Which Foods Can Actually Help Lessen the Annoying Effects of Air Travel?

woman eating and drinking while seated on an airplane

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Key Takeaways

  • Countless foods, beverages, and supplements claim to alleviate negative symptoms of air travel.
  • However, a recent review of these products found very few claims are backed by scientific study evidence.
  • Melatonin can ease symptoms of jet lag, while nutrient-dense snacks and plenty of water can settle stomach issues.

Jet lag, bloating, dehydration. Accompanying the excitement of traveling to a new destination is often the physical and psychological toll long flights can take on the human body.

While a slew of products claim to alleviate the negative symptoms of extended air travel, how many actually deliver on that promise? A group of researchers set out to evaluate the efficacy of the foods, beverages and supplements that boast a better flying experience—what they found is a severe lack of evidence for such claims.

The Research

To evaluate these products, researchers first compiled a review of the foods, beverages, and supplements advertised as products that alleviate symptoms related to air travel. Then researchers conducted a systemic literature review of the evidence supporting the health claims made by these products.

Products had to meet a few criteria to be included in these reviews. The products either claimed to be used or developed by commercial cabin crew, were stocked or marketed to airlines, airports or cabin crew members, had a scientific publication trialing the product in a flight simulation setting, or had instructions for commercial inflight usage. Products that didn't meet this criteria or had been discontinued were not included.

Virginia Chan, lead researcher

It was interesting to find that there are such limited number of trials conducted within air flight or simulated flight settings that evaluated the ingredients contained within these products considering the number of claims that were made.

— Virginia Chan, lead researcher

A total of 111 products were included spanning a range of beverages, capsules, tablets, bars, cookies, yogurt, nuts and fruit chips. Most commonly, these items claimed to improve feelings of fatigue, immune response, symptoms of jet lag, sleep quality, hydration, anxiety, or cardiovascular health.

After examining the literature, researchers found about 80% of these products' claims were supported by generalized statements with no reference to peer-reviewed publications. Just over 50% were supported by testimonies from customers.

"It was interesting to find that there are such limited number of trials conducted within air flight or simulated flight settings that evaluated the ingredients contained within these products considering the number of claims that were made," says the study's lead researcher, Virginia Chan.

Of the products that did cite scientific study, some ingredients stood out. Melatonin appeared to positively impact symptoms of jet lag. However, taking melatonin in advance of a flight appeared more effective than administering it the day of the flight or afterward.

Pycnogenol, or pine bark extract, showed to provide benefits to individuals experiencing swelling. But researchers noted that, due to study limitations, these results should be interpreted with caution. The same could be said for studies conducted on elderberry, caffeine, echinacea, Pinokinase and Gotu Kola, a plant native to wetlands in Asia. None of these ingredients were tested under flight conditions.

With this poor quality and limited scientific evidence, researchers say they can't recommend any of these products until further research emerges. Chan hopes these findings both highlight the need for high-quality scientific evidence and help consumers to make more informed choices, rather than buying into claims that can't be verified.

"Future studies on these products should aim to trial them within an appropriate air flight or simulated flight conditions using well designed protocol to reduce risk of bias to the results," she says.

Trista Best, RD

What you consume while you travel will have a significant impact on how you feel, especially from a gastrointestinal standpoint.

— Trista Best, RD

Snacking Smart

A long flight and change in routine can take a toll on the body while traveling. If jet lag is the issue, nutritionist and author of The Candida Diet, Lisa Richards, CNC, says altered circadian rhythms and eating patterns can have a greater impact than you'd think.

"Even if it just seems like mild changes they can add up," Richards says. "These changes often lead to gastrointestinal issues like nausea and constipation or diarrhea. These symptoms can interrupt a trip and create stress that just compacts the issues even further."

Experts advise sticking as close to your normal dietary habits, as possible. This doesn't necessarily mean avoiding new cultural culinary experiences while traveling, but rather practicing moderation and staying away from the food groups that cause you problems. This includes the heavily processed snacks and meals we often resort to for the sake of convenience while traveling.

Your best strategy for avoiding processed foods in the airport or elsewhere is to pack your own snacks ahead of time. Trista Best, RD, adjunct nutrition professor and dietitian at Balance One supplements, recommends nutrient-dense options like fruits, nuts or trail mix.

"What you consume while you travel will have a significant impact on how you feel, especially from a gastrointestinal standpoint," she says. "It is best to consider packing snacks that are high in protein and complex carbs as these two characteristics will prevent sugar cravings and keep you full."

If nausea is a consistent issue during flights, consider crystallized ginger or homemade ginger ale. Research has shown that consuming ginger can reduce nausea.

Hydration is another key element of keeping your stomach settled. And needless to say, drinking enough water will help your other bodily systems, as well. Keeping fruits and vegetables handy can help with hydration levels.

"Plant waters carry with them the benefit of increased electrolytes and some beneficial plant compounds," Richards says. "If you're traveling to a hot location or will be sweating a lot these electrolytes will help keep you hydrated."

While the excitement of travel can cause us to forget healthy habits, planning ahead and practicing moderation when it comes to nutrition and physical health can only heighten an already positive experience.

What This Means For You

Many products talk the talk, but can't walk the walk. If you're seeking something to alleviate symptoms of air travel, opt for nutrient-dense foods, water, or products backed by scientific evidence.

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2 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Panahi Y, Saadat A, Sahebkar A, Hashemian F, Taghikhani M, Abolhasani E. Effect of ginger on acute and delayed chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting: a pilot, randomized, open-label clinical trialIntegr Cancer Ther. 2012;11(3):204–211. doi:10.1177/1534735411433201