Updated 02 July 2013

Diet tips for travellers - part 1

It's important to watch your diet, fluid intake and nutrition during long-haul flights. Doing this can keep the discomfort to a minimum.


Flying long distances often entails 24 hours or more of sitting in aeroplane seats and transit lounges. It's important to watch your diet, fluid intake and nutrition during long-haul flights. Doing this can keep the discomfort to a minimum.

Before you fly
If you require a special meal (for instance, if you're vegetarian), you need to phone the airline before you start your trip to order it. Many travellers aren't aware of the fact that most international airlines, including SAA, make provision for a variety of dietary conditions by providing special meals for their clients.

Special airline meals
The following special meals can be ordered from the majority of airlines:

  • Bland meals for people with gastric problems such as ulcers, hiatus hernia and gastric reflux
  • Diabetic meals for type I and II diabetics, or even for individuals suffering from hypoglycaemia
  • Gluten-free meals for patients with gluten and wheat allergies, or coeliac disease
  • High-fibre meals for anyone who requires an increased dietary fibre intake
  • Low-kilojoule meals for people who need to restrict their energy intake or those who are slimming
  • Low-fat meals for slimmers or patients suffering from raised blood-fat levels
  • Low-protein meals for patients with kidney problems
  • Low-sodium meals for individuals with hypertension or kidney problems, and anyone on a low-sodium diet
  • Lactose-free meals for patients with lactose or milk allergy
  • Purine-reduced meals for persons suffering from gout

The airlines also make provision for persons who follow special diets for reasons of religion or conviction, namely:

  • Asian vegetarian or vegan meals for Hindus and other individuals who don't eat meat, fish or flesh of any kind, or milk, dairy products and eggs
  • Lacto-ovo-vegetarian meals which exclude meat and fish, but still make use of eggs, milk and dairy products
  • Fruit meals for those individuals who prefer to only eat fruit
  • Kosher meals, which are prepared according to Jewish religious restrictions
  • Halaal meals for Muslim passengers
  • Fish meals for passengers who eat only fish and no meat

In addition, the airlines serve meals for their young passengers and one can choose from the following:

  • Child meals
  • Baby meals

Keep in mind that it's essential to order such meals before you fly, as the cabin crew will not be able to conjure up a high-fibre meal or any other special meal once the aircraft has been loaded or is in the air. Phone the airline about five days before you leave and let them know what type of special meal you require. These meals can also be obtained for local flights.

Own provisions
Airlines often have restrictions on the types and quantities of food and/or drinks you're allowed to carry with you onto the aeroplane. In addition, most countries have very strict laws governing the importation of food, particularly fresh food such as meat, biltong and fruit. Despite these restrictions, it may be a good idea for you to take some food for special circumstances.

For example: if your flight were to be delayed for three or four hours and dinner ends up being served at midnight. By this time, anyone with diabetes or suffering from hypoglycaemia would have been badly affected. To avoid such crises, it's a good idea to take along some wholewheat crackers, cheese wedges, biltong, and energy or fruit bars.

If you're heading for a destination that prohibits the importation of food, you can either make sure that you have consumed all your provisions before you disembark, or leave the uneaten food behind in the plane. But do explain this to the cabin crew first.

On any flight lasting more than two hours, you need to stock up on non-alcoholic liquids. This will not only counteract dehydration, but may even save your life by preventing deep-vein thrombosis. Drink as much water, soda and fruit juice as possible. By keeping your water balance positive you won’t feel as tired and irritable when you reach your destination as most passengers do who only drink alcohol and tea or coffee.

Alcohol will contribute to dehydration and will make you feel groggy and parched, so try to stay away from all those free drinks or, if the temptation is too great, have at least two glasses of water for every glass of wine or spirits that you consume.

- Dr I.V. van Heerden, DietDoc, updated July 2011

Post a question to the Travel Expert.

Post a question to DietDoc.

Read more:
Diet tips for travellers - part 2


Read Health24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Live healthier

Coffee and wine for the win! »

Could heartburn drugs upset your 'good' gut bacteria? Life is a gut reaction

Good news! Coffee & wine may promote a healthy gut

Diverse bacteria help your gut stay healthy. Here's how what you eat and drink can help or harm that balance - and it's not all bad news.

I gave hubby HIV »

Giving babies antibodies promptly may eliminate HIV Vaginal ring to prevent HIV on the cards

I gave my husband HIV and watched him die

Stephanie van Niekerk unwittingly infected her husband with HIV and ended up having to watch him wither and die in front of her very eyes. This is Stephanie's story in her own words.