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2011 Airport Food Review

Airports Continue to Add Healthier Meals: Detroit Tops List for Third Year, Low-Fat Vegetarian Options Still Hard to Find in D.C. and Atlanta

A Report by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
Winter 2011

Just in time for holiday travel, 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 11th report reveals that many airport restaurants are adding healthful options to their menus. In 2001, the average score in the Airport Food Review was 57 percent. This score has risen 26 points to 83 percent. But some airports still leave hungry travelers scrambling to find nutritious meals.

After examining 15 major airports in a dozen states, PCRM dietitians found that 83 percent of airport restaurants now offer at least one low-fat, high-fiber, cholesterol-free vegetarian entrée, up one percent from last year. Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport received a score of 100 percent and topped the list for the third year in a row. But healthful choices are still difficult to find at some airports, including Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

Method

From June to November 2011, PCRM dietitians reviewed restaurant menus at 15 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 roasted beet and pear salad at French Meadow Bakery and Café at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and the lentil chili at McCoy’s Bar and Grill at Orlando International Airport.

These meals contain a colorful array of vegetables, fruits, grains, and legumes that provide immunity-boosting nutrients to help airplane passengers stay healthy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that air travel “may facilitate the transmission of influenza.” The CDC also notes that “fruits and vegetables have high water and fiber content.” Building a meal from these foods can help keep travelers hydrated in a plane’s low-humidity environment.

High-fiber, low-fat vegetarian foods have also been shown to reduce the risk of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. Vegetarians have significantly lower blood pressure, waist circumference, body mass index, blood sugar, and triglycerides, compared with nonvegetarians, according to a recent study published in Diabetes Care.

Despite the variety of healthful options at many airports, high-fat, high-cholesterol foods are still abundant. Terminals at Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta are clogged with eateries serving hot dogs, fried chicken, and pizza. Many restaurants at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport offer only burgers or other greasy bar food.

Results

PCRM’s 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 nutritious meals they need to maintain a healthful diet and handle the stress associated with air travel. Ten of the 15 airports surveyed saw an increase in healthful options this year, one remained the same, and four lost points.

Charlotte Douglas International Airport made its debut in last year’s report and was this year’s most improved. It scored 81 percent, gaining nine points from its 2010 score of 72 percent. Other airports showing significant improvements include Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, which jumped eight points from 2010, and Las Vegas McCarran International Airport, which rose six points to 83 percent.

Denver International Airport was the biggest loser, with a six point decrease from last year’s score. Although Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport gained a point this year, it landed in last place with a score of 71 percent.

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 (100 percent): Detroit tops the list for the third year in a row. It’s the only airport in the history of PCRM’s report to receive a perfect score—twice. Every restaurant at the airport offers at least one healthful entrée, 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 (96 percent): San Francisco lags slightly behind Detroit in second place for the third year. But its score continues to ascend—up from 95 percent last year. Hungry travelers can enjoy the 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 (92 percent): Dulles was last year’s most improved airport. It gains just three points this year and climbs from fourth to third place. Options for health-conscious passengers include the grilled veggie sandwich (hold the cheese) at Harry’s Tap Room and pasta with marinara sauce at Famous Famiglia.

4. Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (86 percent): Minneapolis gained a point this year, moving up from sixth place last year. Diners seeking cholesterol-free meals can enjoy the organic oatmeal (ordered with soymilk) or the roasted beet and pear salad (hold the cheese) at French Meadow Bakery and Café or the smoked tofu burrito or wrap with Cajun, Thai, or teriyaki flavors at 360 Gourmet.

5. (tie) Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (83 percent): DFW drops a point from last year, but moves up to fifth place. Health-conscious travelers can find healthful options, including the poblano, potato, and zucchini taco (hold the cheese) at Urban Taco and the falafel wrap or three-bean chili at Ufood Grill.

5. (tie) Las Vegas McCarran International Airport (83 percent): Las Vegas continues its impressive climb, gaining six points and moving from 11th to fifth place. In 2010, it gained 11 points and moved up from its 2009 position in last place. A smoked tofu burrito is available at 360 Gourmet and a vegan wrap with hummus is available at more than 10 of the restaurants operated by the HMSHost, including Bar One, Home Turf Sports Bar, and Wipeout Willy's.

6. (tie) Denver International Airport (82 percent): It was a turbulent year for Denver, which dropped six points—after a gain of eight points last year. Filling, low-fat choices include the veggie burger at the Boulder Beer Tap House, the portobello mushroom sandwich (ask for no cheese) at the Colorado Sports Bar, and the Colorado Sunshine Wrap or the tofu wrap at Itza Wrap! Itza Bowl!

6. (tie) Miami International Airport (82 percent): Miami International Airport gained a point from last year, moving from eighth place to sixth place. Visitors can try the hummus platter at Beaudevin and the Unique veggie burger or the Asian veggie salad bowl at The Counter.

7. (tie) Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (81 percent): Phoenix gains a point, making a slight recovery from last year’s seven point drop. Just 46 of the airport’s 57 restaurants offer a healthful, cholesterol-free entrée. Low-fat meals include the chopped Mediterranean salad, hummus appetizer, and bruschetta (hold the cheese on each) at Barfly and the veggie rice bowl or burrito (hold the cheese on both) at Blue Burrito.

7. (tie) Charlotte Douglas International Airport (81 percent): Charlotte is this year’s most improved airport. It made a huge jump from 12th place last year with a score of 72 percent. The airport still has room for improvement, but many of its eateries do offer a healthful, cholesterol-free meal option. Health-conscious passengers can choose the veggie burger at Stock Car Café and the portobello mushroom and red pepper sandwich (hold the cheese) at the Carolina Beer Co.

8. Orlando International Airport (80 percent): Orlando maintains its 2010 score of 80 percent, but still climbs from ninth to eighth place. Hungry travelers seeking heart-healthy fare should try the vegetarian lentil chili at McCoy’s Bar and Grill or the vegetarian sandwich at ZaZa's Cuban Café.

9. (tie) Los Angeles International Airport (76 percent): This celebrity hotspot drops from eighth to ninth place this year, losing five points from last year’s score. Healthful highlights include the Vegetarian Works pizza (hold the cheese) at Malibu Al’s, vegetable sushi rolls at Sushi Boy, and the roasted pepper and eggplant sandwich at Brioche Dorée.

9. (tie) Baltimore/Washington International Airport (76 percent): BWI declined slightly from last year’s score of 79 percent. Thirty-one of the airport’s 41 eateries now offer low-fat, cholesterol-free entrées. The Silver Diner remains the best bet for savvy travelers. It offers a portobello vegetarian stir-fry with tofu, veggies, and wheat noodles in teriyaki sauce, as well as a summer salad and a veggie chili with kidney beans, mushrooms, carrots, and squash.

10. Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (75 percent): This airport made the second biggest gain this year—eight points—helping it move out of its last place position in 2010. Hungry passengers should search for meals such as the Asian peanut-tofu wrap at Hudson Aero Mart and Hudson Euro Café or the balsamic garden panini with squash and zucchini (request no cheese) at National Airport Grill. Many other eateries only offer burgers and other greasy bar food.

11. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (71 percent): Atlanta’s airport—the world’s busiest—fell to last place this year. Terminals are clogged with restaurants serving hot dogs, fried chicken, and pizza. But travelers looking for healthful meals can find a few choices, including spicy tofu made with vegetarian broth at Asian Chao, burritos or tacos with black beans, pinto beans, or tofu crumbles and grilled veggies (hold the cheese) at Moe’s Southwest Grill, or Bistro Del Sol’s Mediterranean Trio: hummus, tabouli, and stuffed grape leaves.

Table 1: Airport Scores for 2011

Airport
Score Healthful Restaurants/Total Restaurants
1. Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport  100% 59/59
2. San Francisco International Airport  96% 65/68
3. Washington Dulles International Airport  92% 35/38
4. Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport  86% 57/66
5. (tie) Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport  83% 82/99
5. (tie) Las Vegas McCarran International Airport  83% 48/58
6. (tie) Denver International Airport   82% 46/56
6. (tie) Miami International Airport   82% 60/73
7. (tie) Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport   81% 46/57
7. (tie) Charlotte Douglas International Airport  81% 39/48
8. Orlando International Airport   80% 33/41
9. (tie) Los Angeles International Airport   76% 42/55
9. (tie) Baltimore/ Washington International Airport   76% 31/41
10. Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport  75% 27/36
11. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport 71% 64/90

Table 2: Comparisons from Previous Reviews

Airport Score 2011 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          100% 96% 100% 95% 93% 96% 89% 83% 70% N/A 33%
2. San Francisco International Airport          96% 95% 94% 77% 77% 96% 88% N/A 82% 96% 96%
3. Washington Dulles International Airport 92% 89% 68% N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
4. Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport          86% 85% 83% 77% 81% 84% 68% 54% 34% 44% 66%
5. (tie) Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport           83% 84% 77% 95% 94% 94% 81% 59% 43% 53% 50%
5. (tie) Las Vegas McCarran International Airport           83% 77% 66% 71% 75% 69% 42% 33% 38% 45% 45%
6. (tie) Denver International Airport         82% 88% 80% 79% 84% 89% 78% 78% 83%  79%  61%
6. (tie) Miami International Airport        82% 81% 72% 75% 67% N/A N/A 85% 68% N/A N/A
7. (tie) Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport       81% 80% 87% 82% 82% N/A 75% 44% 50% 48% 58%
7. (tie) Charlotte Douglas International Airport 81% 72% N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
8. Orlando International Airport 80% 80% 83% 76% 73% 97% 76% N/A N/A N/A N/A
9. (tie) Los Angeles International Airport          76% 81% 80% 81% 89% 84% 69% 53% 47% 54% 60%
9. (tie) Baltimore/ Washington International Airport 76% 79% 71% N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
10. Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport 75% 67% 70% 60% 42% N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
11. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport           71% 70% 76% 67% 72% 83% 77% 64% 59% 49% 40%

 

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