In the past, the trail mix was prepared for long hikes in the outdoors – hence, the term “trail mix”. It was originally made up of just two ingredients: “good old raisins and peanuts” (GORP). Today, the trail mix has gone indoors and is a common sight on kitchen counters. People have creatively come up with more ingredients, varieties, and combinations. But… Is trail mix healthy? If it has raw and organic ingredients with no added sugars or salts, you can be sure it’s healthy. But if there are sugar-coated, fried, or salted ingredients, the consequences on your health can be terrible.
The food we eat every day will either benefit or harm our bodies in the long run. We either choose food that is nutrient-rich or processed with toxins. Over time, these nutrients or toxins accumulate in our system, resulting in a healthy or disease-ridden life.
If you’re a big fan of this snack and consume it regularly, read on to learn how to choose a healthy trail mix that’s good for you.
Is Trail Mix Healthy? Questions to Ask
Trail mix consists mainly of nuts, which are rich in proteins and good cholesterol, and dried fruit, which contain vitamins and antioxidants. Because of its ingredients, the trail mix earned its reputation of being everyone’s go-to healthy snack. But is it? Here are seven questions to ask before purchasing another trail mix bag.
#1 – What is the ratio of nuts, fruits, and extras?
When picking a trail mix, the proportion of nuts to fruits to extras is always crucial. As a guide, a reasonable ratio of 50% nuts, 40% fruits, and 10% sweets or crunches is often recommended for a basic fruit and nut trail mix. With this kind of combination, you get a good balance of healthy and delicious. A trail mix with too many extras and very little nuts or fruits should be a warning sign.
#2 – What extra ingredients are there?
We all enjoy a great blend of sweet, salty, and spicy flavors bursting in our mouth. Plain raw nuts taste boring if not paired with raisins or dried strawberries. Today, trail mixes have evolved, adding more ingredients like seeds, crunches, and sweets.
Taking in mind the recommended 50-40-10 ratio, look into what makes up the remaining 10% of extra ingredients. Are there M&M candies or chocolate chips? Some mixes include tantalizing yogurt-covered pretzels, Reese’s cups, or potato/tortilla chips. If you’re observant, these supposedly “extras” do not even follow the healthy ratio of 10% anymore.
Extra flavors do not have to be unhealthy. You can look for healthier additions to still achieve that sweet or salty punch like dark chocolate chips (at least 70% cocoa), cacao nibs, coconut flakes, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds.
#3 – How are the nuts prepared?
Once we find a trail mix bag that contains a good amount of nuts, we may immediately grab it and go. However, it still helps to have a closer look at how these nuts were processed. Are they roasted, salted, or sugar-glazed?
Roasted nuts may have already lost some of their nutrients, while salted and sweetened variants may affect your sodium and sugar levels. As a rule of thumb, it is always best to opt for raw and unprocessed nuts. But if these are not available at your local grocery, just pick the healthiest mix you can find by checking the nutrition facts and ingredients list on the label.
#4 – How are the fruits prepared?
To preserve them for weeks to months, fruit in trail mix must be dried and their water content removed. This condenses all their natural sugars, fiber, and nutrients into a smaller package. However, other dried fruits are candied before drying. These are coated in artificial sugar syrups before drying. Others may also contain sulfites, preservatives that retain the fruit’s original color. Some fruits like banana chips are fried. In packed trail mixes, these differences can be quite difficult to tell. The best thing we can do is to simply read the labels carefully, especially the ingredients list and nutritional information.
#5 – Does it contain artificial flavors or coloring?
To find out if a trail mix contains these unhealthy ingredients, check the ingredients list on the label. The shorter it is and the more familiar the terms, the greater the chance that the trail mix is raw and unprocessed. On the other hand, a longer list with more “foreign”, complicated words is probably unhealthy. Terms like high fructose corn syrup, yellow 5 dye, red 40 dye, and cane juice are examples of synthetic flavors or coloring to watch out for.
#6 – What is the company known for?
Sometimes, it is helpful to research the background of the company that makes your favorite trail mix. What kinds of products are they known for? Are they a natural food products company or do they also produce junk food? Do they specialize in trail mixes only? Do they have a good reputation with no complaints to the FDA? Learning about the company behind a trail mix can give you a clue into the kind of products they produce.
#7 – What is the recommended serving size?
You might be uncomfortable talking about serving sizes, and you wonder why this point was even included. But all the six points we just named earlier would be useless if we do not consider the serving size. No matter how healthy your choice of a trail mix, if there is no control over portions, it can still turn out to be unhealthy for you.
Trail mixes are loaded with calories, which need to be used up in an active lifestyle. Yet couch potatoes love munching on these snacks while binge-watching a movie or two. The unused calories from a heavy snack may deposit as fat. This might lead to obesity and a higher risk of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes.
So serving size matters. In general, ¼ cup of trail mix yields approximately 175 calories. Just a small handful of trail mix can satiate your hunger and keep you going for another hour or two.
Is Trail Mix Healthy?: Achieving the Healthiest Trail Mix
Have you checked out the trail mix labels at your local grocery? Perhaps you’ve realized and are frustrated that none of the trail mix bags there are healthy enough. Now you’re wondering if the grocery is the only source of good trail mixes?
Dietitians would advise us that, to be healthier, we must make our own food at home. This way, we know all the ingredients we put in and their amounts. The same is true for trail mixes. We can achieve the healthiest trail mix by making it ourselves.
But we all want convenience. Plus healthy. Plus delicious. It seems we want everything in one package. Is there an even better way? Yes!
Companies like Trailmyx.com allow you to build your own custom trail mix. With their trail mix builder, you get to mix and match only the ingredients you want, then have your trail mix bag delivered to your doorstep in a few days, mess-free, and hassle-free!
So, is trail mix healthy? The best way to find out is to check the ingredients label. Better yet, why not make it yourself?