Airports are not exactly sanctuaries for health-conscious eaters, but scouting out a healthful meal may be getting a little easier, at least according to a new report ranking America's busiest airports in terms of their heart-healthy food offerings.
A team of nutritionists from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) issued a report last week that found that 83 percent of restaurants in 15 of the nation's busiest airports now offer at least one low-fat, cholesterol-free meal.
The number of airport restaurants offering healthy foods has "increased sharply from 2001," when PCRM's first airport food review found just 57 percent of airport eateries featuring at least one healthful option on their menus, according to the report.
Detroit ranked at the top of the 2011 report for the third year in a row, while Denver and Los Angeles international airports slipped in the ranking this year.
"Healthy airport food has taken off over the past decade, but there is still room for improvement," says PCRM nutrition education director Susan Levin, M.S., R.D. "The good news is that healthy vegetarian choices are available now at most airports. But some terminals are still clogged with high-fat, high-cholesterol offerings like pizza and cheeseburgers."
Top ten US airports offering heart-healthy meals, according to the report:
1. Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport: Every restaurant at the airport offers at least one healthful meal, such as a veggie burrito (hold the cheese) at Diego's Mexican Cantina, the black bean burger at Slapshotz, and the hummus and veggie platter at the Heineken Bar.
2. San Francisco International Airport: Healthy options include organic smoky split pea soup with a hummus and veggie wrap at the San Francisco Soup Company or a beet salad, tofu wrap, quinoa bowl, or udon noodles at Plant Café and Pinkberry.
3. Washington Dulles International Airport: Options for health-conscious travelers include the grilled veggie sandwich at Harry's Tap Room and pasta with marinara sauce at Famous Famiglia.
4. Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport: Cholesterol-free meals include the organic oatmeal (ordered with soymilk) or the roasted beet and pear salad at French Meadow Bakery and Café or the smoked tofu burrito or wrap with Cajun, Thai, or teriyaki flavors at 360 Gourmet.
5. Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport: Health-conscious travelers can enjoy the poblano, potato, and zucchini taco at Urban Taco or the falafel wrap or three-bean chili at Ufood Grill.
6. Las Vegas McCarran International Airport: Healthy options include the smoked tofu burrito at 360 Gourmet or vegan wrap with hummus found at more than 10 of the restaurants in the airport, including Bar One, Home Turf Sports Bar, and Wipeout Willy's.
7. Denver International Airport: Low-fat choices include the veggie burger at the Boulder Beer Tap House, the portobello mushroom sandwich at the Colorado Sports Bar, and the Colorado Sunshine Wrap or the tofu wrap at Itza Wrap! Itza Bowl!
8. Miami International Airport: Try the hummus platter at Beaudevin and the Unique veggie burger or the Asian veggie salad bowl at The Counter.
9. Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport: Low-fat meals include the chopped Mediterranean salad, hummus appetizer, and bruschetta at Barfly and the veggie rice bowl or burrito at Blue Burrito.
10. Charlotte Douglas International Airport: Choose the veggie burger at Stock Car Café or the portobello mushroom and red pepper sandwich (hold the cheese) at the Carolina Beer Co.
Renowned US-based Frommers.com, website of the bestselling travel guide series, offers a few strategies for finding healthy grub when faced with flight delays. Be prepared and tote along some portable snacks that you can pass through security screens -- most government regulations allow solid foods such as carrot sticks or dried fruits.
Or make wise choices at airport shops, opting for a small bag of unsalted nuts or energy bars. Granola bars may seem like a good choice, but many of them are little more than candy bars in disguise, says Frommer's. Read the ingredients: if any of the first three are sugar, make another choice.