Twelve foods that cardiologists avoid when they are at the airport and the healthy foods they do recommend


Heart-healthy foods are rare on airport menus, where fast-food restaurants and giant cinnamon rolls tend to dominate.

So what can a health-conscious traveler stuck at the airport eat? Nearly 5 million people will travel by air during the Thanksgiving holiday in 2023, according to AAA estimates. The Transportation Security Administration expects to screen nearly 3 million passengers on Sunday, Nov. 26, which will likely be the busiest day for travel, according to the agency.

Many travelers face delays and canceled flights if the weather doesn’t cooperate or airlines have logistical problems. Storms threaten a bumpy return to some parts of the country.

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This is when airport restaurants have a captive audience looking for easy and tasty foods, but also full of fat, salt and sugar. Cardiologists know the temptation all too well.

Dr. Susan Cheng, professor of cardiology and director of public health research at the Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles, was recently at an airport when a display of cakes caught her attention.

“They were huge portions of all these lush, different-flavored pastries,” Cheng told .com. “They looked beautiful, but I don’t think I really want cake for lunch.”

Tacos with vegetables, beans and salsa are a good option.Kris D’Amico

“Eating healthy, wherever you are, no matter the circumstances, is probably the best option,” added Dr. Andrew Freeman, director of cardiovascular prevention and wellness at National Jewish Health in Denver.

But “if you are going to be at the airport more than 24 or 48 hours, you will have to be creative.”

Knowing what you know about heart health, what do cardiologists eat when they’re stuck at the airport? Three cardiologists shared their routines.

Homemade snacks

The best strategy is to travel prepared.

“As much as you’re absolutely captive at the airport, that doesn’t mean you can’t bring your own food,” Freeman said.

Pack apples or oranges, which are surprisingly filling and fit in a backpack, plus portable packets of peanut butter for a little extra protein. Sometimes Freeman also goes to places where she can make her own salad and takes it to the airport.

Sandwich Shop Options

Cheng recently found a simple and nutritious tuna salad sandwich at an airport that he called “perfect.”

Freeman, who doesn’t eat meat, likes to order a vegetarian sandwich without cheese or mayonnaise. “Sometimes they put a little avocado or hummus on the sandwich, which is surprisingly good,” he said.


The goal is to find good foods that keep you full, says Dr. Marc Eisenberg, a clinical cardiologist and associate professor of medicine at Columbia University Medical Center in New York.

“The best thing to eat is something like an omelet if you find a restaurant there,” said Eisenberg, co-author of “Am I Dying?!: A Complete Guide to Your Symptoms and What to Do Next.”

“I think eggs are definitely a safe bet when you’re in an airport.”

Eggs contain protein, vitamins, antioxidants and healthy fats, nutritionists say. They have not been shown to raise cholesterol in many people, Eisenberg added. But he urged travelers to avoid butter, which he calls one of “the worst foods,” and to watch their salt intake.

Starbucks Options

The Starbucks coffee chain often has oatmeal available, which is a great breakfast option, Freeman said.

He also likes to order drinks without dairy or added sweeteners; a bagel that can be topped with hummus or guacamole; or a plant-based protein box with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Starbucks also often has a basket of bananas, which are extremely nutritious and healthy thanks to their fiber and potassium, Cheng added.

Takeaway food

Cheng could buy a small bag of nuts, a fruit and nut bar, or a small container of yogurt. Yogurt is good for the gut microbiome, but it’s important to watch the sugar content, she said.

These stores also typically have fresh fruit, fruit cups or salads, Freeman added.

Mexican food

“Most airports have a Mexican option, and the truth is that you can almost always get tacos or a rice bowl, usually with things like brown rice, vegetables, beans and salsa, without meat, cheese or sour cream quite easily ”said Freeman.

Foods that cardiologists avoid at the airport:

Hamburgers, French fries and other foods full of saturated fat, salt, cholesterol, carbohydrates or sugar top the list. One Cinnabon Classic Roll has 880 calories, according to the company.

However, pizza is probably a better option than a hamburger at a fast food restaurant, Eisenberg said.

It is also important to be careful with salads. “When you eat a salad and you put beef or pork or chicken and ranch dressing and all those things that people like to put on their salads, it quickly becomes a double cheeseburger,” Freeman warned.

“Many times, a salad, when prepared in the usual American style, can have more calories, saturated fat and cholesterol than the cheeseburger itself.”

In general, a day or two of eating unhealthy foods (if that’s the only option available) is unlikely to harm most healthy people, although travelers with heart failure, high blood pressure, or diabetes should be more careful. Eisenberg said.

But there’s a difference between what people do every day and what they do at specific times, like traveling during Thanksgiving, he added.

If you’re stuck at the airport, perhaps with kids, and need something to lighten the mood and buy yourself some patience and time, do whatever it takes, Cheng added.

“But in general I would advise patients to stick to what they know is good for their health,” he added.