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Does aeroplane food make you constipated?

Clare 5 years ago

So you are finally off on your long awaited holiday, or on an important business trip. You’ve been over your outfits again and again and have picked the ones you feel your best in (that bit possibly applies mainly to women!). Everyone wants to feel good on their break or indeed business trip. And by this I mean both emotionally and physically. You get on the plane feeling great and then as the journey goes on you start to feel bloated and a bit sick. You can’t decide if you need the toilet or if you are hungry or just feeling uncomfortable. By the time you get off the plane you may feel bloated and constipated and you realise that none of the outfits you brought will fit well and you won’t be able to enjoy the food at your carefully picked venue.

Are you flying somewhere for Christmas this year? Know that your host will have a ton of special food planned for you? Want to get there feeling in the party mood? Travelling doesn’t have to leave you feeling as though you will never go to the toilet again.

The reasons why your digestion fails you when travelling

There have been some suggestions that airlines put something in the food to make you constipated to avoid you using the toilet for a ummm number two. I actually can’t find anything to back this rumour up but there are plenty of reasons why travelling and airplane food may make you feel this way.

Airline food tends to be high in sugar, salt, preservatives and transfats. The reason behind this is that apparently at altitude cabin humidity drops by 15% which affects the connection between taste and smell and our brain. It’s estimated that these senses are reduced by 20-50%, very much like having a bad cold. Airline food also has to meet health standards so is frozen and reheated at high temperatures etc, and is high in preservatives for obvious reasons.

Airlines therefore add more ‘spice’ to the food to make it more palatable. In turn high salt and sugar diets can affect your digestion making you feel bloated, and cause water retention also causing that bloat feeling and swollen ankles.
Highly processed foods, teas, coffees and acidic juices all make your body more acidic. Acidosis makes you constipated.

Stress slows the digestive system down. This is a well known fact and applies to travel too. Getting up early, a stressful trip to the airport, the realisation you may have forgotten your tie compounded with the dreaded budget flight bundle to get onto the plane, all these little moments of anxiety can cause tension and a slow digestion. When digestion isn’t working properly, you can quickly become constipated and bloated.

Airline food tends to be high in refined carbohydrates and low in all types of fibre and almost empty of vegetables (to the delight of most children I suspect). We all know that a lack of fibre leads to constipation.

Dehydration is a number one cause of bloating and constipation. The high salt / sugar food offered adds to this, but so do the alcohol and caffeinated beverages offered onboard.

Your body is highly tuned to its circadian rhythm. We often go to the toilet at certain times of the day. A very early start and the wish not to go to the toilet on the plane can mean we hold back and this makes the stool very impacted making it hard to go when we finally reach our destination.

So how do we prevent this and arrive feeling ready to for whatever lies ahead?

  • Think water! This is vital. Buy a bottle after the security checks and drink as much of it as you can and refill before you get on the flight. This means you get on the flight hydrated. Also ask for the bottle to be refilled and sip throughout the flight. This avoids grumpy stewardess after being called for the eighth time to refill your little plastic cup.
Home made trail mix is a handy and healthy travel companion
  • Take snacks. Sadly gone are the days you can take huge jugs of green smoothies through the security checks. However, you can mostly take food through. Choose high in fibre and digestion friendly food. Some fruits are good for fibre intake. You can also take little dry snacks such as your own trail mix, oatcakes, homemade fibre packed granola bars, bag of nuts and indeed 100ml of green smoothie or juice which I sadly forgot last time. With these snacks there may be no need to eat any aeroplane food on short haul flights at all.
  • Eat before you get on the flight. This is especially useful for long haul or indeed constant business trips. On the whole, airports these days have some nice food choices. You can find sushi bars, some wholefoods and coffee stops such as Pret have porridge for breakfast and some nice salads for the rest of the day. 
  • Don’t be shy to go to the toilet in the airport. No one likes to go to the toilet away from the privacy of their home. However, we are all in the same boat, or in this case plane, and think of yourself and how you might feel for a couple of days if you withhold the urge before you get on the plane.
  • Don’t eat out of boredom. There is always an air of excitement when the trolley gets brought out into the aisle. Don’t give in to eating what they have on offer out of boredom. Make sure you have an interesting book, game etc. Or even get to know your next seat companion.
  • Don’t eat the pretzels! On short haul where you are given food as opposed to buying it, you are usually handed a muffin or a bag of pretzels. Both are bound to make you feel bloated and constipated at goodness knows how many thousands of feet up! Don’t give in. Feel smug you brought your 100ml of green smoothie or your health food store stash.
Don't under estimate the importance of drinking water on flights
  • Try deep breathing. As mentioned when stressed our digestive system slows down. Deep breaths into our stomach and then slowly back out will bring oxygen to the gut wall and help digestion.
  • Sleep when you can - again this helps the digestive system rest. Then get up and move around which in turn will help activate the digestive system.
  • Try taking magnesium. This helps relax your muscles and has the same effect on your bowels too. If you’ve never taken it before, take these after your flight in case you are quite sensitive to it. Otherwise this can be a great relaxant in general especially for long haul flights.
  • Pop your probiotics. Probiotics are ideal for helping with regularity, alleviating bloating or constipation. If you don’t take any regularly, start before your trip, during and continue after. Keeping your gut flora healthy and balanced whilst travelling can help avoid not only constipation but also ward against the dreaded runs.

Picture sources: http://www.runonsentence.com/random/airline.htm,  http://www.skinnymom.com/

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