet while traveling. "I also have the challenge that I am lactose intolerant," says Phetteplace. When selecting food at airports, she orders high-protein entrees such as salads with chicken breast and hard-boiled eggs.
"I know many people on low carb diets rely heavily on dairy products, especially cheeses," says Phetteplace. "That's an additional challenge I have, because I cannot eat cheese. With my choices, I have to be more specific with either tofu, soy products or meat products." She typically selects an open-faced sandwich with plenty of vegetables. "I'm also fat-conscious, so I will order my sandwich with no mayonnaise; then I'll add extra mustard," she says.
Custom order: Most low carb travelers face another obstacle: Menus with no low carb choices. Phetteplace solves this problem by custom ordering or requesting substitutions. She advises low carb patrons to request a salad instead of fries when ordering a burger. "They may charge you a little bit more, but most places are willing to accommodate your request," says Phetteplace.
Beverages: Lounges are popular places to pass time during layovers or while waiting for flight departures. For those seeking a cocktail or other alcoholic beverage, Dr Kulze suggests one 5-ounce serving of wine, or 1-1/2 ounces of liquor mixed with soda, diet tonic or on the rocks. "I always choose water; rarely do I drink pop," says low carber Monica Rethman, 33, of Lawrence, Kansas.
Low carb travel tips
To maintain your low carb lifestyle while dining away from home, Dr Kulze recommends you commit the following five ground rules to memory:
1. Strictly avoid the "white hazard"-- white flour, white rice, potatoes, sugar and sweets.
2. Eat as many vegetables as possible.
3. Strictly avoid all liquid calories, with the exception of one serving of wine, liquor or low carb beer.
4. Always have some healthy protein such as seafood, skinless poultry, lean beef or pork, nuts, beans or eggs.
5. Always control your portions. With the exception of vegetables, limit the amount you eat to the equivalent of your hands cupped together. Phetteplace spaces her allotted daily carbs over the course of several meals. "I'm much healthier if I eat three or four small carb meals throughout the day instead of one huge meal," says Phetteplace. "This gives my body the opportunity to absorb and digest them before I consume more carbs."
Voice your opinion
Company execs are responding to requests made by customers following a low carb or low-glycemic index diet. Restaurants are updating their menus continually, offering more low carb choices. Phetteplace is thrilled that restaurants are listening to consumer demands and offering more low carb choices, but feels employee education is an area that needs attention.
During a recent visit to a national chain restaurant, she explained to the waiter that she follows a low carb diet and asked how many grams of carbohydrates one of their low carb menu items contained. "The young man, who was probably new, gave me a, 'No, I don't know,' instead of trying to direct me to some of the literature they had that would have answered my question. I finally figured it out and was able to order, but it was frustrating," says Phetteplace.
In a perfect world, mass transit facilities would offer generous low carb meal choices, and airlines would feature first class, business class, coach and low carb. In the meantime, however, focus and preparation are the keys to maintaining a low carb lifestyle while on the road or in the air.
"I tell patients in my practice to focus only on the selection of the items that truly fit in [their plans] -- you have to pretend like the other options aren't even there. Then you aren't trying to decide between being good and bad," says Dr Kulze.
Ready to hit the road? Alessi concludes, "With a little preparation and wise choices, you will be able to keep your nutrition disciplined on the road."