Which North American Airlines Have The Healthiest Food?

 @MarkJohansonIBT
on December 23 2013 6:15 AM
Virgin America
Virgin America has some of the healthiest menu options in the sky, according to a new study from the Diet Detective. Virgin America

To snack on the plane or not to snack, that is the question many of us will face this holiday season. But it turns out what carrier you’ve booked for your trip will make a huge difference in whether you fly on the McDonald's of the sky or the Panera Bread.

A new study from DietDetective.com looked at the in-flight menus of each North American carrier to determine the “calorie bargains” and “calorie rip-offs” at 35,000 feet. The results of the 2013 Airline Food Survey paint a stark divide between calorie-conscious carriers and those who don’t serve a single fresh food option.

The good news is that the average overall number of calories per food item for all North American airlines was down from 388 last year to 360 in 2013. United Airlines and JetBlue showed the biggest improvement over the past 12 months, though it was another pair of health-minded carriers that took top honors.

“This year Virgin America and Air Canada are tied for the top spot with the ‘healthiest’ food choices in the sky,” Diet Detective Charles Platkin said. “Alaska Air was not too far behind. Allegiant received the lowest score, was the least cooperative and received a low health rating.”

Platkin gave Allegiant Air the “shame on you” award, and said American Airlines and US Airways remained below par. “It is still a huge mystery to me why airlines don't see healthy, tasty foods as a profit center,” Platkin said in a summary of the results. “Clearly, the ‘better for you’ food market is on fire (think Whole Foods, Trader Joe's and all the new products on the market). The big airlines, like American, are slow to improve food service, but I believe we will see changes for the better in the next few years.”

The dietician applauded Virgin America for its entire Travel Light menu, an industry first. He also highlighted Air Canada’s low-calorie breakfast menu, salads and full meals, saying he hoped other carriers would take a cue from its food playbook and offer similar items.

No matter which airline you fly, however, Platkin said it’s still best to bring your own snacks from home to avoid overindulging on unhealthy airline fare. Suggestions include fruits, nuts, cereal, salads and sandwiches, as well as an empty bottle to fill with water once you pass security.

The self-proclaimed Diet Detective rated each major North American carrier on a five-star scale based on eight criteria, including health of meals and snack boxes, health of individual snacks, healthy offerings, calorie levels, improvement from last year’s survey, menu innovation and cooperation in providing nutritional information. The resulting report includes ratings, average calories per carrier, costs, comments, food offerings and exercise equivalents. Scroll down for a brief overview to see how each North American carrier stacks up on the food pyramid.

No. 1 (tie) Virgin America

Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information: Excellent

Health Score: 4.5 stars

Average Calories Over All (Meals, Snack Boxes and Individual Snacks): 458.6

Average Meal/ Snack Box Calories: 360.75

Average Individual Snack Calories: 270.63

No. 1 (tie) Air Canada

Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information: Excellent

Health Score: 4.5 stars

Average Calories Over All (Meals, Snack Boxes and Individual Snacks): 330.95

Average Meal/ Snack Box Calories: 296.90

Average Individual Snack Calories: 365

No. 3 Alaska Airlines

Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information: Very helpful 

Health Score: 4 stars

Average Calories: 402.77

Average Meal/ Snack Box Calories: 402.77 (no individual snacks)

No. 4 JetBlue Airways

Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information: Very helpful

Health Score: 3.5 stars

Average Calories Over All (Meals, Snack Boxes and Individual Snacks): 316.41

Average Meal/ Snack Box Calories: 450.22

Average Individual Snack Calories: 165.88

No. 5 United Airlines

Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information: Very helpful

Health Score: 3.25 stars

Average Calories Over All (Meals, Snack Boxes and Individual Snacks: 458.58

Average Meal/ Snackbox Calories: 521.38

Average Individual Snack Calories: 322.50

No. 6 (tie) American Airlines

Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information: Excellent 

Health Score: 3 stars

Average Calories Over All (Meals, Snack Boxes and Individual Snacks): 456

Average Meal/ Snack Box Calories: 447.57

Average Individual Snack Calories: 470.75

No. 6 (tie) US Airways

Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information: Very helpful

Health Score: 3 stars

Average Calories Over All (Meals, Snack Boxes and Individual Snacks): 442.46

Average Meal/ Snack Box Calories: 532

Average Individual Snack Calories: 367.50

No. 8 (tie) Delta Air Lines

Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information: More helpful than last year

Health Score: 2.75 stars

Average Calories Over All (Meals, Snack Boxes and Individual Snacks): 447.57

Average Meal/ Snack Box Calories: 516.91

Average Individual Snack Calories: 294

No. 8 (tie) Frontier Airlines

Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information: Very helpful

Health Score: 2.75 stars

Average Calories Over All (Snack Boxes and Individual Snacks): 380.09

Average Snack Box Calories: 613.67 (No meals available; only snacks)

No. 10 Southwest Airlines

Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information: Excellent

Health Score: 2 stars

Average Calories: 108 (Individual Snacks only; no meals or snack boxes available)

No. 11 Allegiant Air

Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information: Not very helpful

Health Score: 1.5 stars

Average Calories Over All (Meals, Snack Boxes and Individual Snacks): 408.25

Average Meal/ Snack Box Calories: 500.40

Average Individual Snack Calories: 366.36

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