One of the delights of travelling is the chance to experience new cuisines and sample authentic ethnic foods. Enjoying a delicious meal in a foreign city is as good as visiting the national museums – you learn about the traditions, culture and people from the food they share with you.
In the excitement of discovering a new country, however, there is always the temptation to go overboard. Who can say no to “just one more” bite? You’re on holiday after all!
But sometimes a sudden introduction of a new food can upset your digestion or disrupt your healthy eating habits. Here are a few tips to help you eat healthy on the road.
If you have dietary restrictions because of allergies or health conditions, or take medication regularly, make sure you know in advance what foods are common at your destination. A lot of restaurants publish their menus online, so you can get an idea of the sort of food, and the types of restaurant, that you should expect.
Spend a little time planning how to substitute your usual treats. When you arrive, try and stick to your normal eating schedule as much as possible. Keep a small snack in your handbag or daypack, just in case there are delays.
You can sometimes bring in snacks from the UK, but this varies from country to country. Be sure to check before you go, so that you don’t fall foul of customs!
Before you go, finding restaurants on TripAdvisor, or other online sources, can be useful. That way, you won’t just stop at the first fast-food place you find when you’re hungry and gorge on unhealthy food, while missing the local treats on offer.
Vitamins and medications
If you take vitamin tablets or other health supplements, you may wish to take these on holiday with you. That way, if you can’t find healthy options, or fancy spoiling yourself, at least your body can get some of the nutrients it needs.
If you take medications, check before you go whether there are any specific foods that you should avoid, and whether you can combine your medications with alcohol. Check with your pharmacist if you are unsure, and read the information that comes with your medication, even if you’ve been taking the medication for a while: it’s useful to remind yourself of things you might have forgotten.
Some foods and drink can prevent medicines from fully working. For example, the painkillers paracetamol and codeine are metabolised by the liver, so drinking alcohol as well can put a lot of stress on the liver. Thinking of a classic breakfast buffet, grapefruit can interfere with statins, and milk can interfere with some antibiotics.
Master the art of nibbling
Do taste the local speciality, but don’t binge on it. Give your body time to adjust to unaccustomed seasonings and sauces. Share a plate of starters with your partner or table mates, so you can sample without overeating. Eat slowly to savour every bite. If you discover something you really enjoy, learn how to pronounce it correctly so you can order it again!
In a new restaurant, tell your waiter or waitress about any dietary restrictions you have, so they can advise you about certain dishes. Ask for the house recommendations. If the menu doesn’t explain a dish adequately, ask how it’s prepared. Do express your appreciation to the staff for their consideration.
Be aware that not all countries are as used to dealing with food allergies as the UK. There can also be language barriers and a lack of training: some staff do not fully appreciate what “dairy” means, and all the items that it includes, so you might need to spell out all the things you can’t eat (e.g. butter, milk, yoghurt, etc.). If in doubt, play it safe!
Drink water and avoid dehydration
Drink plenty of water every day. Keep a bottle of water in your jacket or bag. Staying hydrated keeps your energy level high, reduces overeating, and helps your body flush out toxins and waste.
Bottled water can be purer than tap water. In some places this isn’t a problem, but in other areas, drinking the local tap water (including ice in drinks) can make you ill if you are not used to it. Check online, and in your travel guide.
Sometimes, feeling hungry can really just mean you are dehydrated, and it’s water that your body needs, not food. This can lead you to over-eat and not get enough fluids: a double whammy!
Enjoy the wine and spirits with a little common sense. Locally brewed beer can be a pleasure, and a wine or whisky tasting can be a highlight of your trip. But too much alcohol can lead to dehydration or can lead you to make poor food choices. When it comes to alcohol, aim for quality, not quantity!
Be aware that alcohol can make you more intoxicated and dehydrated when you are flying, due to the effects of altitude and cabin pressure, so be especially careful around the start and end of your holiday.
When you come across a neighbourhood market, stop and shop. Locally-grown fruits and vegetables will often be fresher and more economical that supermarket purchases. It’s also an adventure in and of itself to navigate a foreign grocery, with all its sights, sounds and aromas. Pick up fresh or dried fruits, cheese, bread and pastries, find a scenic spot, and enjoy a picnic lunch.
Come home healthy!
Like music, food is a universal language. You may come home with new recipes to try in your own kitchen, or a new appreciation for a food you once disliked. Above all, though, come home healthy.