You’ve got a trip coming up and you think “OMG, what am I going to eat?!”
Today, I want to share with you the tips and tricks I’ve learned over the years. I hope they will help you stay off gluten, dairy, soy, excessive sugar, preservatives, and other nasties while on the road because you want to feel healthy and energetic when you travel, not terrible from eating foods that you know will cause you suffering.
The key is one word: PLANNING.
“Fail to plan and you plan to fail.” This idiom holds lots of truth here, too.
Here is what to pay attention to when picking snacks and portable food for traveling. Do not rely on the marketing messages on the front of the label. Instead, read the back—this is where the truth is.
What to look out for when choosing healthy travel snacks
Low in sugar and only certain sugars
Coming to live in the US was a shocker for me on many levels—and the amount of sugar found in everything was on top of the list.
Do the math. How much sugar do you consume every day? Four grams of sugar is one teaspoon. You will be shocked when you inspect your snacks, cereals, commercial yogurts, dressings, muffins and even kombucha and bread to find out just how much sugar there is in everything.
So how much sugar should be consumed? The FDA ironically does not have a daily maximum recommendation but the American Heart Association suggests a maximum of 9 teaspoons (34 grams) for men and 6 teaspoons (23 grams) for women. That’s pretty close to what I’m advocating – which is a total of 20 grams or 5 teaspoons – all in, fruit included.
Sugars I recommend:
- coconut nectar
- coconut sugar
- maple syrup
- stevia (unprocessed)
- yacon syrup
- monk fruit.
Sugars you want to avoid:
- agave syrup
- corn syrup
- artificial sweeteners like aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet)
- saccharin (Sweet ‘N Low)
- Splenda and stevia brands like Truvia and Sun Crystals
Sweeteners like xylitol, sorbitol, and erythritol are actually not sweeteners but sugar alcohols and can be well tolerated by some people and not well by others (giving gastrointestinal problems) so you need to try it and tune into your body to decide.
By the way, aren’t these brand names just great? Who would have thought of “NutraSweet” as a nasty substance that messed up your hormones, gut bacterial flora, and liver and can cause neurological damage? To my point about marketing…
One way to slow down the absorption of sugar is to offer your body some protein. This holds true if you have a hypoglycemic tendency (feeling shaky, moody, weak, and unfocused when hungry) but if you are dealing with Candida yeast overgrowth (which 70% of women I work with do), you need to pick no-sugar or super-low sugar snacks and load up on protein.
Additives and preservatives
As Michael Pollan, author of Food Rules said: “don’t buy anything that contains words you can’t pronounce.”
- Monosodium Glutamate – which also comes hidden under innocent names like Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein, Textured Vegetable Protein, and Yeast Extract. It can contribute to leptin resistance which makes us still feel hungry after a full meal.
- Food Dyes, especially Blue #1 and Blue #2 (E133), Red dye #3 (also Red #40 – a more current dye) (E124), and Yellow #6 (E110) and Yellow Tartrazine (E102).
- Sodium Nitrate/Sodium Nitrite – a preservative used in processed meats and fish, linked to cancer.
- Potassium Bromate – interferes with the thyroid function (bromate competes with iodine in the thyroid receptors)
- Sodium Sulfite – a preservative used in wine-making and other processed foods like jerky (great travel food, but not with these nasties).
This one is a tough one as most commercial snacks, even the organic ones, are cooked in hydrogenated oils which are known to be highly inflammatory. These would include canola, grapeseed, corn, soy and sunflower oils, and margarine. Best to pick snacks made with unrefined coconut, palm, or olive oil.
If you have a problem with certain foods, say soy, be sure to read the labels. Soy is a cheap filler for many foods and can be found in many processed foods.
America is dead scared of salt in its oversimplified belief that salt = sodium = hypertension. True, but that’s only the case with refined salt which is stripped of all other micronutrients.
Sea salt is perfectly healthy and should only be used in moderation by people who already have a problem with blood pressure. In fact, women with adrenal fatigue are advised to drink 1/2 tsp of sea salt in a glass of water every day. For the rest of us, bring on the salt, but sea salt instead of the refined stuff.
P.S the fancy name “kosher salt” is as good as refined salt, so put it away.
10 key travel hacks before you hit the road
1. Book an apartment or Airbnb with a kitchen
As much as I can (and it makes sense), I book an Airbnb or VRBO with a kitchen or kitchenette. Check or ask the host to provide a blender or an immersion blender – they are pretty standard in most apartments and it’s not unreasonable to ask for one.
2. Stock up and/or order online to home-deliver
If you know you are going to travel, stock up ahead of time – you will have more control. I get most of the packaged (but healthy) foods at Thrive Market. It is Whole Foods quality but 40-60% cheaper. When I arrive at my destination, the first thing I do is either dash out to the nearest health food store or order online via Instacart or Prime Now (Whole Foods/Amazon service). They deliver within 2 hours to your doorsteps. Totally worth it.
3. Get water in glass bottles
Do not drink tap water (ever). Once you arrive, I recommend getting water in glass bottles, especially in the summer months. Plastic bottles leach chemicals into the water. Glass does not. You can use Instacart or Prime Now (Whole Foods/Amazon) to deliver them as well so you don’t carry anything. When I travel, I mostly get Mountain Valley brand.
4. Plan breakfast
This can be the hardest but it doesn’t have to be if you plan ahead. Here are a few hacks I want to share with you:
Make your own smoothie
- If no power is available (like on the airplane), bring a shaker smoothie bottle. Amazon has one here. Unfortunately, it’s made from plastic, so it’s best not to add any hot ingredients to it.
- Trying to avoid plastic? Bring a small mason jar with a lid – perfect for giving your smoothie a good shake.
- I often bring this immersion blender with me and make my own smoothies in the morning.
- Collagen powder for a burst of protein. Remove some from the tub and store it in baggies for your trip.
- Bring seeds (chia, sunflower, flaxseed) and nuts, unripe avocado, dried fruit like cherries, goji berries, dates, figs, cacao, or carob powder.
- Also, bring BPA-free coconut milk or almond milk, and coconut butter. Another option: Coconut milk powder.
- Ashwagandha powder to help your body cope with the stress of traveling and bring you some comfort.
- Organic stevia packets – for a bit of sweetness (if you can tolerate stevia).
- Ask for oatmeal at the restaurant with no added sugar. Add your own seeds, nuts, and coconut milk to the meal.
- Bring your own oatmeal. Bob’s Red Mill has a superfood instant organic oatmeal with no added sugar.
- Ask for a “to-order” breakfast. Ask for a sausage or steak and sautéed vegetables. Many chefs would make that for you. You just have to ask.
- I personally don’t do sweet or overly “grainy” breakfasts because it makes me lethargic and sleepy so when I travel, I often get a bunch of things from a grocery and put it together on a plate. In this photo, you see arugula drizzled with an avocado dressing, smoked fish, sun dried tomatoes, olives, and some kimchi. No need to cook anything! Just assemble on a plate. This is why getting a place with a kitchen or kitchenette can be a really good idea.
5. Plan salads
Salads are so easy to make when on the road: just throw together any of these veggies and protein:
- BPA-free can of sardine, chicken, or salmon
- Smoked salmon (keeps well with no refrigeration for a week)
- Nitrate-free salami (keeps well for 5-6 days or longer even with no fridge)
- Pre-mixed salad dressing (olive oil, lemon/ACV, salt, herbs)
- 4oz extra virgin olive oil bottle (or any small bottle)
- Mixed greens (keep well for 4 days in an air-tight container, put a paper towel at the bottom)
- Sprouts (keep well for 4 days in an air-tight container, put a paper towel at the bottom)
- BPA-free can of chickpeas or any beans
- Cherry tomatoes (if nightshades tolerated)
- Seeds and nuts for some crunch. Avoid trail mix. It’s typically loaded with sugar-coated fruit.
- Hard boiled egg, if tolerated
- Wraps: see below
6. Make a quick wrap
I’ve found this to be the best thriving traveler’s trick: WRAPS!
You can use nori sheets, collard greens, lettuce, cabbage leaves, or coconut sheets but I found the latter not to be too tasty.
A couple of other wraps to check out:
What can you put in a wrap? Anything from the items I mentioned above under “Salads.” I just find wraps to be more portable food than a salad, so therefore, I prefer them.
This is one example of my quick wrap when on the road: wrap or tortilla filled with smoked fish, sprouts, arugula, and olives, drizzled with pre-made olive oil and lemon dressing. Two of these make a complete, healthy, and tasty lunch or dinner.
7. Ordering dinner
People who are vegan or eat kosher have no qualms asking a restaurant or friends to comply with their nutritional needs. You should therefore never feel sorry or guilty for requesting something special at a restaurant. I personally find that it helps to just state that you have special dietary needs and ask the server to help you navigate the menu and the kitchen.
Here are some simple and safe meal ideas most chefs would be happy to make for you:
- Grilled or roasted animal protein or fish (no batter) with a salad or sautéed vegetables.
- Large salad without the food you are avoiding, plus dressing (see below).
- Dressing: ask for olive oil, salt, and lemon/lime to accompany your meal. Do not eat the pre-made dressings – they almost always contain high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, synthetic emulsifiers and preservatives.
Also available in travel packets. I often order from Thrive Market, Artisana is my favorite. Nothing is added, not even sugar. I also like Raw Almond. Pair with pear slices, apple slices, any of the crackers listed below, or veggie sticks.
My personal favorites are Paleovalley’s chocolate Superfood Bars They are delicious and low in sugar. Most bars are loaded with sugar (remember? 4g = 1 tsp, so you do the math), therefore always remember to check the back of the packing (not just the pretty front).
- Other recommended Paleo bars: EPIC, Tanka bars
- Healthy bars (low sugar, high protein): GoRaw, Mama Chia
- Bulletproof Collagen Protein Bar
Crackers and Chips
- Dena’s Fuel For Fitness – a few flavors
- Mary’s Gone Crackers
- Doctor in the Kitchen
- Edwards & Sons rice crackers
- Go Raw Flax Snax
- Kale Chips: Rhythm Kook Ranch
- Nori Snacks by SeaSnax
- Paleovalley 100% Grass-Fed Beef Sticks (my favorite meat snacks; naturally fermented, shelf-stable, with gut-friendly probiotics. Get 10% off by using the link.)
- The New Primal (love them, as they are lowest in sugar – 1gram per serving, awesome)
- Epic Bars
- Krave (not loving the amount of sugar in them, though. Teriyaki contains 8g per serving)
Bring your own flask to make your teas. I use one from Sacred Lotus Love (photo below) and LOVE it. Bring tea bags of tulsi (holy basil), fennel, nettle, peppermint, ginger, green tea, matcha tea, etc. I also travel with Pique tea sachets. They are dissolvable, so you don’t need to steep them.
10. Pack digestive bitters and magnesium citrate for digestion
While traveling, you’re bound to indulge a little bit here and there—you’re on vacation! To support digestion, I always travel with the Wellena Digestive Bitters Kit, which comes in a cotton sachet, making it super easy to throw in my carry-on or in my bag when I’m out exploring. Bitters have so many amazing benefits from lessening acid reflux symptoms to lowering inflammation in the gut. You can get the full Digestive Bitters set with the bag here.
I also always travel with Magnesium Citrate. It’s a great form of magnesium if you’re struggling with constipation or plan to be sitting for long periods of time, like on a long flight. Whenever I travel, I bring along a bottle of Magnesium Citrate to keep things moving. Buy a bottle of Wellena Magnesium Citrate here.
We often assume that the place we are going to is never going to have food as good as we like it. Sometimes that’s true but not always. I, therefore, recommend that you also hit up a few online spots:
- Google “organic health store” or local Whole Foods
- Visit the Eat Well Guide to look for healthy options.
- Look up Yelp.com and enter “organic restaurant” or “organic shop” or “food co-ops.”