NEW YORK (MainStreet) – Hungry travelers can find more healthy options than ever before at the nation’s major airports, but the availability of such heart-healthy food varies wildly from airport to airport.
That’s according to the latest annual report from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, which surveys the food options at restaurants in 15 major airports. Airports are ranked based on the percentage of their restaurants that have at least one healthy option on the menu, defined by PCRM dietitians as a “low-fat, high-fiber, cholesterol-free vegetarian entrée.” While we think it’s a bit unfair to completely exclude meat-based dishes – a baked chicken breast can’t be healthy? – it does make sense to consider whether a restaurant has at least one option available to someone trying to live as healthy a lifestyle as possible. The report cites the fact that “High-fiber, low-fat vegetarian foods have also been shown to reduce the risk of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.”
First, the good news: The average airport had 83% of its eateries qualify as “healthy” by this criteria. That’s up one percentage point from last year and is the highest figure recorded since the group started conducting the survey in 2001. It also marks a huge improvement during the past decade, as that first survey back in 2001 found the average airport scoring just 57%.
If there’s any bad news, it’s that some airports continue to lag behind in offering healthy options. While Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport took the top spot for the third year in a row with a perfect 100% rating, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport ranked second from the bottom with only 75% of its restaurants meeting the minimum requirements for healthfulness. That actually represents an eight percentage-point improvement over last year, when it ranked dead last. Despite the improvement, the report notes that many of its restaurants still offer only “burgers and other greasy bar food.”
The most improved airport for 2011 was North Carolina’s Charlotte Douglas International Airport, which improved by nine points to settle into a tie for seventh in the rankings; the report looks approvingly on eateries there that offer veggie burgers and portobello mushroom and red pepper sandwiches. On the flipside is Denver International Airport, one of the few to see its score decline in 2011.
Of course, even a low ranking in the report doesn’t necessarily mean there are no healthy options to be found at the airport. You’ll just need to search a little harder to find them, and that’s not always an option for health-conscious travelers in a hurry to catch a flight.
Here are the 15 airports surveyed by PCRM from April to November. They are ranked in order from the highest to the lowest percentage of restaurants with at least one healthy option on the menu.
1. Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (100%)
2. San Francisco International Airport (96%)
3. Washington Dulles International Airport (92%)
4. Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (86%)
5. (tie) Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (83%)
5. (tie) Las Vegas McCarran International Airport (83%)
6. (tie) Denver International Airport (82%)
6. (tie) Miami International Airport (82%)
7. (tie) Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (81%)
7. (tie) Charlotte Douglas International Airport (81%)
8. Orlando International Airport (80%)
9. (tie) Los Angeles International Airport (76%)
9. (tie) Baltimore/Washington International Airport (76%)
10. Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (75%)
11. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (71%)