Watch Your Calories On Vacation

Debbie Melvin  |  8/4/2006 9:40:07 PM

When is your vacation? Are you looking forward to getting away, out of a humdrum routine and just letting loose for awhile? Eating when traveling can challenge your waistline and your good nutrition sense. Overdoing it is all too easy---especially when portions are big, desserts are rich and the menus, well, alluring. Dehydration and food safety are other issues that demand consideration.

I like to tell myself that the best food is right here in our area, so leaving here with eating as the main event will just be a disappointment, especially for seafood. Search out the specialty of the area you are visiting and forego the usual, I-can-get-this-anywhere fare. Where the abundance of food is concerned, stay busy doing other things. Use your physical internal cues to determine true biological hunger that demand nourishment. The desire for food should come form your stomach, not your head. Ask yourself, “Why am I wanting to eat? How long has it been since I last ate? Am I really hungry?” Also be aware of economical eating. Just because you paid one price for everything on that special cruise or bus trip doesn’t mean you have to eat everything.

Be aware that calories add up fast. Just 500 extra calories a day can mean a one pound gain for the week. At the other end of the spectrum, vacation is not the best time for dieting. But it is not a time to eat with reckless abandon either. Be sensible and still try to make healthy choices.

Some people literally “eat as they go” by taking food with them in the vehicle, the “have food, will travel” strategy. By taking a survival kit, you do not have to rely on convenience stores, fast food chains or snack bars and vending machines. Just be frugal nutritionally when you pack. Still consider the Food Guide Pyramid as a basis for your choices and bring things along that are low in fat and sodium. Fill sealable plastic bags, called “rabbit bags”, with mixed finger foods: raw vegetables and seasonal fresh fruit. Besides taking the edge off hunger, fruit can be a thirst quencher. Stock an insulated cooler with perishable foods like sandwich fixings, yogurt and low fat cheese. Keep your ice chest in the trunk, so it is out of easy reach and space your snack and meal times. When you stop to eat, get out of the car, stretch and take a short walk. You’ll feel more relaxed as you continue driving.

What’s to eat at 35,000 feet? Airline meal service may be just a light snack, or a pack of pretzels or peanuts, and a beverage. You can always take your own food on board. Dried fruits, an apple or banana, and packaged crackers are light to carry, and need no refrigeration. For safety’s sake, don’t keep a sandwich with meat or other perishable food for too long at room temperature, actually no more than two hours.

To avoid dehydration, drink plenty of fluids, eight ounces for every hour of your flight. Juice and water are great choices. When flying, being dehydrated actually aggravates the symptoms of jet lag and causes fatigue. Pack some bottled water in your carry-on bag as an extra supply, especially on long flights. To minimize the effects, drink a glass of water or juice before your flight, then each hour in flight. I wish you could get a personal bottle of water when the cart passes, but most of the time they pour you a cup from a large bottle. Just ask anyway. They may have changed to single serve bottles. Alcoholic beverages also can promoted dehydration and may increase jet lag. Go easy if you drink them. They may even make you restless. Too much caffeine can also cause sleeplessness and anxiety, especially for those a little anxious about flying anyway. During long flights, get up, stretch and walk around the cabin.

Be aware that no evidence shows anti-jet lag formulas or diets are effective. You may have heard anti-jet lag claims about a dietary supplement called melatonin. While the claim may be partially true, the amount of melatonin that promotes sleep is far less than the amount in the over-the-counter products.

Have you ever wondered how to enjoy the floating feast on a cruise ship without making the return a guilt trip? This time of year is not the time for a cruise in the Caribbean for sure, but there is always Alaska and the Eastern Seaboard. It’s a foregone conclusion that you will eat more than usual. But try to be selective. There is so much from which to choose. Use your same restaurant dining guidelines as though you were home. Use the ship’s outer deck as a walking track, or take advantage of the ship’s fitness center, pool or workout classes to balance some of the extra eating that you will naturally do. Consider that a thirty minute brisk walk will only burn about 150-200 calories or so, depending on your body weight. Just because you exercised does not mean you can have two desserts. But every little bit helps. A little exercise will also help digestion and help combat constipation which often occurs when traveling.

In cases of foodborne illness, traveler’s diarrhea is most commonly caused by bacteria from improperly handled food and drink. I always make it a practice to drink only commercially bottled water, no matter where I am. Other drinks prepared with local water, like tea and fountain soft drinks, sometimes can be a problem. If the coffee or tea is brewed, it is probably safe because the long heating time destroys most of the bacteria that may be present in the water. Avoid buffets if food is just reheated after sitting for a while, or if it’s been kept at room temperature for longer than one or two hours. A few fish and shellfish contain toxins even when they are cooked. If traveling in another country, just because the name of the fish is recognizable to you doesn’t mean it is safe to eat. Peel your own fruits and eat only cooked vegetables, well cooked meat and boxed milk. Food and drink sold by street vendors should be skipped altogether. Always wash your hands before eating or take along wet wipes with an alcohol base. Even bring along a bar of soap and a roll of paper towels if traveling by car.

Vacations are to be enjoyed certainly. Women usually get lots of exercise shopping. It’s the men who sit on the benches and people-watch that I worry about.

Our vacation will be to New Mexico. And yes, I will eat at least one green chili cheeseburger, preferably from Bobcat Bite. And if I can still breathe in the air that has forty percent less oxygen than we have, I’ll get in lots of hiking and, of course, shopping.

Debbie Melvin
Extension Agent (Nutrition)
Lafourche Parish
LSU AgCenter

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