The perils of the processed snacks for frequent travellers

Travelling for work often requires picking up drinks and snacks along the way.  When selecting a snack, our hope is that the ‘healthy choice should be the easy choice’.  But when our working life involves frequent travel, convenience is paramount and the long shelf life, pre-packaged, easy to carry processed snack is often the most prevalent.

Do Processed Snacks Affect Our Health? 

And does it matter if we have a convenience food habit?  Current research suggests that probably they do and therefore it does matter.

Two recent European studies published in the British Medical Journal have examined the relationship between our consumption of unhealthy food and our risk of cardiovascular disease and premature death.  It’s no surprise to learn that eating whole grain foods with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables is associated with better health, but the extent to which eating ‘junky’ food is bad for our health was quite shocking.

A study from France found those who ate 10% more ultra-processed food had a 12% increased risk of getting cardiovascular disease.  A similar study from Spain found that those who ate over four portions a day of ultra-processed food had a 62% increased risk of premature death from any cause.

This doesn’t mean that fast food is toxic, we can’t rule out that the cause could be something to do with the lifestyle of people who rely heavily on these foods, maybe they work in more stressful or dangerous jobs, maybe they’re more likely to live in places with terrible air pollution – but we can use this information as a nudge to make the right food choices in our lives, including when we travel.

What Are Ultra Processed Foods?

  • Packets of sweet or savoury snacks, like crisps, puffed savoury shapes, toffee popcorn
  • Biscuits, sweets, pastries and ice-creams
  • Sugary and carbonated drinks, including sweet fruit or milk type drinks
  • Instant/reconstituted hot food like soups and noodles

When we’re on the go, these snacks and drinks are everywhere, petrol stations, train stations, airport lounges, and hotel minibars.

Planning Ahead Is Key

If we let ourselves get too hungry, it’s harder to make a good choice and allow the time to source the better food.

Sandwich bars often sell decent healthy sandwiches and salads and whole fruit or fruit salad.

Alternatively, some airport bookshops and chemists may offer a couple of healthier snack items, such as yoghurt, sushi, eggs & spinach, hummus & carrot sticks, salads, a carton of skimmed milk or a packet of nuts or dried fruit.

Emergency Rations

If we travel often, keeping a supply of raw nuts and dried fruits in our bag and always water, will buy us time to stave off hunger until we get to a source of nice food.

Know A Treat From A Snack

Small meals and snacks are eaten frequently, so these foods need to be nutritious.  Treats are low in nutrients and often high in salt, sugar and fat.  This research adds to the argument that we need to keep treat foods for very special occasions.


© Executive Travel Vitality 2019

Author: Carol Sadler PhD
Carol is a Nutrition Consultant. She counsels in diet and lifestyle change at Surrey Cardiovascular Clinic where clients have been referred by the clinic cardiologists. Prior to this Carol worked in private practice in Dubai for nine years, where she had various media engagements including Emirates Radio 2 Lifestyle Show monthly ‘phone-in’ on nutrition topics; Gulf News Friday Magazine (weekend supplement) monthly nutrition letter answered; City7 TV appearances on Breakfast Television and Lifestyle Show commenting on nutrition topics. Contributions to local magazines, and organizations, eg Rheumatoid Arthritis Group, Grazia Magazine, Living in the Gulf magazine. She continues to write nutrition articles and blogs, recently writing for Reader’s Digest, and HASTE Academy heart health charity and provides talks on diet issues. Carol is a member of The Nutrition Society, a Registered Nutritionist at the Association for Nutrition, Registration No. 912 and a member of SENSE (self employed consultant Nutritionists group for professional development).

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