Earlier this year, a Columbia University epidemiology professor released a study about the impact of business travel on health, and the results were not encouraging: As business travel increases, so do obesity and body-mass index.
The correlation seems obvious: Work travel interrupts a person’s exercise routine (if one exists) and, perhaps more dangerous, the most readily available food tends to have more fat and less nutrition.
After spending a column on the bad news, it seemed worth devoting some space to how road warriors can reverse the trend. So I turned to Judy Caplan, a registered dietitian of more than 30 years who founded Nutrition Ammunition, a Vienna, Va., company that specializes in “dietary transformation.”
Q: Where do people generally go wrong with eating during business travel?
A: It comes down to not thinking ahead, because there’s so much you can do before you get on the airplane. Bring raw nuts. Bring a piece of fruit. Bring a whole-wheat tuna sandwich from home. Thinking ahead means that when you’re starving on a plane, you’re not grabbing just anything, like a bag of chips or a candy bar.
Q: What specifically should people look for when they’re on the move?
A: Fresh fruits, like a container of cut-up grapes, pineapple, apple and things like that, or just grab a salad or a smoothie, though you have to be careful the smoothie is not full of ice cream. Also, vegetables and whole grains: Get any sandwich on whole-wheat bread, or if you’re going to eat crackers, get them with whole-wheat flour. It’s about healthy fats and lean protein, like skinless chicken and turkey. Some places even have tofu now.
Q: How well are people eating on the road?
A: There’s room for lots of improvement. So much of the food available is calorie dense and nutrient light, like a meal of chicken nuggets, fries and a Coke. We want to flip that, and eat food without a lot of calories, but with a lot of nutrients. An example is salad with hormone-free chicken, avocado and lots of veggies, maybe with some hummus and pita on the side and to drink, bubbly water.
Q: How easy is that, though? It seems there are a lot more chicken nuggets out there.
A: It’s rapidly changing, and I have a lot of faith in where we’re going. Forty years ago it was hard to find healthy food. Now it’s everywhere. People just have to increase their awareness. You also have to have the desire.
Q: Making a big fuss about your food on the road, especially in a restaurant where you’re dining with colleagues, might seem kind of — fussy. Do people need to not worry about appearances?
A: That’s a real issue. Quite a few guys in my practice say they want to change, but they don’t want to be seen as “that guy.” But if you want to do it and people give you a hard time, just say, “I’m thinking about my health more and making better choices,” and leave it at that.
Judy Caplan offered her take on five specific quick-food spots well known to road warriors:
• Chipotle — “It has a lot of sodium, but ordering a bowl with beans and grilled vegetables, no sour cream but with guacamole is pretty good. You can add chicken, but I’d stay away from rice.”
• Starbucks — “It has so many good things now, like a whole-wheat egg-salad sandwich. It’s not without fat, but it’s not terrible for you.”
• Pizza joints — “At Wolfgang Puck Express or California Pizza Kitchen, a small whole-wheat pizza with lots of veggies can be a good idea. Skip the pepperoni, ham or sausage, and go easy on the cheese.”
• Subway — “I like them because you can load your sandwich up with veggies, and there are vegetarian options.”
• Fast-food burger places — “Just stay away, though Burger King has a veggie burger now, which is a good step. But definitely skip the fries.”