With many of us likely to spend a chunk of the long Thanksgiving weekend in an airport somewhere, nutrition experts with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) are reporting that while many airport restaurants are adding healthier options to their menus, others still leave hungry travelers scrambling to find nutritious meals. 

PCRM dietitians studied 18 major airports in more than a dozen states and found that 82 percent of airport restaurants now offer at least one low-fat, high-fiber, cholesterol-free vegetarian entree -- three more than last year.

Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport received the highest score for the second year in a row, and the majority of airports surveyed increased their healthful offerings since last year. But healthful choices are still difficult to find at some airports, including Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

Improvement noted

PCRM's 10th annual 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 healthful meals they need to handle the stress associated with air travel.

 In 2001, the average score was 57 percent. This score has risen 25 points to 82 percent. Detroit's airport is the decade's most improved, rising from last place in 2001 with a score of 33 percent to its current score of 96 percent.

A restaurant was rated as healthful if it served at least one low-fat, high-fiber, cholesterol-free breakfast, lunch, or dinner entree. Healthful entrees at airports covered in this report include the Berkeley Vegan Pizza at zpizza at the Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport and the Tofusion Bowl at Ufood Grill in Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. San Francisco International Airport's Harbor Village Kitchen offers a range of healthful options, including a vegetable curry and rice plate, veggie samosas, and vegetarian chow mein.

High-fiber, low-fat vegetarian foods have been shown to reduce the risk of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. A recent review published in the journal Diabetologia found that people who ate the most meat had the highest risk of type 2 diabetes. A recent study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition linked meaty diets to weight gain and concluded that reducing meat consumption could lead to weight loss.

Results

Overall, 82 percent of the restaurants at the 18 airports examined for the report offered at least one healthful entree. Detroit remained in first place for the third year in a row. The nation's two busiest airports -- Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and Chicago O'Hare International Airport -- both fell to near the bottom of this year's list.

While 12 of the 18 airports surveyed saw an increase in healthful options this year, five airports lost points. Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport was the biggest loser, with a seven point decrease from last year's score. Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport lost three points and landed in last place with a score of 67 percent.

Washington, D.C.,-area travelers looking for healthier options may want to consider flying out of Dulles International Airport, which was this year's most improved with a gain of 21 points from its 2009 score of 68 percent.

Other airports showing significant improvements include Las Vegas McCarran International Airport, which jumped 11 points from 2009, and Miami International Airport, which rose nine points.