Hungry holiday travelers at Baltimore-Washington Thurgood Marshall International Airport can find a healthful meal there but may be better off bringing their own food, a study released Monday suggested.
More than 75 percent of the restaurants at BWI serve up at least some low-fat, cholsterol-free meals, according to the study by the nonprofit Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine based in Washington. But the airport's score hasn't improved much over the past four years it has been included in the annual study.
The 2012 Airport Food Review evaluated menus at 18 of the nation's busiest airports and found that, overall, airports are becoming more healthful places to eat. The group reported that 76 percent of airport restaurants now offer dining options that include fresh vegetables, fruits, grains and vegetarian items like tofu, compared with 57 percent that did in its initial survey in 2001.
Newark Liberty International Airport scored the highest in the study, with 92 percent of its restaurants offering healthful choices.The lowest score went to Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, with 58 percent of eateries offering such options.
Although BWI maintained its standing from last year's study and is tied with Los Angeles International, its score is near the bottom, along with Reagan National Airport at 69 percent and Atlanta, both of which, the study noted, offered too many high-fat items like hot dogs, burgers and pizza.
From June to November, dietitians for the study reviewed restaurant menus from the airports. Scores were determined by dividing the number of restaurants offering at least one healthful option by the total number of restaurants. Snack food kiosks and 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 entree for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
The report found 29 out of 38 restaurants at BWI offer healthful choices, particularly noting the oatmeal with soy milk at Jamba Juice, the No-Meato Burrito at California Tortilla and the portobello stir-fry with tofu at the Silver Diner.
Susan Levin, director of nutrition education for the Physicians Committee, said BWI has been consistent over the past four years it has been included in the study. While she generally believes the safest bet for travelers is to bring their own food for a trip, Levin said the offerings at airports — and even train stations — are improving.
"Food is getting better. You're seeing more variety and more menu items that look like some of the fanciest gourmet menus that you would find on Food Network. Whereas many years ago, it was grab-and-go meals, fine dining is becoming an option more often. You can get a salad with arugula, mixed veggies, beans and a nice vinegar dressing. You can find grilled tofu and edamame."
If you don't bring your own food, you can at least control what's in it. To do so, Levin recommends travelers at BWI consider going with Mexican fare offered at restaurants like Zona Mexicana and Peppers Mexican Grill.
"If you can find a Mexican restaurant, then you can make your own burrito that is high in fiber… with beans, rice, corn, salsa, tomatoes, maybe a little guacamole," she said.
And while the trendy frozen yogurt shop Pinkberry, which offers fresh fruit and nuts as toppings, opened recently between Concourses A and B, Levin said the outfit was not included in the study because it doesn't offer entrees.
"BWI Marshall remains committed to offering travelers a wide variety of fresh, healthy food options," said airport spokesman Jonathan Dean, who pointed out more new eateries that have opened in recent months, including Market Fresh and Nature's Kitchen Fresh Cafe.
"These are all new concessions that have opened in recent months," he said. "They all provide passengers with healthy options."