Healthy Travel

Eating healthy at home isn’t difficult, once you get the hang of it. Doing so while traveling can be a challenge. So here’s some tips to help you avoid illness or discomfort, while keeping your energy up and your mood positive on a trip.

Car travel is easier, since you can always bring a cooler stocked with cut up vegetables and organic picnic fare. Snacking on vegetables and protein will give you energy.

Eating foods that are easily digestible with lots of nutrients and clean protein is the best way to stay alert while driving. Sugar, junk food and caffeine just supply a peak of energy and then a crash. Dairy is difficult to digest so can also be draining. You want your energy directed towards keeping you awake and alert rather than depleted by digesting your food. Fluctuations of energy levels make long drives seem longer and people crabby.

When eating in restaurants, if organic or free-range protein isn’t available, try to eat wild caught seafood or dishes with beans or lentils. Choose dishes with as many vegetables as possible. Side dishes of vegetables are often available. You can also peruse the menu and ask your server to include any additional vegetables you might see in other dishes. Most restaurants are happy to accommodate if you are polite and respectful. Occasionally there’s a minimal charge for such additions, but it’s well worth the extra energy it provides!

Avoiding wheat, corn and sugar will prevent peaks and crashes in blood sugar. Fighting to stay awake when you’re driving, because your blood sugar has crashed, is the last thing you need. Even the healthier versions of gluten free junk food, chips or crackers, can cause a slump of energy when people are sitting for extended periods of time. Starches need physical activity to move the resulting glucose from your blood into your cells. Once in the cells the glucose becomes a source of energy.

When visiting family or friends, who don’t eat like you do, bring some dishes to share. You might offer to cook for them. Shopping together at farmer’s markets or Health Food stores is a fun way to visit. Friends and family usually appreciate the help with meals and enjoy trying delicious, healthy recipes.

Air travel poses different challenges. Airline food is notoriously horrific, void of nutrients and laced with chemicals. It’s best avoided when possible. Chop up fresh, organic vegetables to store in zip lock bags and bring on your flight. Or bring whole vegetables. In other bags bring some organic pieces of protein: turkey, chicken, hard-boiled egg, lamb or beef. Chickpea or lentil snacks are another protein option, if you can digest them. If you’re tired after eating a certain food, it’s an indication that it’s difficult for you to digest. Organic jerky or dried meats can also be a protein option though avoid ones that contain sugar and excessive salt. Flying is dehydrating as it is. Dried foods can exacerbate the problem especially if they’re very salty.

Dehydration is one cause of jet lag. Try to drink one glass of water for every hour you fly. You can request multiple glasses of water or sometimes a whole bottle when drinks are served. Other liquids don’t rehydrate you as water does. Keep in mind that alcohol is extremely dehydrating.

If you drink more than about 4 ounces of water at a time your body can’t assimilate it all at once. So you’ll be running to the bathroom. Sipping water throughout the day is more beneficial and practical.

If you don’t drink water due to excessive, frequent, urgent, or night urination, or have trouble with incontinence, try Shou Wu Pian. It’s available at many large Health Food stores. It supports the energetic function of the kidneys. Not drinking water because you might have to urinate can cause serious health problems.

If you carry an empty water bottle through airport security you can fill it up at the drinking fountains available in the terminals. The same applies when walking around sight seeing. Having a water bottle to fill throughout the day, in bathrooms, restaurants, and drinking fountains will keep you hydrated. Granted, it’s not as good as filtered water. But better non-filtered water than not enough water. And if you’re eating an assortment of vegetables throughout the day you’re detoxifying all day long.

Edema is common when driving long distances or flying. Edema is swelling due to water build up in tissues under the skin. This type of swelling is most common in the hands, ankles and feet. It suggests impairment of the lymph system. The major detox pathways employ the liver, spleen, kidneys and lymph. Your lymph moves fluids in your body and helps wash away toxins.

The major lymph nodes are under your arms and in your groin. Pumping your arms and legs, when you walk, activates these lymph nodes and helps move the fluids in your body. So even walking up and down the aisle on a long flight is beneficial. When your body is overloaded with toxins, from airplane food and drinks laced with chemicals, the lymph can get backed up, especially when you aren’t moving for hours. The result is an accumulation of water under the skin.

Ladies, underwire bras restrict the movement of your breasts and therefore the movement of lymph. So especially on long trips try to find more comfortable clothing and undergarments.

Here are some indications of Edema:

  1. Deep impressions caused by the elastic tops of socks.
  2. A temporary indentation left in a swollen area when you push with your finger tips.
  3. Balls of your feet numb or uncomfortable to walk on.

(Imagine walking on a water balloons with your skin stretched around them.)

There are herbal formulas I prescribe for edema. For people prone to this problem it’s advisable to take these herbs with them when going on trips. But a natural way to prevent or resolve edema is eating a raw, organic cucumber, with no salad dressing. If you slice the cucumber up it will get slimy unless refrigerated. So bring it whole when traveling.

Eating one cucumber per day can help prevent edema, whether from sitting for extended periods or from walking around all day sight seeing. If you’ve eliminated chemicals from your diet, and still have problems with edema, you need prescribed herbs. Acupuncture will also be beneficial by moving your energy. This increases the circulation of blood and lymph.

Another problem with long flights or long drives is Blood Stasis and Qi Stagnation. This is a TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) term for impairment of blood circulation. It results in stiffness in the morning or after not moving for long periods of time. Sitting for extended periods can become painful. This means the old blood isn’t moving out and the new blood can’t get in to nourish and heal. An example of this is a bruise, where the stagnant, dark, thick blood is just under the skin, where it’s visible. In other locations you can’t see it but you can feel it. If walking around and moving helps to alleviate stiffness, or pain, you know the problem is Blood Stasis and Qi Stagnation.

Walking up and down the airplane isles, walking in place, or standing up to stretch are all helpful. But you can also exercise right in your seat. Tighten up one butt cheek, then the other. Alternate back and forth. Suck in your abdomen and let it out. Tighten up various muscles in your arms and legs and stretch as much as you can. All of these will increase your Qi (energy) and keep you more comfortable throughout your trip. You’ll especially notice the difference when you stand up to get out of the car or off the airplane.

Acupuncture, massage and exercise are all beneficial for Blood Stasis and Qi Stagnation.

There are also Chinese herbal formulas I prescribe for patients with Blood Stasis and Qi Stagnation. Once symptoms are resolved it isn’t necessary to continue herbal formulas indefinitely. But taking them when going on long car and airplane rides can be very helpful. Unfortunately herbal formulas that move the blood are contraindicated for people who take blood thinners. In which case Acupuncture, massage and exercise are even more crucial.

When traveling in foreign countries, tourist areas often mean being limited to tourist food. The restaurants and presentation of the food are appealing but they have a tendency to skip on quality, seasonings, and vegetables. You can find non-tourist areas to eat. But when there’s so much to see and do it’s easy to find yourself suddenly hungry with few healthy options.

Here are some solutions:

Look for outdoor markets. They usually have wonderful prepared food. It’s where the locals eat. So the quality and flavor is typically exceptional. It’s also a great place to buy organic vegetables to snack on throughout the day. And markets are fun! A great way to experience local culture and cuisine.

Stop in groceries, or any health food stores you might find, to pick up some vegetables. Travel with a very small plastic container of natural dish washing liquid. Just a drop or two can wash a cucumber or carrot. Wash non-organic vegetables off, with your dish soap, in your hotel room in the morning or evening. Then carry an assortment of vegetables with you to munch on throughout the day. Carrots, celery, red peppers, zucchini, English or snap peas and of course cucumbers are an example of raw vegetables you can try to have on hand. Of course organic is preferable but do the best you can. It’s always fun to investigate food stores in other countries. They’re a great place to interact with locals and occasionally run across some wonderful prepared foods.

Carry a synthetic bag, like a Chico bag, that scrunches up very small but expands to a nice sized grocery bag. If you always carry it with you it’s available whenever you find vegetables or other items to purchase along the way.

Most people don’t need a multivitamin when eating a wide variety of organic vegetables three times per day. But for travel I prescribe a high quality, whole food multivitamin.

Illness can ruin any trip. The following formulas are ones I take with me when traveling. You can get them at most larger Health Food Stores. Gan Mao Ling kills viruses. Have it on hand for the first symptoms of cold or flu and you should be able to avoid getting sick. Take it until you have no more symptoms. Jade Screen prevents colds or flu, so is good to start several weeks before a trip. You can see my articles on colds and flu for more formulas and how to use them, on the Ashland LocalsGuide website.

I’ll also prescribe herbal formulas for allergies, malaria, parasites and food poisoning for patients, depending upon where they’re traveling.

Jet lag can be a problem, especially when changing time zones. But time change and dehydration aren’t the only reasons for your body’s protests. You’re subjected to a huge amount of radiation on any flight, many times the amount you would receive from x-rays. Obviously, the toxic impact of a long flight is greater than a short one. Vegetables trigger the second phase of liver detoxification. But eating miso is a great way to detoxify the body specifically for radiation exposure. Remember, you need to get the miso in a glass, not a plastic container. The only available source I’ve found is South River Miso (SRM). Shipping increases the cost but each one pound jar lasts longer than most supplements do. So think of it as a supplement to keep you healthy. Add one tablespoon to your meals, after you’ve cooked them. Cooking kills the active culture and destroys the medicinal effect. SRM only ships during cold months, so it’s good to stock up in spring and fall. Using miso with your meals before and after air travel can greatly shorten your recovery time from long flights.

A bit of forethought and staying mindful of your body’s needs can make your travels much more comfortable, pleasurable and memorable.

Happy Travels,

Nancy Burton, L.Ac.
534 Washington St.
Ashland, OR 97520
For Appointments Call: 541-646-0134






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Nancy Burton, L.Ac. is a Licensed Acupuncturist. She incorporates Acupuncture, Herbs, Tui Na (Chinese Medicinal Massage), Homeopathics, Nutritional Supplements, Muscle Testing, and Nutritional Counseling and Therapy in her practice. Her goal is to give patients the tools they need to achieve and maintain good health.

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