By Cailey Rizzo
March 19, 2019
Eating before a flight
Credit: Getty Images

There’s a reason many celebrities and frequent fliers refuse in-flight dining. Something happens to your body when you’re soaring 40,000 feet in the air in a pressurized airplane cabin.

Turkish Airlines has an entire section of their website dedicated to digesting while flying. “Air pressure in the cabin is lower than at sea level,” the airline said. “As cabin pressure falls while flying, gas starts to expand. As a result, you may feel pressure in your stomach or digestive system.”

While you don’t need to go to extremes and avoid eating entirely on the day of a flight, there are a few foods that are best left untouched during layovers.

Avoid legumes

Beans, beans, the glorious fruit. The more you eat, the more uncomfortable you’ll be for the duration of your flight. Beans (and other legumes) contain a sugar called oligosaccharide that the human body is not capable of fully breaking down. This sugar can cause bloating and discomfort (both for you and the person sitting behind you).

Tone down the spice

This one’s fairly simple: if it gives you problems on the ground, it won’t be fun in an airplane cabin. If spicy foods affect your gut on a normal day, avoid it before boarding a flight.

Stay hydrated

It’s common knowledge that an airplane cabin can dehydrate you. Thus, it makes sense to avoid salty foods in the hours before takeoff. Drinks with caffeine, like coffee or soda, can also exacerbate dehydration. Opt for herbal tea when the beverage cart comes around. And never travel without a water bottle you can fill up in the airport.

Fast food digests slowly

In a sketchy airport, it may seem like the safest bet. But you’re actually better off skipping the airport McDonald’s. The fat and oil in much fast food can cause heartburn. But the high trans fats and salt can also promote fluid retention, which could be the reason your feet and hands swell up so much during flights.

Not even healthy foods are safe

So all of the above things make sense. If they’re unhealthy foods even on the ground, they’re not going to do you any favors in the sky. But before you reach for a salad or a piece of fruit, consider that anything with high fiber will likely cause gas and bloating in a low-air pressure situation. That means apples, broccoli (any cruciferous vegetable), Brussels sprouts and the like. Red meat can also sit in the stomach as your body tries to digest the fat.

So what can I eat?

Low-fiber fruits, lean meats, unsalted nuts, a sandwich, tuna, quinoa, crackers and smoothies are all safe bets. Beverages are best limited to water or herbal tea.