There’s nothing more frustrating than falling asleep when you’re supposed to be touring the Prado or the Louvre or the Tokyo National Museum. Unfortunately, jet lag is a very big part of travel as we fly across the world, traipsing through time zones. “Jet lag occurs when we experience a desynchronization between our internal body clock and the external time clock of our destination,” explained Natalie Dautovich, Ph.D., an Environmental Fellow at the National Sleep Foundation. “Symptoms of this desynchronization include fatigue, difficulty sleeping, difficulty concentrating, indigestion, and a negative mood.”
There are lots of tips and tricks to avoid the brunt of jet lag, but one of the tastiest ways is to use food and drinks to mitigate some of the effects of the so-called “desynchronization.”
Stick to set meal times.
“Meals help to regulate our underlying rhythms so try to stick to the mealtimes of your destination time zone," says Dautovich, who also recommends skipping the in-flight nightcap because alcohol can act as a stimulant.
To minimize jet lag, Jennifer Vimbor—a registered dietician at Chicago Nutritionist—suggests travelers start eating on local time before traveling. “Your body’s clock may be feeling it’s still 4 am in New York, but it’s time for breakfast in London. Go with it!” she says. This means eating meals based on your new time zone. When you’re traveling on an overnight flight, this could mean sleeping when the meal is served on a plane, because you don’t want to eat dinner when they are sleeping in your new time zone. Either ask the flight attendant to set aside your meal until you wake, or make use of your bag of snacks so you can start the day with breakfast, kick start your circadian rhythms, and help your body adjust to the new time zone as quickly as possible.
Do a bit of planning.
Avoiding the brunt of jet lag through food requires a little advance planning, though. “When traveling, a little planning and preparation can go a long way to help you to feel well and stay healthy,” says Vimbor. “Prior to travel, eat well and drink plenty of water.”
Start taking probiotics.
She also recommends travelers begin taking probiotics two weeks before travel and during your trip. “[Probiotics can] help improve the immune system and decrease risk of illness,” she says, suggesting a supplement that has 10 - 20 billion (yes, billion) units, at least four probiotics, and a minimal amount of ‘ingredients’. If you prefer to get your probiotics naturally, Vimbor notes, “You can also get these cultures in smaller amounts from fermented foods such as kimchi, tempeh, yogurt, and kefir.”
While flying, Vimbor suggests avoiding caffeine to make sleeping easier and instead loading up on water. “You (and your body) experience lower levels of moisture and humidity so staying hydrated is key—and coffee doesn’t count!” she says. “Dehydration can cause fatigue, headaches and lightheadedness as well as amplify jet lag. Non-caffeinated beverages such as seltzer, mineral and flat water are your best bet to hydration. Shoot for one cup (eight ounces) per hour of the flight.” Vimbor also suggests taking advantage of your vacation (or at least your hotel’s amenities) to replenish some of the lost moisture. “Once you arrive at your destination, have a swim or take a bath. Immersion in water can help replenish some moisture via your pores,” she says.
Of course, water isn’t enough for survival—snacks help, too. Vimbor suggests stashing food in your carry-on bag. “Pairing a protein and carbohydrate like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, trail mix, or fruit with string cheese will prepare you for delays, keep you satisfied, and maintain blood sugar,” she says. “Edamame (soy beans) is also a great idea because it encompasses protein, starch and fiber! Eat perishable foods within two-hours.”