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Eating Well While Traveling
You know more of a road by having traveled it than by all the conjectures and descriptions in the world. —William Hazlitt
At some point, all of us travel from one place to another — for pleasure, business, or some other reason. And unless a trip is extremely short, the need to eat will eventually arise.
When you’ve got diabetes, healthy eating is an essential part of your diabetes treatment plan, and because your diabetes goes along with you wherever you go, so should healthful eating. Sticking with your meal plan while traveling may take more work than it does at home, but it is possible.
Planning ahead is key. As you think about the other aspects of caring for your diabetes on the road — how much medicine and monitoring supplies to bring, how changes in activity level may affect your blood glucose, and what health-care services are available in the locations you’ll be visiting — take some time to research and plan for your food options, as well. You’ll want to think about what will be available to eat while traveling, as well as what will be available at your destination.
Traveling by car
Before you start driving, check the road map for the locations of rest stops. Many rest stops have picnic tables, so if the weather permits, you can eat your homemade lunch or snacks outside. If you plan on buying food along the way, take some time to research what restaurants you are likely to pass and to review their nutrition information. Most chain and fast-food restaurants post this information on their Web sites, or you could purchase a book that contains this type of information, such as The Calorie-King Calorie, Fat & Carbohydrate Counter. Identify the healthier options at the restaurants you expect to pass on your route.
Several mobile applications (apps) can also help you find places to eat, and some allow you to preview the menu. Some examples include TripAdvisor (locates restaurants and includes reviews but not menus), Google Places (locates restaurants and includes reviews but not menus), GoMeals (an iPhone app specifically directed at people with diabetes; locates restaurants and includes menus and nutrition information), My Calorie Counter by Everyday Health, Inc. (does not locate restaurants but lists nutrition information for restaurant items and compares selected foods with other foods if desired), and Calorie Count (does not locate restaurants but lists nutrition information for restaurant menu items, including fast-food restaurants).
Taking a cruise
On the plus side, cruise ships can usually accommodate special dietary needs such as vegetarian, low-fat, or low-sodium meals. It’s best to call ahead to arrange for this, and you may even need to submit your requirements in writing.
On the minus side, portion control is up to the individual, and it can be difficult when surrounded by so much temptation. Some tips that can help you to eat moderately are listed in “Take-Away Dining Tips” and “Using Your Hands to Estimate Portions.”
Start by noting whether food will be served (or sold) on your flight and what will be available — full meals, snacks, or only beverages. Your reservation record should include this information, and you can often find details on an airline’s meal service options on its Web site. However, as the airlines themselves caution, “Product selections may vary and may not be available on all flights.” In addition, you never know when a flight will be delayed, possibly also delaying your meal or keeping you en route for much longer than you expected.
To avoid going hungry, always bring some food in your carry-on bag. Choose foods that travel well and that won’t spoil quickly at room temperature. You can buy food at most airports, but your choices may be limited, and you can’t count on having time to make a food purchase; a delay getting to the airport or an unexpectedly tight connection may have you scurrying to your gate. Being prepared with some food from home guarantees that you’ll have something to tide you over.
While most planes have water as a complimentary beverage option, it may depend on the length of the flight and/or the level of cabin service. Once you have cleared security at the airport, it may be wise to purchase a bottle of water (or fill your refillable bottle) to carry on board. It’s also a good idea to bring a nonliquid hypoglycemia treatment such as glucose tablets with you to avoid trouble at security and to have a quick remedy on hand.
These days, it’s possible to look up the cuisine of almost any country or part of the world on the Internet and learn about common ingredients and popular dishes in the area. Write down the names of any unfamiliar foods, as well as the names of familiar foods in the local language. Make a note of which foods are fruits, vegetables, and starches (or starchy vegetables), and which foods are meats or other protein sources. Even if you don’t know exactly what you’re eating, knowing what type of food you’re eating will help you estimate the amount of carbohydrate and other nutrients on your plate.
Some hotels have microwaves and/or refrigerators available to their guests, allowing for simple meal preparation. Sometimes these are provided for free, and sometimes there’s a fee. You may need to supply your own dishes and utensils, and you’ll need to bring food or find a place to shop locally.
Hotels and lodges that cater to skiers and other outdoor winter sportspeople often have a 24-hour hot beverage bar. Using hot water from the bar, you can make instant oatmeal or soup or any beverage mixes that you bring for yourself.
If your hotel or lodgings serve food, such as a complimentary breakfast, call ahead to ask what items are served and how are they prepared. If the hotel has a full-service restaurant, you can likely review the menu online or have a copy faxed to you so you can plan ahead. And it’s always a good idea to research what other restaurants are located nearby in case you find you need other options.
Ask the expert
• How to plan meals when you are away from home
• How to make healthy choices when eating out
• How to estimate portion sizes and carbohydrate amounts as accurately as possible
• What foods and beverages can be used to treat low blood glucose
• How to fit alcoholic beverages into your meal plan and how to anticipate their effect on your blood glucose level
• How to plan for the effects of changes in your physical activity level on your diabetes control and when and how to adjust your food intake to compensate for them
If you take any medicines as part of your diabetes treatment plan, your dietitian may consult with other members of your diabetes care team to recommend any medicine adjustments that may help you to maintain optimal diabetes control during your travels.
Take notes for next time
The better you feel while traveling, the more you’ll enjoy your trip. And the more time your blood glucose levels are in your target range, the better you’ll feel. Stay healthy — and have more fun! — by planning ahead for the best possible control. Safe travels!
Statements and opinions expressed on this Web site are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the publishers or advertisers. The information provided on this Web site should not be construed as medical instruction. Consult appropriate health-care professionals before taking action based on this information.