Sunday, July 22, 2012

Diabetic meals on Delta flights

This year I've had to take several extremely long transcontinental flights, and I decided to pre-order the diabetic meals to see what they were like.

After the first flight, I knew this is the way to go in the future.  In spite of my tiredness, I felt a lot better after disembarking than I usually do.  You sometimes read reports of how calorie and fat laden airline food can be, and I really appreciated eating more salad and fresh fruit rather than being even nominally tempted (out of boredom more than anything else) to eat the cardboard-flavoured rocks that passed for bread and the doughy bowls of overly sweetened desserts.

While none of the meals were terribly memorable, a typical example was an entree consisting of white rice and lean chicken served with vegetables, a side salad, and a small portion of tropical fruit for dessert.  The salad dressing was fat free, and the ingredient listing showed sugar in addition to balsamic vinegar, which happens to be a greater source of carbohydrates than most other vinegars.  Margarine accompanied the aforementioned doughy white bread roll, while the passengers without dietary restrictions were offered real butter, which I would have preferred.  Since I wasn't eating the bread anyway, I didn't touch the omega 6 rich margarine either.  Somehow I wasn't surprised there was no sign of any real "healthy whole grains" on the tray.

Clearly, I think Delta has room to improve.  The little printed sheet that accompanied the meal explains it all:

Look at the four criteria above:  the meal was low in calories, cholesterol, fat and sodium.  The low calorie and fat content meant the meal wasn't terribly filling.  However, given the lack of movement on a long-haul flight (over 15 hours in my case), I suspect that staying slightly hungry helped me avoid that horrible sluggish feeling that most people get after landing and which can make jetlag worse to overcome.

Dietary cholesterol is known to have very little impact on cholesterol in the bloodstream, and sodium is another one that is widely demonized even though the real science does not point to it being harmful in and of itself.  The absence of the widely recommended "healthy whole grains" serves to reminds me each time just how seldom these are served in institutional settings.

But what about the total carbohydrates served?  Once again, we are tiptoeing around the giant elephant in the room.  If a diabetic person is unable to properly process sugars, why isn't a sugar count provided as one of the measures on the criteria sheet? 

To be honest, I don't blame Delta per se.  They appear to be following nutritional guidelines that we already know are based on flawed science, and as I already mentioned, I found this meal to be preferable to what the other passengers were offered.  Airlines are in the business of flying people to their destinations safely and on time.  Noone is asking them to challenge the so-called experts on diabetes management.

But I am sure you will also agree that there is room for improvement.