A 'diet detective' rates the best and worst US airline foods for health
A nutritional 'diet detective' has rated the best and worst meals and snacks provided by 11 US and Canadian airlines and has offered a breakdown of their nutritional value and calories. Dr Charles Platkin, executive director of the Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center and a nutrition, fitness and public health advocate, provides this analysis every year and says that knowing the “best” and “worst” choices is a valuable tool for any traveler.
For his analysis, he allocated a star rating from 0 to 5, with 5 being the highest, based on 11 criteria. This includes health and calorie levels of food offerings, level of transparency around the nutrient information and ingredients, and improvement and maintenance of healthy offerings. The published survey includes health ratings, average calories per airline, comments, best bets, food offerings, costs and information on nutrition.
Having judged on all criteria, this year Dr Platkin has rated Alaska Airlines in first place with 4.25 out of 5 stars. Delta comes in second place with 3.7 stars, and JetBlue is third with 3.55 stars. The remaining places go to 4. Air Canada (3.45) 5. American (3) 6. United Airlines (2.75) 7. Hawaiian Airlines (2.65) 8. Allegiant Air (2.1), 9. Southwest Airlines (1.6) 10. Spirit Airlines (1.1) and 11. Frontier Air (0.85).
The study showed a change in the overall calories of food offerings over the years also. The average number of calories per menu choice in 2016 was 392, while in 2017 it was 405. This year it is 373, a 32% calorie decrease over last year. It included a "water watch" study on food and water safety criteria, saying that it’s best to avoid drinking water from the tap on a plane, which also means avoiding coffee and tea.
Dr Platkin also summed up why certain foods can change how we are feeling. “Eating lots of heavy carbs and fat such as pasta with thick, dense sauces, breads, muffins or cakes will leave you feeling lethargic, cranky and not full or satisfied. Your blood sugar levels will spike and then fall, which will negatively impact your mood. The fact that food impacts mood, attitude and behaviour has been well documented in the scientific literature,” he said.
Dr Platkin also pointed out that the benefits of healthier options would impact airlines as well as customers. “Travellers would appreciate being offered healthier choices, and they would have an immediate benefit. For the airlines, improving the health quality of the food could potentially increase customer experience and brand loyalty for those same reasons - basically feeling better on the flight,” he told Lonely Planet.
You can see the full study and analysis here.
This article was originally published on 26 November, 2018 and updated on 18 December, 2019.