Like it or not, health is the N° 1 priority on any pilot checklist and not surprisingly, the N° 1 threat to any pilot career around the globe. Pilots often fail job assessments due to their health, weight management, hypertension, cholesterol issues and diabetes. Think of it, on one side there is a highly skilled professional and on the other side a life/job opportunity they are going to miss because of a sequence of wrong patterns they deliberately chose to follow. This is simply not acceptable. Operators often send crew members small reminders on the importance of staying healthy and fit by adding a few pages at the bottom of our operation manuals. However, nowhere can we find exactly how we can fulfill our mission of staying healthy throughout years as pilots and as humans. If our health dissipates, the price to pay may become just unsustainable, and that’s a very well known issue in aviation.
Now, is every food or drink good for you as a pilot? The answer is a big NO. We all know that in order to lose weight or to maintain our current weight, we must follow the principle of calories in – calories out.
The amount of calories we put in our body should be equal (to maintain weight) or less (to lose weight) than the amount of calories we burn throughout the day, keeping in mind that 1kg (2.2lbs) of body fat is equal to 7700 calories introduced in excess into our body with nothing done to burn the calories off.
So in this article, I will give you some insights on foods pilots should avoid at all the costs especially when trying to kill time in the cockpit or at home. I’ll tell you the reason why and how you can substitute these foods with healthier options to make your travel journey more pleasant and healthy!
But before digging into the list of foods you should avoid, let me explain the difference between high-calorie density and low-calorie density diet and the reason why many people fail to live healthier just because they are not aware of this concept.
Calorie density, also known as calories per pound, is how much energy, i.e. calories, is provided per unit measure of food. In comparison, calorie-dense foods, such as fat and refined sugars, provide many calories in a small amount of food. Foods with low-calorie density—fruits, vegetables—provide fewer total calories and greater nutrition in a larger volume of food.
You now see why so many pilots can’t successfully cope with a weight loss journey or an attempt to it. Most of the time, the food going around in the cockpit is the high calorie dense type (Crew Meals!) You need a lot of it to be satisfied and the amount of calories is incredibly high compared to low calorie dense food, which fills you up and completely kills your hunger while introducing the lowest amount of calories possible into a body that has sat all day long in the cockpit.
Think of your Metabolism like that barbecue you like to use during the weekends. This barbecue needs a small and continuous supply of low calorie dense foods (good quality wood) to keep burning and produce the energy to process all our metabolic functions and transform the food into energy (thermic effect of food ) by simply applying the rules of thermodynamic and in particular the third principle, “Energy can not be destroyed, but it can only be transformed “. This energy can be transformed into fat or muscle, or stored as quick usage glycogen reserve. The final results will depend on how many calories you introduced into your body during the day and how many calories you burnt off - keeping in mind that every time you introduce 7700 calories extra into your body, you will gain 1 KG of pure fat weight. Excessive amounts of fat not only deposit under your skin and through your muscles but more importantly, they deposit through your organs. Called visceral fat, this is the number one cause of diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases among pilots, cholesterol and strokes included.
Let’s dive into 5 common food options that should disappear TODAY from the cockpit if you want to get fit now:
1. POTATO CHIPS: Whole potatoes are healthy and filling, but French fries and potato chips are not. They are very high in calories, and it’s easy to eat way too many of them. What’s more, baked, roasted or fried potatoes may contain cancer-causing substances called acrylamides. Therefore, it’s best to eat plain, boiled potatoes, which are easy to take to work and can last quite long without being refrigerated. If you can’t live without potato chips, try a healthier option such as baked vegetables, with no oils and trans fats in it.
2. WHITE BREAD: Highly refined and often containing a lot of added sugar, white bread is high on the glycemic index and can spike your blood sugar levels. This means it creates spikes in your insulin levels followed by huge crashes within a very short amount of time. As you will feel hungry pretty fast after eating white bread, your blood sugars will go down, making you feel fatigued and tired and you will lose focus. On top of all that, it can increase the risk of diabetes if you are genetically predisposed to it. Instead of white bread, bring Rye Crackers or cakes or simply whole wheat bread with tons of fibers in it to work. They are easy to transport, don’t require refrigeration, and are a great source of energy throughout your day
3. CANDY BARS: Candy bars are extremely unhealthy. They pack a lot of added sugar, added oils and refined flour into a small package. Candy bars are high in calories and low in nutrients, and not very filling. An average-sized candy bar covered in chocolate can contain between 300 to 350 calories, and extra-large bars may contain even more. A great alternative that I strongly suggest EVERY pilot to have is sport nutrition protein bars. They are packed with fiber and protein, which is what you need when you fly. (Be sure to go for low calorie protein bars with at least 20g of protein and the lowest possible levels of sugar and fat) An average or 20-40 grams of protein should be consumed on each meal and I can guarantee you will forget what hunger means especially at high altitudes. Your body will thank you and reward you with tons of energy and a good mood! And don’t worry you will not turn into Arnold, not even close to him!
4. PASTRIES, COOKIES & CAKES: This is probably the biggest temptation pilots have to deal with while flying, especially when it’s your fellow cabin crews tempting you. Pastries, cookies and cakes are packed with unhealthy ingredients like added sugar and refined flour. They may also contain artificial trans fats, which are very harmful and linked to many diseases. Pastries, cookies and cakes are not very satisfying, and you will likely become hungry very quickly after eating these high-calorie, low-nutrient foods. If you’re craving something sweet, reach for a piece of dark chocolate (99% cacao) instead, but watch out not to have more than 2 or 3 squares.
5. SUGARY DRINKS & FRUIT JUICES: Sugar-sweetened beverages, like soda, are one of the unhealthiest foods on the planet. They are strongly associated with weight gain and can have disastrous health effects when consumed in excess. And even though sugary drinks contain a lot of calories, your brain doesn’t register them like solid food. Liquid sugar calories don’t make you feel full, and you won’t eat less food to compensate. Instead, you end up adding these calories on top of your normal intake. If you are serious about losing weight, consider giving up sugary drinks completely. Most fruit juices you find at the supermarket have very little in common with whole fruit. Fruit juices are highly processed and loaded with sugar. In fact, they can contain just as much sugar and calories as soda, if not more. Also, fruit juice usually doesn’t have fiber and doesn’t require chewing. This means that a glass of orange juice won’t have the same effects on fullness as an orange, which makes it easy for you to consume large quantities in a short amount of time. Stay away from fruit juice and eat whole fruit instead. In the cockpit, consume a lot of fruit, such as apples, or oranges or peaches or grapes or a banana and drink tons of water!
Strive to become the best version of yourself!
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