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  • Dr Pooja Sharma

Balancing Your Diet Overseas

Health Hacks for Frequent Travellers and long term stays abroad

Health travel hacks


Many of my valued patrons live abroad or frequently travel for work or pleasure. In today's world, travel has become an essential part of modern corporate life for many. However, this shouldn't come at the expense of your health. Whether you are living away from India, often traveling abroad for work, or planning a vacation, you shouldn't have to sacrifice your well-being for your travels.

Consider this blog your guide to maintaining optimal health and energy levels while on the move. From dietary tips and hydration strategies to stress management and exercise routines, this resource is designed to help you stay healthy and energised, no matter where your travels take you. Stay on top of your health and make the most of your journeys with these expert advice and practical hacks. This blog aims to educate and empower individuals with practical strategies to navigate dietary changes and health challenges, ensuring a healthy and fulfilling experience abroad.

Importance of maintaining health while traveling or living abroad

While exploring new cuisines and food cultures is one of the joys of traveling, it’s essential to maintain a balanced diet to ensure you’re getting all the necessary nutrients. An unbalanced diet can lead to deficiencies, which may affect your energy levels, immune system, and overall well-being. Changes in diet, water quality, and food preparation methods can impact your digestive system and your gut health. Traveling and adapting to a new environment can be physically and mentally taxing. Proper nutrition plays a critical role in maintaining energy levels and mental clarity. Exposure to new pathogens and environmental changes can also challenge your immune system. Different climates and levels of activity can affect hydration needs. New environments often come with different food safety standards and potential health risks. In all, your body is subjected to a lot of unknowns while travelling away from your country and maintaining good health can become challenging. 

For those of you who are traveling for just a couple of days, it might seem tempting to let health take a back seat since you're on vacation and caring about your diet isn't a priority anymore, right? WRONG! If caring for your body depends on your location or occasion, then we have a mindset problem. No one is asking you to deprive yourself of the pleasures of eating delicious food, but it is crucial to be conscious enough to ensure you do not deprive your body of the nutrients it needs to help you enjoy life to its fullest.

Yes, 2-3 days of lapses may not seem significant, but if this behaviour becomes a habit, it can have long-term consequences on your health. If your excuses include, "it's only for a weekend," "it's a holiday," "my mom is visiting," or "we see our friends only for a week," the list goes on and before you know it, you are compromising your body's wellbeing more often than you realise.

Moderation is the key, and portion control is the baseline of maintaining good health in the long run. These principles should not be affected by where you are or who you are with. Being mindful of your diet while traveling not only helps you maintain your energy levels and mood but also ensures that you can fully enjoy your trip without the drawbacks of poor dietary choices. Remember, a healthy body is essential for making the most of your experiences, no matter where you are.

Challenges NRIs and travellers face in maintaining their health away from home.

Adapting to new dietary environments can be difficult, as access to familiar, healthy foods is often limited, and different cuisines may lead to digestive issues or dietary imbalances. Ensuring safe and clean drinking water, especially in regions with varying water quality, is crucial to prevent dehydration and waterborne illnesses. Sleep disruptions due to jet lag and unfamiliar sleep environments can impact overall rest and recovery. Regular exercise routines may be interrupted by limited facilities or safe places to work out. Mental health can be affected by the stress of cultural adjustment, social isolation, and the complexities of accessing healthcare services in a foreign country. Maintaining hygiene can also be challenging due to varying sanitation standards and limited access to clean public facilities. Additionally, dietary restrictions and allergies can be harder to manage due to language barriers and the availability of suitable foods. Understanding these challenges allows NRIs and travellers to implement strategies for staying healthy and energised while away from home.

Pre-Travel Preparations

Before embarking on a long-term stay abroad or if you frequently travel internationally, begin by scheduling a thorough medical check-up to assess your overall health and ensure all body parameters are within normal ranges. This should include blood tests, blood pressure monitoring, and evaluations of critical functions such as liver and kidney health. Ensure you are up-to-date on all necessary vaccinations and consider additional immunisations based on your destination’s health risks. It's also wise to consult with your healthcare provider about any required medications, and ensure you have a sufficient supply to last your trip, including prescriptions for chronic conditions. Additionally, discuss preventive measures for common travel-related health issues like jet lag, digestive problems, and hydration strategies. By addressing these health checks and preparations, you can minimise the risk of medical issues during your travels and enjoy a healthier, more stress-free experience abroad. Make sure to keep your medications in their original containers with labels and it's prescription  Include pain relievers, antihistamines for allergies, antacids for digestive issues, diarrhoea medication, and any other OTC medications you commonly use along with some first aid supplies in your medical kit. 

Prescription medicines are generally allowed when traveling to most of the countries, but there are specific rules and regulations that you need to follow. Here are some general tips to carry medications on your flight abroad: 

1. Documentation: Always carry a copy of your prescription and a letter from your doctor stating the medical necessity of the medication.

2. Packaging: Keep medicines in their original packaging with labels showing your name, dosage instructions and expiry dates.

3. Quantity: Only bring an amount reasonable for personal use, usually long enough to last your trip duration or up to a three-month supply.

4. Controlled Substances: Check if your medication is considered a controlled substance in the destination country and if additional permits are needed.

5. Declare: Always declare your medicines at customs to avoid any issues.

It's essential to check the specific regulations of each country before traveling, as rules can change. Contact the embassy or consulate of the destination country if you have any doubts or need further clarification.

Spend some time researching the local laws at your destination about food items and medications you are allowed to carry in your luggage. Each country has their own laws and regulations which may restrict you to carry certain items in your bag. Make sure to adhere to these laws while planning your trip. Here are some examples of the restricted food items at most commonly visited countries from India, most of these restrictions are to prevent the spread of pests and diseases, as well as to comply with customs regulations. Here's a list of Indian food items typically not allowed:

1. Meat and Meat Products: Fresh, dried, and canned meat (including beef, pork, lamb, goat, and poultry) without proper certification.

2. Dairy Products: Fresh dairy products like milk, cheese, butter, and yogurt without appropriate health certificates.

3. Fruits and Vegetables: Fresh fruits and vegetables are generally restricted unless they are commercially packed and labeled. Certain fruits and vegetables might be allowed if they meet specific health and safety standards.

4. Plants and Plant Products: Seeds, plants, and plant cuttings without the necessary permits. Soil and items contaminated with soil.

5. Herbs and Spices: Certain herbs and spices, particularly those containing seeds or plant materials ( methi seeds, coriander seeds etc.) , unless they are commercially processed and packaged.

6. Rice and flour: Uncooked rice can be restricted unless it is commercially packaged and labeled. Some countries restrict these with commercial packages as well, kindly check for regulations in your destination country. 

7. Homemade Food Items: Homemade pickles, chutneys, sweets, and other perishable items.

8. Seafood: Fresh and frozen seafood products without proper certification.

9. Eggs and Egg Products: Fresh eggs and certain egg products without health certification. Some commercially prepared and packaged egg products might be allowed.

10. Honey and Bee Products: Honey, beeswax, and other bee products might be restricted without proper certification.

It's important to check the specific customs regulations of each country before traveling, as rules can change and some exceptions may apply. Always declare any food items and medications you are carrying to avoid penalties. 

Maintaining a Balanced Diet as a Frequent Traveler

1. Research Local Cuisine: Before traveling, research the local cuisine to identify healthy dishes and ingredients commonly available in the area. Look for dishes that are rich in vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains. Understanding the local food culture will help you make informed choices, find nutritious options and not look lost while ordering your food.

2. Visit Local Markets: Local markets often offer fresh produce. Buying fresh fruits and vegetables from these markets can help you meet your nutritional requirements. Aim to include at least two local fresh fruits a day during your stay abroad to ensure you get enough vitamins and minerals.

3. Read Packaged Food Labels: When purchasing packaged foods, read the labels to understand the nutritional content. Avoid products with high levels of sugar, sodium, and unhealthy fats. Opt for items that are lower in added sugars and saturated fats and higher in fiber and protein.

4. Include Dairy Products: Include dairy products like milk, cheese, and yogurt from local markets. Yogurt, in particular, supports gut health and aids digestion. Look for plain, unsweetened yogurt to avoid added sugars.

5. Carry Dehydrated Indian Food: For emergencies, carry dehydrated Indian food items like khichdi mix, roasted sooji (semolina), instant upma, or roasted ragi powder to make kanji. These are easy to prepare and provide a nutritious meal option when needed.

6. Healthy Snacks: Carry permitted snacking options like roasted makhana (fox nuts), channa (chickpeas), peanuts, til gud ladoo (sesame and jaggery balls), peanut chikki (peanut brittle), bajra ladoo (pearl millet balls), sattu (roasted gram flour), or ragi ladoo (finger millet balls). These snacks are nutritious, filling, and help avoid the temptation of buying unhealthy junk food.

7. Prioritise Protein: While ordering food on the go, prioritise protein and structure your meals around it. Ensure all your meals have adequate sources of protein, such as lean meats, fish, eggs, beans, lentils, tofu, or dairy products. Protein helps in maintaining muscle mass and keeps you satiated.

8. Consider Protein Supplements: If you are vegetarian or have limited options to meet your protein requirements, consider buying a supplement from a trusted brand in the local market. If your preferred brand is not available, read the labels of available options and choose one that closely matches your regular supplement.

9. Stay Active: Include some form of physical activity in your routine or dedicate time to exercise. Physical activity helps manage weight, reduces stress, and improves overall health, making your travel experience more enjoyable. If it is a leisure trip, you could include options like swimming, hiking or exploring the city riding a bicycle to stay active. 

10. Stay Hydrated: Keep yourself hydrated according to the local weather and your activity levels. If it's hot or you're engaged in strenuous activities, aim for 2.5 to 3 liters of water daily. Note that many restaurants abroad do not serve water by default, so you may need to consciously order or purchase water. Carry a personal water bottle and fill it up before leaving your accommodation.

11. Bonus>> Enjoy New Cuisines: Lastly, don't forget to have fun. Try out new cuisines, explore different flavours, and make the most of your trip abroad. Balancing enjoyment with healthy eating will make your travel experience more fulfilling.

Maintaining a Balanced Diet While Living Abroad

If you are planning to stay abroad long-term or are already living away from India, these tips are for you. While initial tips may help you transition, long-term settlers should aim to gradually reduce dependence on Indian ingredients and find a fusion of meals using locally sourced seasonal produce while satisfying Indian flavours. Every region has unique local seasonal produce and traditional cooking methods suited to its climate and environment. Nature provides us with what is required to fuel our bodies according to the season, ensuring we remain healthy and energised.

For instance, in tropical climates such as Southeast Asia, the cuisine often features cooling ingredients like cucumbers, melons, and coconut water to help combat the heat and maintain hydration. Conversely, in colder regions like Northern Europe, dishes are rich in hearty ingredients such as root vegetables, meats, and fermented foods that provide warmth and sustain energy levels. Mediterranean diets, known for their use of fresh vegetables, olive oil, and fish, are well-suited to the mild, temperate climate and promote heart health. By embracing local culinary practices and seasonal produce, you not only support your body’s nutritional needs but also gain a deeper appreciation for the culture and environment of your new home.

Additionally, consuming local seasonal produce is also environmentally beneficial as it reduces the carbon footprint associated with long-distance transportation, energy-intensive refrigeration, and excessive packaging. For example, blueberries shipped from Chile to India require extensive fuel for air and truck transport, contributing significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. The need for constant refrigeration throughout their journey consumes large amounts of energy, further increasing their environmental impact. By choosing local produce, you support sustainable farming practices, decrease food waste due to longer freshness, and help preserve local ecosystems. This simple shift not only provides fresher, more nutritious food but also helps mitigate environmental damage. 

Sustainable Health and Wellness While Living Abroad

1. Source Fresh Produce: Identify trustworthy places to get fresh produce like seasonal fruits, vegetables, and herbs to ensure you get food at its prime nutritional value.

2. Plan Meals Ahead: Given the busy lifestyle and lack of domestic support, planning your meals ahead of time helps save time and money, and reduces the likelihood of resorting to processed, ready-made food.

3. Incorporate Local Fermenting Techniques: Learn local fermenting techniques and incorporate them in your meal planning with local ingredients and Indian spices to keep Indian taste buds satisfied. Include pickles, and fermented drinks like buttermilk and kanji as per your liking and availability.

4. Visit Indian Grocery Stores: Identify an Indian grocery store in your area for regular supplies of spices and flours, but try to gradually include local rice, flour, and lentils in your diet.

5. Whole Food Stores: Utilise whole food stores to source dried beans, lentils, rice, cereals, and whole grain snacks to substitute in your Indian dishes.

6. Prioritise Protein: Ensure that all your meals include a protein source such as paneer, tofu, sprouts, lean meat, fish, or eggs, depending on your dietary preferences.

7. Include Nuts and Seeds: Incorporate locally available nuts and seeds in your snacks for added nutrition.

8. Home-cooked Meals: Aim to eat fresh, homemade food as much as possible. If this is not feasible, dedicate some time to meal preparation and keep ready meals in the freezer. Homemade frozen food is still better than highly processed store-bought substitutes. Better so if you can make dry or roasted food items, with longer shelf life and include them in your daily routine.

9. Consume Fruits and Vegetables: Eat fruits and green vegetables daily as they are easy to consume and require minimal preparation time.

10. Local Fitness and Nutritional Strategies: Learn about local fitness and nutrition strategies and incorporate them into your routine to reduce dependence on imported indian snacks.

11. Mindful Grocery Shopping: When consuming imported Indian goods, be cautious of the ingredients and avoid products with high levels of sugar, sodium, unhealthy fats, and preservatives. Opt for items with naturally long shelf lives like whole spices, whole grains, beans, and millets.

12. Healthy Cooking Techniques: Use healthy cooking techniques such as steaming, boiling, baking, and grilling. Avoid deep frying and excessive use of saturated fats. Include ghee and other healthy fats in your diet, and consider making ghee from store-bought unsalted butter if it’s not readily available.

13. Safe Storage: Use steel, iron, glass, or ceramic containers and utensils for storing, preparing, and consuming food, avoiding aluminum and plastic where possible.

14. Nourish Body and Soul: Ensure that the food you eat nourishes both your body and your soul. Do not deprive yourself of your favourite flavours, textures, and aromas. Instead, find ways to incorporate them into your meals regularly. This balanced approach makes maintaining good health in the long term more manageable and enjoyable.

15. Exercise, Sleep, Sunlight and Hydration: This goes without saying, do not ignore the importance of proper sleep, regular exercise, enough sunlight and drinking water. No matter how good you eat, but without these essential components, your well being is questionable. 

Finding sustainable ways to stay healthy while living abroad doesn't have to break the bank. By embracing local produce, learning new cooking techniques, and making mindful food choices, you can enjoy nutritious and delicious meals that support both your health and the environment. Remember, this journey is about balance and making small, consistent changes that lead to long-term wellness.

For personalised advice and answers to your specific questions and regional queries, you can always reach out to Dr. Pooja Sharma. She offers online consultations to people all over the globe, including long-term followers in the USA, UK, Europe, Australia, and the Middle East. Whether you need help adjusting your diet or finding local ingredients, Dr. Sharma is here to support you in your journey towards a healthier lifestyle, no matter where you are.

If you are seeking management of specific medical conditions like diabetes, thyroid imbalance, PCOS, need weight management, are planning a pregnancy, or are a lactating mother, Dr. Pooja specialises in providing effective diet plans tailored to your needs as per your regional food availability . Reach out to her for expert guidance and make the most of her personalised approach to achieve your health goals.

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