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Download this fact sheet2010 Airport Food Review

 

A Report by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
Winter 2010

As the holiday travel season begins, nutrition experts with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) have reviewed the food served at some of the country’s busiest airports. PCRM’s report, now in its 10th year, reveals that many airport restaurants are adding healthier options to their menus, but others still leave hungry travelers scrambling to find nutritious meals.  

After studying 18 major airports in more than a dozen states, PCRM dietitians found that 82 percent of airport restaurants now offer at least one low-fat, high-fiber, cholesterol-free vegetarian entrée, up from 79 percent last year. Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport received the highest score for the second year in a row, and the majority of airports surveyed increased their healthful offerings since last year. But healthful choices are still difficult to find at some airports, including Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

PCRM’s 10th annual Airport Food Review finds considerable improvements since the inaugural review in 2001. Although some airports have lost points from year to year, the overall trend is toward offering passengers the healthful meals they need to handle the stress associated with air travel. In 2001, the average score was 57 percent. This score has risen 25 points to 82 percent. Detroit’s airport is the decade’s most improved, rising from last place in 2001 with a score of 33 percent to its current score of 96 percent.

Method
From June to November of 2010, PCRM dietitians reviewed restaurant menus at 18 of the busiest U.S. airports. Each airport’s score was determined by dividing the number of restaurants offering at least one healthful option by the total number of restaurants. Facilities that do not serve entrées, such as snack food kiosks and small coffee shops, were not included in the review.

A restaurant was rated as healthful if it served at least one low-fat, high-fiber, cholesterol-free breakfast, lunch, or dinner entrée. Healthful entrées at airports covered in this report include the Berkeley Vegan Pizza at zpizza at the Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport and the Tofusion Bowl at Ufood Grill in Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. San Francisco International Airport’s Harbor Village Kitchen offers a range of healthful options, including a vegetable curry and rice plate, veggie samosas, and vegetarian chow mein.

High-fiber, low-fat vegetarian foods have been shown to reduce the risk of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. A recent review published in the journal Diabetologia found that people who ate the most meat had the highest risk of type 2 diabetes. A recent study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition linked meaty diets to weight gain and concluded that reducing meat consumption could lead to weight loss.

Results
Overall, 82 percent of the restaurants at the 18 airports examined for the report offered at least one healthful entrée. Detroit remained in first place for the third year in a row. The nation’s two busiest airports—Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and Chicago O’Hare International Airport—both fell to near the bottom of this year’s list.

While 12 of the 18 airports surveyed saw an increase in healthful options this year, five airports lost points. Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport was the biggest loser, with a seven point decrease from last year’s score. Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport lost three points and landed in last place with a score of 67 percent.

Washington, D.C.,-area travelers looking for healthier options may want to consider flying out of Dulles International Airport, which was this year’s most improved with a gain of 21 points from its 2009 score of 68 percent. Other airports showing significant improvements include Las Vegas McCarran International Airport, which jumped 11 points from 2009, and Miami International Airport, which rose nine points.

Detailed Review
Following is a summary of what PCRM nutrition experts found at each airport, ranked from best to worst:

1. Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (96 percent): Detroit received the highest score for the third year in a row. Almost every airport restaurant continues to offer at least one healthful entrée, such as the veggie sushi at Musashi, the hummus veggie wrap at National Coney Island Express, and tabouli, veggie stir fry, and almond rice salad at Mediterranean Grill.

2. San Francisco International Airport (95 percent): San Francisco is in second place again this year and improved slightly from last year’s 94 percent. Hungry travelers can enjoy a vegetable curry and rice plate or vegetarian chow mein at the Harbor Village Kitchen or a falafel in pita bread with cucumber, broccoli, and tomatoes at Amoura Café.  

3. (tie) Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport (90 percent): Houston moved up from last year’s fourth place position with a gain of four points. Healthful options include the Berkeley Vegan Pizza with vegan cheese, veggie crumbles, zucchini, tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, and peppers at zpizza and the minestrone soup and veggie burger at Lefty’s Lonestar Grill.

3. (tie) Newark Liberty International Airport (90 percent): Newark increased its healthful options this year, rising from 85 percent to 90 percent and tying for third place. Health-conscious travelers can enjoy a veggie burger or hummus and veggies with flatbread at GreenLeaf’s Grille or a Veggie Supreme bagel sandwich at Great American Bagel.

4. Washington Dulles International Airport (89 percent): Dulles is this year’s most improved airport. It made a huge jump from its spot in second-to-last place last year with a score of 68 percent. Out of 36 restaurants, 32 now offer at least one healthy, low-fat meal. Health-conscious passengers have a wide range of options, including the veggie burrito with rice, beans, guacamole, and grilled veggies at California Tortilla and the veggie roll and veggie dumplings at Matsutake Sushi.

5. Denver International Airport (88 percent): Denver saw a substantial gain of eight points this year. Now 50 of the airport’s 57 restaurants offer at least one healthful plant-based meal option. Filling low-fat choices include the Veggie “Philly” Sandwich at Lefty’s Front Range Grille, the Colorado Sunshine Wrap or the Tofu Wrap at Itza Wrap! Itza Bowl!, and the grilled portobello sandwich (request no cheese) at the New Belgium Hub Bar and Grill.

6. Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (85 percent): Minneapolis gained two points this year but stayed in sixth place because of tough competition from other airports. Diners seeking cholesterol-free meals can enjoy a Southwestern black bean salad at Caribou Coffee, the grilled tempeh Reuben or veggie chili and rice at French Meadow Bakery and Café, or the smoked tofu burrito at 360 Gourmet Burritos.

7. Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (84 percent): DFW has seen some ups and downs in the past few years. The airport tied for first place in 2008, and then dropped a staggering 18 points in 2009. But this year, DFW started to move back up with a gain of seven points. The food and beverage manager at DFW has set a high bar for future concession establishments, requiring they have at least one featured vegetarian menu item. In the meantime, health-conscious travelers can find a substantial number of healthful options, including vegetarian sushi from Blue Bamboo Xpress and the Tofusion Bowl at Ufood Grill.

8. (tie) Los Angeles International Airport (81 percent): This celebrity hotspot holds steady in the middle of the pack, gaining just one point from last year’s score. Healthful highlights include the vegan fajitas at Camacho’s, vegetable sushi rolls at Sushi Boy, and the vegetable sandwich with sprouts, sun-dried tomatoes, and avocado at Creative Croissants.

8. (tie) Miami International Airport (81 percent): Miami International Airport’s restaurants have been busy adding healthier options this year. Miami jumped up to eighth place from its 10th place spot last year. Visitors can find bean soups, avocado salad, and plantains at La Carreta Restaurant, a coconut mango salad and grilled veggie sandwich (no cheese) at Casa Bacardi, and a vegetarian platter and black beans and rice at Bongos.

9. (tie) Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (80 percent): Phoenix is this year’s biggest loser. The airport fell to ninth place from last year’s third place finish, with a loss of seven points. Just 48 of the airport’s 60 restaurants offer a healthful, cholesterol-free entrée. These low-fat meals include pea and barley soup at California Pizza Kitchen, veggie curry at Yoshi’s Asian Grill, and the Veggie Delight (hold the cheese) at the Great Steak & Potato Co.

9. (tie) Orlando International Airport (80 percent): Orlando lost three points this year, falling from sixth place to ninth place. Hungry travelers seeking heart-healthy fare should try the lentil chili at McCoy’s Bar and Grill, the Mediterranean wrap at Au Bon Pain, and the soba noodles or vegan Pad Thai from Cibo Express.

10. Baltimore/Washington International Airport (79 percent): BWI improved slightly from last year’s score of 71 percent. Thirty-one of the airport’s 39 eateries now offer low-fat, cholesterol-free entrées. The best bet for savvy travelers is still the Silver Diner, which offers portobello vegetarian stir-fry with tofu, veggies, and wheat noodles in teriyaki sauce, summer salad, and veggie chili with kidney beans, mushrooms, carrots, and squash.

11. Las Vegas McCarran International Airport (77 percent): Las Vegas—which has spent years near the tail end of PCRM’s report and fell to last place in 2009—has seen major improvements this year. Las Vegas gained 11 points and moved up from its 2009 position in last place. Travelers have more healthful options to choose from this year—including the vegetarian fajita rice bowl at Blue Burrito Grill and the vegetarian sandwich (guacamole, grilled zucchini, oven-roasted portobello mushroom, and peppers) at Budweiser Racing Track Lounge.

12. Charlotte Douglas International Airport (72 percent): Charlotte debuted in PCRM’s airport food review this year with a score of 72 percent. The airport has substantial room for improvement, but 33 of its 46 eateries do offer a healthful, cholesterol-free meal option. Health-conscious passengers can choose from the edamame, seaweed salad, and veggie sushi at First in Flight Bar and the grilled vegetable sandwich at Rum Grill Express.

13. Chicago O’Hare International Airport (71 percent): After falling steeply last year with a loss of 20 points, Chicago gained three points this year. However, because of other airports’ more significant improvements, Chicago remained in 13th place. While some of O’Hare’s restaurants are working to add healthier options, most terminals are still packed with restaurants serving hot dogs, cheeseburgers, and other high-fat fare. Savvy travelers can still find healthful meals, including the marinated portobello panini at Goose Island Brewing Company and the Mediterranean platter at La Tapenade Mediterranean Café.

14. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (70 percent): Atlanta’s airport—the world’s busiest airport—lost six points this year and fell from ninth place to second to last. Terminals are clogged with restaurants serving hot dogs, fried chicken, and pizza. But travelers looking for healthful meals can find a few excellent choices, including the hummus cilantro wrap at Great Wraps, the three-bean salad or hearty vegetable soup at Nature’s Table, or Paschal’s Southern Cuisine’s vegetable plate with a choice of black-eyed peas, green beans, cabbage, yams, and corn.

15. Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (67 percent): This airport in the nation’s capital had been slowly improving over the last few years, but this year it fell three points, landing in last place. Only 22 of the airport’s 33 restaurants offer a healthful cholesterol-free meal option. Hungry passengers should search for entrées such as a hummus and veggie flatbread sandwich at Cosi or a vegan veggie sandwich at Cibo Express. Many other eateries only offer burgers and other greasy bar food.

Table 1: Airport Scores for 2010

Airport

Score

Healthful Restaurants/Total Restaurants

1.  Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport

96%

52/54

2.  San Francisco International Airport

95%

60/63

3. (tie) Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport

90%

54/60

3. (tie) Newark Liberty International Airport

90%

44/49

4.  Washington Dulles International Airport

89%

32/36

5. Denver International Airport

88%

50/57

6. Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport

85%

56/66

7. Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport

84%

80/95

8. (tie) Los Angeles International Airport

81%

46/57

8. (tie) Miami International Airport

81%

56/69

9. (tie) Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport

80%

48/60

9. (tie) Orlando International Airport

80%

32/40

10. Baltimore/Washington International Airport

79%

31/39

11. Las Vegas McCarran International Airport

77%

47/61

12. Charlotte Douglas International Airport

72%

33/46

13. Chicago O’Hare International Airport

71%

70/99

14. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport

70%

62/89

15. Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport

67%

22/33

Table 2: Comparisons from Previous Reviews

Airport

Score 2010

Score 2009

Score 2008

Score 2007

Score 2006

Score 2005

Score 2004

Score
2003

Score 2002

Score
2001

1.  Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport

96%

100%

95%

93%

96%

89%

83%

70%

N/A

33%

2.  San Francisco International Airport

95%

94%

77%

77%

96%

88%

N/A

82%

96%

96%

3. (tie) Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport

90%

86%

83%

N/A

76%

46%

N/A

64%

50%

N/A

3. (tie) Newark Liberty International Airport

90%

85%

75%

89%

95%

75%

63%

60%

N/A

N/A

4. Washington Dulles International Airport

89%

68%

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

5. Denver International Airport

88%

80%

79%

84%

89%

78%

78%

83%

79%

61%

6. Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport

85%

83%

77%

81%

84%

68%

54%

34%

44%

66%

7. Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport

84%

77%

95%

94%

94%

81%

59%

43%

53%

50%

8. (tie) Los Angeles International Airport

81%

80%

81%

89%

84%

69%

53%

47%

54%

60%

8. (tie) Miami International Airport

81%

72%

75%

67%

N/A

N/A

85%

68%

N/A

N/A

9.  (tie) Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport

80%

87%

82%

82%

N/A

75%

44%

50%

48%

58%

9. (tie) Orlando International Airport

80%

83%

76%

73%

97%

76%

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

10. Baltimore/
Washington International Airport

79%

71%

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

11. Las Vegas McCarran International Airport

77%

66%

71%

75%

69%

42%

33%

38%

45%

45%

12. Charlotte Douglas International Airport

72%

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

13.Chicago O’Hare International Airport

71%

68%

88%

93%

91%

92%

75%

71%

42%

64%

14. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport

70%

76%

67%

72%

83%

77%

64%

59%

49%

40%

15. Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport

67%

70%

60%

42%

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

 

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