Travel Tips for Plant-Based Eaters
by Carol Sanders
To maximize health and minimize our impact on the planet, a whole-food, plant-based diet reigns supreme. Cooking at home ensures quality-controlled ingredients, but when traveling, extra measures are needed to enjoy healthy options while avoiding the allure of diet-busting, processed foods. The key to success is a combination of planning and resolve.
Much can be done before the trip begins. Research the destination and road trip stops, says Julieanna Hever, registered dietitian and author of Plant-Based Nutrition (Idiot’s Guides). She recommends reviewing online menus, calling ahead to clarify options and using apps like Yelp.com and HappyCow.net to scout for restaurants and grocery stores. Her favorite places are Thai and Mexican eateries, as well as steakhouses for their plant-based side dishes. Upon arrival at her destination, she hits a grocery store to stock up on fresh fruits and veggies.
“We live in an extremely difficult food environment, with a lot of triggers and inputs that don’t go away even if you’ve been eating a healthy diet for a long time,” says Micaela Karlsen, Ph.D., senior director of research at the American College of Lifestyle Medicine and author of A Plant-Based Life. “For people that are transitioning into this new lifestyle, the highly refined foods they are used to eating are kind of low-grade addictive substances and what researchers call hyper-palatable foods like added fat, sugar and salt that stimulate the brain in a similar way as addictive drugs like cocaine or alcohol, so it’s really a process of withdrawal for people initially.”
To combat the temptations, especially when away from home, Hever advises writing down and clearly understanding dietary goals and the reasons for eating this way. “I work with people that are very sick and with elite athletes. Their goals may be different from everyday people that want to have a vacation,” she says. “Do you want to have another heart attack or reactivate your diabetes? No. Are you totally healthy and consciously deciding to splurge once in a while? That can totally fit into a healthy lifestyle. What matters most is choosing to eat whole food, plant-based foods most of the time.”
Karlsen recommends always carrying snacks. “Don’t let yourself get too hungry or too tired, because when people are extra hungry or run-down, the reward experience of eating goes up and willpower goes down,” she explains, adding that dried fruit, nuts, rice cakes, individually packaged nut butter and fresh fruits are good portable snacks to carry. At the hotel, microwaveable popcorn, as well as oats and shelf-stable, single-portion almond or soy milk, will help stave off the munchies.
“I love granola, not only for breakfast, but also as a snack in the mid-afternoon,” Karlsen says. “Most store-bought granola, however, is akin to food crime. Oats are whole, healthy and cheap, but once oil, sugar and other stuff are added, the commercial product is high in fat, way too sweet and really expensive. The first time I made granola myself, I was amazed at how I didn’t even notice that the oil and sugar weren’t there. It was delicious and so satisfying.”
According to both experts, a cooler in the car or a refrigerator at the destination hotel expands the kinds of home-prepared foods that can accompany travelers, including hummus spread over crudités or sprouted, whole-grain crackers, as well as any kind of leftover dishes. They both tout the convenience and tastiness of nori rolls—a wide variety of ingredients wrapped in a sheet of dried seaweed. Among Karlsen’s favorite nori fillings are tempeh baked with tamari and a little maple syrup, topped with tomato and kale; peanut butter and pickles; avocado rubbed with umeboshi plum vinegar; and sweet potato, avocado, red pepper and thinly sliced carrots.
“Food is intertwined in our culture with entertainment, but thinking about food that way doesn’t really serve our biological potential for wellness,” says Karlsen. “People are so accustomed to these highly rewarding, intense foods like buffalo wings, pizza or chocolate cake that they actually don’t know what it feels like to enjoy something that’s simple and unrefined. There’s a lot of enjoyment in healthy eating. The longer you do it, the more it becomes enjoyable.”
Carol Sanders is a professional writer and can be reached at GoodEyePress@gmail.com.