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2012 Airport Food Review

Newark Tops List for First Time; Low-Fat, Plant-Based Options Remain Elusive in D.C. and Atlanta

A Report by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
November 2012

As 24 million travelers prepare to descend on the nation’s airports, 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 12th report reveals that many airport restaurants include healthful options on their menus. In 2001, the average score in the Airport Food Review was 57 percent. This score has risen 19 points to 76 percent. But a few of the nation’s busiest airports leave travelers few options for healthful meals.

After examining 18 major airports—including ones in Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Orlando, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., that are expected to be the busiest at Thanksgiving this year—PCRM dietitians found that 76 percent of airport restaurants now offer at least one low-fat, high-fiber, cholesterol-free vegetarian entrée.

Newark Liberty International Airport received a score of 92 percent and topped the list for the first time. It’s an impressive ascent for Newark, which has a turbulent past—bouncing between ninth place at its worst and third place at its best. But healthful choices are still difficult to find at some airports: Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport land in the bottom spots for the third year in a row.

Method

From June to November 2012, 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 smoked tofu, broccoli, and mushroom burrito at 360 Gourmet in Las Vegas and a Mediterranean platter with pita points, hummus, olive tapenade, fresh asparagus, yellow zucchini, green zucchini, baby carrots, and Kalamata olives at Mediterranean Café in Chicago.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that air travel may facilitate the transmission of influenza. But these meals contain a colorful array of vegetables, fruits, grains, and legumes that provide immunity-boosting nutrients to help airplane passengers stay stress-free and healthy. Vegetarian diets can lower anxiety and stress, according to a recent study in Nutrition Journal. And the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the world’s largest organization of nutrition professionals, recommends boosting your immunity with protein from nuts and tofu, vitamin A from sweet potatoes, carrots, and dark leafy greens, vitamin C from citrus fruits, vitamin E from whole-grain products, and zinc from beans.

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.

Chicago O’Hare International Airport is this year’s most improved. It scored 84 percent, gaining 13 points from its previous score of 71 percent.

San Francisco International Airport is the biggest loser, decreasing 19 points from last year. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport lost 13 points this year, remaining in last place but dropping to 58 percent from 71 percent last year.

Detailed Review

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

1. Newark Liberty International Airport (92 percent): Newark makes a smooth climb from third to first place this year by continuing to add healthful options. New vegan options include a falafel sandwich at Mediterranean Bistro and a hummus wrap at Market Fresh. Among the many other healthful options at Newark, travelers will find seaweed salad, cucumber rolls, vegetable rolls, asparagus rolls, vegetable gyoza, and yakko tofu at Hamachi Sushi, and a grilled veggie burrito at Qdoba Mexican Grill.

2. Las Vegas McCarran International Airport (91 percent): Las Vegas gets a step closer to hitting the jackpot this year, gaining eight points and moving from fifth to second place. Just three years ago, Las Vegas was in last place. Vegetable-packed, cholesterol-free options include the smoked tofu, broccoli, and mushroom burrito at 360 Gourmet, which clearly labels the vegan items on its menu. Several HMS-operated eateries, including Home Turf Sports Bar and Fresh Attractions, serve a vegan wrap with hummus.

3. Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (90 percent): Detroit loses 10 points and drops from first to third place this year. But this airport that received a perfect score—twice—still has plenty of healthful entrées. Travelers can load up on seaweed salad and vegetable sushi at Musashi or visit Mediterranean Grill for tabbouleh, hummus, vegetarian grape leaves, vegetable stir fry, almond rice salad, and a fruit plate.

4. Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport (87 percent): Houston scored a 90 percent when it was last reviewed in 2010. It lost a few points since then, but travelers looking for creative plant-based options won’t go hungry. Visit zpizza for the Berkeley Vegan Pizza: marinara sauce, vegan cheese, veggie burger crumbles, zucchini, tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, and peppers. Mango Taco Truck serves veggie tacos with zucchini, summer squash, cilantro, peppers, and onions.

5. (tie) Chicago O’Hare International Airport (84 percent): Chicago maintains its score of 84 percent with a healthful mix of American and international cuisine. Johnny Rockets serves the Streamliner Burger—a Boca Burger with grilled onions, lettuce, tomato, pickle, and mustard. The Mediterranean platter at La Tapenade Mediterranean Café is with packed with pita points, hummus, olive tapenade, fresh asparagus, yellow zucchini, green zucchini, baby carrots, and Kalamata olives.

5. (tie) Miami International Airport (84 percent): Miami International Airport gains two points, moving from sixth to fifth place. Visitors should indulge in the hummus platter at Beaudevin or several legume-bases soups—black bean, white bean, lentil, chickpea, navy bean, and split pea—at La Carreta Restaurant.

6. (tie) Orlando International Airport (82 percent): Orlando climbs from its 2011 score of 80 percent. At Nature's Table Bistro— where vegetarian items are made-to-order vegan—opt for the veggie chili, sandwich, or wrap. ZaZa's Cuban Café also severs a vegan sandwich.

6. (tie) Washington Dulles International Airport (82 percent): Dulles loses 10 points this year. Options for health-conscious passengers include veggie burgers at Five Guys and Fuddruckers and veggie burritos at California Tortilla and Chipotle Mexican Grill. Make sure to hold the cheese on all of these meals.

6. (tie) Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (82 percent): Phoenix gains a point from last year. One of the best bets for a zero cholesterol meal at this airport is California Pizza Kitchen, which serves pea and barley soup, tortilla soup, grilled vegetable focaccia (hold the cheese), grilled vegetable salad, hummus, and veggie pizza (hold the cheese).

7. Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (81 percent): DFW drops two points from last year and moves from fifth to seventh place. Health-conscious travelers can find several healthful options, including the clearly labeled vegan burritos at 360 Gourmet. Ufood Grill offers a veggie burger, portobello sandwich (hold the cheese), Tofusion Bowl, and three-bean chili.

8. (tie) Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (78 percent): Minneapolis loses eight points this year, dropping from fourth place last year. French Meadow Bakery and Café is a perennial favorite of travelers looking for more than a burrito or veggie burger. Items clearly marked vegan on the menu include black bean chili, grilled tempeh reuben, and grilled tempeh cutlet.

8. (tie) Charlotte Douglas International Airport (78 percent): Charlotte loses three points, dipping back into the 70s after a score of 81 percent last year. Health-conscious passengers can choose the Tree Hugger Salad at Bad Daddy's Burger Bar or edamame, seaweed salad, veggie maki roll, cucumber roll, or avocado roll at Hissho Sushi.

9. (tie) San Francisco International Airport (77 percent): San Francisco drops 19 points, making the biggest nosedive this year. But low-fat, plant-based options are still available. PIQ bakery offers the Vegan-O panini, Amoura Café serves a falafel sandwich, and Perry’s has a vegan burger.

9. (tie) Denver International Airport (77 percent): Denver drops five points, but still caters to commuters looking for a cholesterol-free meal. Try the hummus platter at New Belgium Spoke, the veggie “Philly" sandwich (hold the cheese) at one of the three Lefty's Grille locations, or the tofu wrap at Itza Wrap! Itza Bowl!

10. (tie) Los Angeles International Airport (76 percent): LAX is on standby with last year’s score of 76 percent. Healthful highlights include vegan burritos and fajitas at Camacho's Café or edamame, cucumber rolls, or veggie rolls at Home Turf Sports Bar.

10. (tie) Baltimore/Washington International Airport (76 percent): BWI maintains altitude at 76 percent, which it also earned last year. Travelers will find low-fat, cholesterol-free options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner: oatmeal with soymilk at Jamba Juice, the No-Meato Burrito—highlighted as vegan-friendly on California Tortilla’s menu, and portobello stir-fry with tofu at the Silver Diner.

11. Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (69 percent): After making the second biggest gain last year, Reagan loses six points. Options are fairly limited at Reagan but include the hummus and veggie flatbread sandwich at Cosi and the arugula salad with oranges, spiced nuts, and citrus dressing at Sam and Harry’s.

12. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (58 percent): Dropping 13 points, Atlanta remains in last place this year. Just 45 of its 78 eateries offer at least one low-fat, high-fiber, cholesterol-free vegetarian entrée. The limited healthful options include spicy tofu made with vegetarian broth at Asian Chao, the vegan veggie wrap at Muffaletta’s on the Run, vegetarian chili at Nature's Table, or the falafel hummus wrap at Great Wraps.

Table 1: Airport Scores for 2012

Airport Score Healthful Restaurants/
Total Restaurants
1. Newark Liberty International Airport  92% 56/61
2. Las Vegas McCarran International Airport  91% 49/54
3. Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport  90% 52/58
4. Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport  87% 53/61
5. (tie) Chicago O’Hare International Airport  84% 81/97
5. (tie) Miami International Airport  84% 63/75
6. (tie) Orlando International Airport  82% 36/44
6. (tie) Washington Dulles International Airport  82% 32/39
6. (tie) Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport  82% 49/60
7. Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport  81% 76/94
8. (tie) Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport  78% 51/65
8. (tie) Charlotte Douglas International Airport  78% 35/45
9. (tie) San Francisco International Airport  77% 53/69
9. (tie) Denver International Airport  77% 47/61
10. (tie) Los Angeles International Airport  76% 38/50
10. (tie) Baltimore/Washington International Airport  76% 29/38
11. Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport  69% 24/35
12. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport  58% 45/78

Table 2: Comparisons from Previous Reviews

Airport Score 2012 Score 2011 Score 2010 Score 2009 Score 2008 Score 2007 Score 2006 Score 2005 Score 2004 Score 2003 Score 2002 Score 2001
1. Newark Liberty International Airport 92% N/A 90% 85% 75% 89% 95% 75% 63% 60% N/A N/A
2. Las Vegas McCarran International Airport 91% 83% 77% 66% 71% 75% 69% 42% 33% 38% 45% 45%
3. Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport 90% 100% 96% 100% 95% 93% 96% 89% 83% 70% N/A 33%
4. Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport 87% N/A 90% 86% 83% N/A 76% 46% N/A 64% 50% N/A
5. (tie) Chicago O’Hare International Airport 84% N/A 71% 68% 88% 93% 91% 92% 75% 71% 42% 64%
5. (tie) Miami International Airport 84% 82% 81% 72% 75% 67% N/A N/A 85% 68% N/A N/A
6. (tie) Orlando International Airport 82% 80% 80% 83% 76% 73% 97% 76% N/A N/A N/A N/A
6. (tie) Washington Dulles International Airport 82% 92% 89% 68% N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
6. (tie) Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport 82% 81% 80% 87% 82% 82% N/A 75% 44% 50% 48% 58%
7. Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport 81% 83% 84% 77% 95% 94% 94% 81% 59% 43% 53% 50%
8. (tie) Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport 78% 86% 85% 83% 77% 81% 84% 68% 54% 34% 44% 66%
8. (tie) Charlotte Douglas International Airport 78% 81% 72% N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
9. (tie) San Francisco International Airport 77% 96% 95% 94% 77% 77% 96% 88% 82% N/A 96% 96%
9. (tie) Denver International Airport 77% 82% 88% 80% 79% 84% 89% 78% 78% 83% 79% 61%
10. (tie) Los Angeles International Airport 76% 76% 81% 80% 81% 89% 84% 69% 53% 47% 54% 60%
10. (tie) Baltimore/
Washington International Airport
76% 76% 79% 71% N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
11. Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport 69% 75% 67% 70% 60% 42% N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
12. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport 58% 71% 70% 76% 67% 72% 83% 77% 64% 59% 49% 40%

 

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