The Diet Detective: Which Airline Food is Healthiest?

This is the annual airline survey. Each year I contact the media relations departments of the various airlines to request nutrition information for the foods they serve economy-class passengers on domestic flights. This year, finally, all but two airlines were helpful. Wow, maybe they're finally getting how important it is to provide this information to the public.
This year, I must say, Virgin America really rose to the occasion by being incredibly cooperative. We've added Air Canada and Spirit Airlines to the list. American, United/Continental, Southwest and US Airways were also helpful, while Delta was not very helpful and Spirit Airlines did not return several calls or e-mails.

Finally, the last day they did e-mail a curt response saying they didn't have time. Really? No time to look at the packages and read off the calories? It was a struggle to get anything from them, so I assume they are just not interested in the health of their customers.

Spirit was clearly the least helpful, and in second-to-last place, it was Delta. Delta and Spirit Airlines—shame on you. Aren't these airlines aware that both food and your health are very important to you?
Since last year, United has taken a step backward, and since they've merged they've taken down Continental, too. It feels as if they're giving up on offering healthy items. JetBlue still needs to do more work on their food— they are not a small discount carrier anymore and need to upgrade to real, healthy whole foods, not just snacks. Last year they offered snack boxes—great, but they still need more nutrient-dense items. And they eliminated the healthy nuts—too bad.

US Airways really stepped up their cooperation this year, and they also have one or two healthier items—nice work! American needs to get rid of all the super-high-calorie snacks and meals. They have some of the highest-calorie foods in the air.

Air Canada is really amazing in terms of food quality and their focus on health. While most items have the nutritional content on the packaging itself, they also have a nutritional data sheet for all items on board should passengers request the information. That's incredible.

The most improved is Virgin America, which is also paying attention to the health and well-being of their passengers. They have an innovative and creative food program. These two are neck and neck for the top spot this year.
Here are the snack and onboard food-service offerings from several of the more popular airlines, along with Diet Detective's comments, ratings, calories, exercise equivalents (amount of walking required to burn off the food consumed) and personal favorites.

Health Scores:

  • 5 stars = highest rating
  • 0 stars = lowest ratings

Air Canada


Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information: Extremely helpful.

Health Score: (****)

Best Bets:

This airline cares about its passengers' health—that's for sure. The airline calls their food Air Canada NutriCuisine and prides itself on the freshness and optimum quality of ingredients. They contract with a company called Food with a Conscience nutritional program to help create their menu.
They can do slightly better on the individual snack offerings though. Pick the Nissin-Chicken Ramen Noodle Soup. It will fill you up and it's more like a meal. The cashews need to be shared. They will fill you up but have too many calories for one person.

I love the idea of the Celery & Carrots with Ranch Dip—nice touch. I just wish the dip were hummus or something healthier than ranch. As far as the meals go, they are all relatively low in calories. Go for the chicken or roast beef wrap or the vegetarian sandwich (nice). The healthy oatmeal is also a great offering.


(Available on flights 90 minutes and longer)

  • Celery & Carrots with Ranch Dip $5.00 (230 calories, 50 minutes of walking).
  • Cheese & Crackers $4.00 (320 calories, 69 minutes of walking).
  • Nissin-Chicken Ramen Noodle Soup $3.00 (290 calories, 63 minutes of walking).
  • Krispy Kernels – Salted Cashews $3.00 (310 calories per 1/2 cup, 67 minutes of walking).
  • Krispy Kernels – Trail Mix $3.00 (390 calories, 84 minutes of walking).
  • Pringles Original – Grab and Go! $3.00 (220 calories, 48 minutes of walking).
  • Lindt Swiss Classic – Milk Chocolate Bar $3.00 (533 calories, 119 minutes of walking).
  • Twizzlers – Licorice $3.00 (833 calories, 191 minutes of walking).

(Available on flights two hours or longer)
Classic Pepperoni Pizza $7.00

  • Pepperoni, four cheese blend, crispy flatbread.
  • 400 calories, 86 minutes of walking

Chicken Wrap $7.00

  • Grilled chicken breast, sundried tomato pesto mayonnaise, three cheese blend, flatbread.
  • 430 calories, 93 minutes of walking.

Roast Beef Wrap $7.00

  • Roast beef, tomato, mayo, shredded cheese, red onion, oven-fried flatbread.
  • 440 calories, 95 minutes of walking.

Vegetarian Sandwich $7.00

  • Mediterranean hummus, grilled zucchini, red pepper, grape tomatoes, Kalamata olives, baby arugula, grilled spinach panini.
  • 390 calories, 84 minutes of walking.

Breakfast (Available until 10 a.m.)
Breakfast Sandwich $5.00

  • Eggs, bacon and cheddar cheese on an English muffin.
  • 310 calories, 67 minutes of walking.

Blueberry Muffin $3.00

  • 420 calories, 91 minutes of walking.

Second Cup Oatmeal $4.00

  • Summer berry and sweet vanilla oatmeal.
  • 330 calories, 71 minutes of walking.

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