Top airports for healthy food

by Charlie Leocha on December 27, 2011


Nutrition experts at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) released a report about healthy food at airports. Their report notes that airport food is getting better year over year. Last year they reported 57 percent of airport food outlets had healthy choices on their menus. This year’s report show 83 percent now serve healthy options.

Airport food and healthy don’t seem to go together. But these days, the healthy offerings are getting better and more and more outlets are providing at least some healthy choices on their menus.

After examining 15 major airports in a dozen states, PCRM dietitians found that 83 percent of airport restaurants now offer at least one low-fat, high-fiber, cholesterol-free vegetarian entrée, up one percent from last year. Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport received a score of 100 percent and topped the list for the third year in a row. But healthful choices are still difficult to find at some airports, including Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

A restaurant was rated as healthful if it served at least one low-fat, high-fiber, cholesterol-free breakfast, lunch, or dinner entrée. Healthful entrées at airports covered in this report include the roasted beet and pear salad at French Meadow Bakery and Café at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and the lentil chili at McCoy’s Bar and Grill at Orlando International Airport.

These meals contain a colorful array of vegetables, fruits, grains, and legumes that provide immunity-boosting nutrients to help airplane passengers stay healthy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that air travel “may facilitate the transmission of influenza.” The CDC also notes that “fruits and vegetables have high water and fiber content.” Building a meal from these foods can help keep travelers hydrated in a plane’s low-humidity environment.

Since the increase in security mandated after 9/11, passengers have been spending more and more time past security lines and are dining at the airports more now than prior to the security increase. This increase in airport restaurant patrons has created a shift to more middle-of-the-road eateries that serve more than simply burgers, pizza, hot dogs, sandwiches, sweets, sodas and coffee. Now, travelers can opt out of a burger and have Mexican food, Chinese meals filled with veggies, soups, salads, vegetarian chile and more.

Here is a detailed wrapup of what the nutrition experts discovered at each airport, ranked from best to worst:

1. Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (100 percent): Detroit tops the list for the third year in a row. It’s the only airport in the history of PCRM’s report to receive a perfect score—twice. Every restaurant at the airport offers at least one healthful entrée, such as a veggie burrito (hold the cheese) at Diego’s Mexican Cantina, the black bean burger at Slapshotz, and the hummus and veggie platter at the Heineken Bar.

2. San Francisco International Airport (96 percent): San Francisco lags slightly behind Detroit in second place for the third year. But its score continues to ascend—up from 95 percent last year. Hungry travelers can enjoy the organic smoky split pea soup with a hummus and veggie wrap at the San Francisco Soup Company or a beet salad, tofu wrap, quinoa bowl, or udon noodles at Plant Café and Pinkberry.

3. Washington Dulles International Airport (92 percent): Dulles was last year’s most improved airport. It gains just three points this year and climbs from fourth to third place. Options for health-conscious passengers include the grilled veggie sandwich (hold the cheese) at Harry’s Tap Room and pasta with marinara sauce at Famous Famiglia.

4. Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (86 percent): Minneapolis gained a point this year, moving up from sixth place last year. Diners seeking cholesterol-free meals can enjoy the organic oatmeal (ordered with soymilk) or the roasted beet and pear salad (hold the cheese) at French Meadow Bakery and Café or the smoked tofu burrito or wrap with Cajun, Thai, or teriyaki flavors at 360 Gourmet.

5. (tie) Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (83 percent): DFW drops a point from last year, but moves up to fifth place. Health-conscious travelers can find healthful options, including the poblano, potato, and zucchini taco (hold the cheese) at Urban Taco and the falafel wrap or three-bean chili at Ufood Grill.

5. (tie) Las Vegas McCarran International Airport (83 percent): Las Vegas continues its impressive climb, gaining six points and moving from 11th to fifth place. In 2010, it gained 11 points and moved up from its 2009 position in last place. A smoked tofu burrito is available at 360 Gourmet and a vegan wrap with hummus is available at more than 10 of the restaurants operated by the HMSHost, including Bar One, Home Turf Sports Bar, and Wipeout Willy’s.

6. (tie) Denver International Airport (82 percent): It was a turbulent year for Denver, which dropped six points—after a gain of eight points last year. Filling, low-fat choices include the veggie burger at the Boulder Beer Tap House, the portobello mushroom sandwich (ask for no cheese) at the Colorado Sports Bar, and the Colorado Sunshine Wrap or the tofu wrap at Itza Wrap! Itza Bowl!

6. (tie) Miami International Airport (82 percent): Miami International Airport gained a point from last year, moving from eighth place to sixth place. Visitors can try the hummus platter at Beaudevin and the Unique veggie burger or the Asian veggie salad bowl at The Counter.

7. (tie) Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (81 percent): Phoenix gains a point, making a slight recovery from last year’s seven point drop. Just 46 of the airport’s 57 restaurants offer a healthful, cholesterol-free entrée. Low-fat meals include the chopped Mediterranean salad, hummus appetizer, and bruschetta (hold the cheese on each) at Barfly and the veggie rice bowl or burrito (hold the cheese on both) at Blue Burrito.

7. (tie) Charlotte Douglas International Airport (81 percent): Charlotte is this year’s most improved airport. It made a huge jump from 12th place last year with a score of 72 percent. The airport still has room for improvement, but many of its eateries do offer a healthful, cholesterol-free meal option. Health-conscious passengers can choose the veggie burger at Stock Car Café and the portobello mushroom and red pepper sandwich (hold the cheese) at the Carolina Beer Co.

8. Orlando International Airport (80 percent): Orlando maintains its 2010 score of 80 percent, but still climbs from ninth to eighth place. Hungry travelers seeking heart-healthy fare should try the vegetarian lentil chili at McCoy’s Bar and Grill or the vegetarian sandwich at ZaZa’s Cuban Café.

9. (tie) Los Angeles International Airport (76 percent): This celebrity hotspot drops from eighth to ninth place this year, losing five points from last year’s score. Healthful highlights include the Vegetarian Works pizza (hold the cheese) at Malibu Al’s, vegetable sushi rolls at Sushi Boy, and the roasted pepper and eggplant sandwich at Brioche Dorée.

9. (tie) Baltimore/Washington International Airport (76 percent): BWI declined slightly from last year’s score of 79 percent. Thirty-one of the airport’s 41 eateries now offer low-fat, cholesterol-free entrées. The Silver Diner remains the best bet for savvy travelers. It offers a portobello vegetarian stir-fry with tofu, veggies, and wheat noodles in teriyaki sauce, as well as a summer salad and a veggie chili with kidney beans, mushrooms, carrots, and squash.

10. Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (75 percent): This airport made the second biggest gain this year—eight points—helping it move out of its last place position in 2010. Hungry passengers should search for meals such as the Asian peanut-tofu wrap at Hudson Aero Mart and Hudson Euro Café or the balsamic garden panini with squash and zucchini (request no cheese) at National Airport Grill. Many other eateries only offer burgers and other greasy bar food.

11. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (71 percent): Atlanta’s airport—the world’s busiest—fell to last place this year. Terminals are clogged with restaurants serving hot dogs, fried chicken, and pizza. But travelers looking for healthful meals can find a few choices, including spicy tofu made with vegetarian broth at Asian Chao, burritos or tacos with black beans, pinto beans, or tofu crumbles and grilled veggies (hold the cheese) at Moe’s Southwest Grill, or Bistro Del Sol’s Mediterranean Trio: hummus, tabouli, and stuffed grape leaves.

For more details and charts about the study, click here.

Photo from Flickr Creative Commons scaredy_kat

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  • Cliffordpwoodrick

    This list should be available for non computer seniors

  • Rsrchpro

    What would be nice is an effort to provide gluten free food at airports; other than having to peel the filling off a sandwich or wrap.

    This could be easily done with corn tortillas for wraps and salads with options instead of pre-prepared salads.

  • Anonymous

    Need context.  It would be interesting to see how airports compare, “healthy” food wise, to similar venues such as malls, large resorts, and so on.

  • http://twitter.com/urmann David Urmann

    Great list – now to make sure I get routed through these airports :)

  • Bodega

    Was this report written by a vegan? 

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  • Chasmosaur

    Per the “vegan” and “context” issues, it should be noted that this was about “heart healthy” food, not just generically healthy food.  And the airports were ranked by dietitians who “gave each restaurant a point if its menu included at least one low-fat, high-fiber, cholesterol-free vegetarian entrée.”

    So it makes sense that the offerings listed in this argument would be more geared towards a vegetarian diet.  The requirements are kind of weighted for it.Here’s the article from PCRM – you’ll have to click the link deeper in the article for fuller descriptions:http://www.pcrm.org/media/news/pcrm-airport-food-review-2011

    All I know is I fly in and out of MSP regularly, and I get so frustrated with other airports where I can’t get a nice wrap or sandwich.  And the sushi restaurant at DTW is a must-stop, if I have the time.

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