How to beat jet lag

A nutritionist and sleep doctor let us in on good food choices and how to handle jet lag like a star

How to beat jet lag

Source: Best Health Magazine, November/December 2008

Travel is meant to be glamorous. But hours of confinement in the airport and the plane, often with little access to healthful food, can take their toll, leaving you feeling tired, bloated or grumpy on arrival.

Joan Salge Blake, a registered dietitian and professor of nutrition at Boston University and author of the book (and blog) Nutrition & You, takes a remarkably positive view of the airlines’ cut-backs on food service. ‘You used to be a prisoner in the sky,’ she says. ‘But these cut-backs are forcing people to bring their own food on board, which empowers the traveller to eat more healthfully. I see it as a service to the flyer. And I’m noticing a much better selection available in airports.’

On a recent trip to Florida, for example, she saw containers of carrot sticks with hummus, sliced mango, chicken Caesar salad and fruit cups. (For more healthy snack choices at the airport, click through to ‘4 healthy airport snacks.”)

Coping with jet lag

Jet lag is, of course, the ultimate energy sapper when travelling. Dr. Colin Shapiro, director of the Sleep and Alertness Clinic at Toronto Western Hospital and the author of SLAM Jetlag (SLAM stands for sleep, light, action, medication/melatonin), defines jet lag as ‘the mismatch of your body clock with the external environment.‘ He notes that melatonin supplements are one useful way to minimize its effects. ‘Melatonin, a hormone naturally produced in the pineal gland in the brain, is the essential agent in setting the body’s clock,’ he explains. ‘Our melatonin levels rise when we sleep and diminish when the body is exposed to light.’ Shapiro cautions that melatonin can’t eliminate jet lag, but can speed the body’s adjustment to a new time zone.

Though none of the women we spoke with about their travel tips uses melatonin supplements, most of them, either instinctively or through experience, practise another of Shapiro’s recommended anti-jet lag strategies. Whether her trip is for business or pleasure, Mary Symons makes a point of getting outdoors and walking around in the daylight once she’s arrived at her destination.

Shapiro concurs that doing some physical activity in the sunlight can be beneficial‘as long as your timing’s right. It’s actually a rather complicated formula, but you can find a simple, detailed table (drawn from his book) at, which shows optimum sun-exposure times for dozens of sample trips. For example, for a trip from Montreal to Dubai, which represents a nine-hour time difference, the best times to be exposed to bright light are the hours from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. (destination time); the worst, 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. (destination time).

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