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Healthiest airline food? It’s on Air Canada, Virgin America, survey finds

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Updated: January 6, 2012 8:08AM

Air Canada and Virgin America offer the healthiest in-flight food, a new nutritional survey shows.

The survey of 10 North American airlines’ menus reveals an overall small increase in healthy and low-calorie food choices since last year, says Charles Stuart Platkin, an assistant professor at CUNY School of Public Health at Hunter College in New York who has assessed airline food’s nutritional value in six annual surveys. But too many unhealthy items still dominate many airline menus, says Platkin.

Using a zero-to-five-star scale, Platkin offers the following health scores:

Air Canada

Health score: ★★★★

Comments: Air Canada contracts with a company called Food With a Conscience to create its menus. The best snack is Nissin Foods’ chicken ramen noodle soup. The meals are relatively low in calories. Go for the chicken or roast beef wrap or the vegetarian sandwich.

Virgin America

Health score: ★★★★

Comments: The food has fewer calories and higher nutrient density than last year. Virgin America offers on-demand in-flight food ordering via a touch-screen on every seatback. You can order any time, not just when the carts come through. For snacks, the PopChips are a low-calorie choice, but the best choice is the mixed nuts. The snack boxes — such as the protein meal with hummus, nuts and tuna — are great.

United, Continental

Health score: ★★★¼

Comments: Continental and United merged and, except for one item, they now offer the same food. Several years ago, United featured an amazing assortment of healthy offerings and was really focused on health. Now, there are only a few healthy choices, but most of the choices available for lunch and dinner have a reasonable calorie count. All the individual snacks are poor choices except for the roasted almonds, but they’re high in calories.

US Airways

Health score: ★★¾

Comments: The CaféPlus snack box isn’t a bad choice because you get protein from the tuna, and it’s low in calories. The only low-calorie individual snack is chips and salsa. Avoid the new bacon/egg salad croissant box, at more than 700 calories.


Health score: ★★¾

Comments: Last year, JetBlue started to offer more than just snacks but only on longer flights. It still needs to add some healthier meals and snacks. The individually packaged snacks are portion-controlled, but most lack nutritional value. The airline no longer offers nuts, which were the most nutrient-dense offering. For a free snack, opt for the Quaker Multigrain Fiber Crisps. For meal boxes, which can be purchased, the Shape Up is the clear winner. It has eight grams of fiber and only two grams of saturated fat.


Health score: ★★½

Comments: The snacks are high in calories, with few healthy offerings. Best bet is an individual snack: the Sabra roasted red-pepper hummus with pretzels. The Marcus Samuelsson’s New American Table turkey-and-chutney sandwich is packed with protein and comes with apple slices.


Health score: ★★¼

Comments: Individual snack choices aren’t very good, but meal choices on longer flights are reasonably healthy. The Flight Delights snack box has a variety of nutrient-dense foods that are low in calories. The chicken and turkey Cuban is a lower-calorie dinner choice.


Health score: ★¾

Comments: There’s not much variety or nutritional value in the food offerings.


Health score: ★

Comments: Bring your own food.

Gannett News Service

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