What happens to your digestion when you travel?

ByAndrea Thompson

June 10, 2024

Cabin pressure is known to significantly affect our digestion during flights. Many travellers experience bloating on planes, and experts suggest this may be due to the low air pressure causing gas to expand within our bodies.

The body’s digestive system responds similarly to how our ears pop under pressure. Additionally, airplane food is often ultra-processed and lacks nutritional value. These meals are usually low in fibre and high in sugar, salt, and preservatives, which can also lead to digestive problems.

As air pressure decreases, gases expand, a phenomenon clearly observable in a packet of nuts on an airplane. Similarly, this expansion occurs in the gut, potentially causing significant discomfort.

What food or drink should you avoid eating on a flight?

There is no evidence to suggest that we need to alter our diet during a flight. However, there are measures one can take to support the digestive system under varying conditions. Increasing water consumption is crucial as aircraft cabins are often less humid, potentially accelerating dehydration.

Avoiding dehydrating foods and beverages is beneficial. Alcohol, for instance, can significantly dehydrate you, particularly if you’re not consuming sufficient water. Choosing a Bloody Mary could be advantageous, as tomato juice contains electrolytes and is abundant in antioxidants.

Coffee can be dehydrating and may negatively affect nervous flyers; it is advisable to avoid it. As a stimulant, it boosts the production of hormones like adrenaline, which can exacerbate anxiety in those who are already apprehensive about flying.

It is advisable to avoid salty foods as well. Excessive salt intake can worsen dehydration, leading to symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, and brain fog. Therefore, it’s best to steer clear of meals high in salt before and during your flight.

Ultra-processed foods are typically high in salt, so it’s advisable to choose fresh foods, which may be challenging to locate at airports. Airplane meals are generally low in fibre – intentionally, to minimize flatulence – and nutrients, which can leave travellers feeling lethargic.

Pack nutrient-dense snacks to complement the plane food, like fruits, nuts and seeds, dark chocolate, popcorn, and oatcakes.

By being mindful of these factors, you can help maintain digestive comfort and enjoy your travels more fully.