How to Choose Trail Mix

269/365: Homemade Trail Mix
Image by Mr.Thomas via Flickr

Hiking, biking, jogging, kayaking, or just strolling in the park, you begin to feel a bit hungry. Not dinner-time-hungry, and not even snack-time-hungry, rather just-one-bite-hungry. You satisfy that one bite, and 10 minutes later, you want another one. And so forth. What do you do?

If you’re looking for a snack that can be consumed slowly over the course of an hour or more, chocolates and bars are not a great option. Things get sticky if you don’t finish them off right away.

But pouring some nuts and raisins from a pack and popping them in your mouth is nice, clean choice. And supposedly a healthy one too, right?

Theoretically Trail Mix is the super snack – all natural ingredients, no additives, and a good balance of protein, carbs, and unsaturated fats. Unfortunately, not all trail mix products are created equal. If you’re looking for a healthy snack, here are a few pointers:

1. There’s no rocket science here. Trail mix is just a mix of nuts and dried fruit. The most basic formula is roasted peanuts and raisins. In fact, you can make your own at home for a much lower price that buying it prepared.

2. Most brands of trail mix boast more than just peanuts and raisins. As long as the ingredient list stays “pure”, you’re good to go. Walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, and dried fruit such as apricots, pineapples, apples, cranberries, blueberries, etc… are all good.

3. You need to watch out for added “goodies”, such as m&m’s and other candy that really don’t add to the already complex sweet and savory flavor, and just add useless sugar and food colorings.

4. Look out for salted items, and stay away from them. Salted peanuts can contain as much 200mg (close to 10% of your daily maximum) per 1 oz serving.

5. Beware of added sugars used to coat dried fruit. The fruit are so sweet in their natural form that is an absolute crime to add any more sweet.

6. Yogurt coated raisins sound yummy and healthy, but folks, it ain’t really yogurt. Here’s an example of Vanilla Yogurt Coating – Sugar, Partially Hydrogenated Palm Kernel Oil, Nonfat Milk, Nonfat Yogurt Powder (Cultured Nonfat Milk), Whey, Titanium Dioxide, Soy Lecithin, Vanilla. Yes, it contains trans fat, thanks to the partially hydrogenated palm kernel oil.

7. Roasted nuts tend to be prepared with oil and salt. Look for naked nuts, no additions.

8. Dried fruit are often processed with sulfur dioxide (E220) in order to preserve their original color. Apples would appear brown and unappealing otherwise. Some people develop allergic reactions to this preservative, and some can actually feel its chemical aftertaste. But for the most part, it’s not a biggie.

What to do at the supermarket:

Consider buying the raw ingredients and preparing a trail mix at home. Base it on your family’s taste preferences. If buying a ready mix, look at the ingredient list and make sure it doesn’t contain any unnecessary oils, salt, sugars and preservatives.

What’s your favorite Trail Mix? How does it stack up nutritionally?

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  • Jessica Roberts

    Trail mix is the best post-workout recovery snack for me. Not too much of this, not too little of that. But I make my own. Raw Almonds, Raw Cashews, and Dried Cranberries. Perfect. I make single servings, put them in a sandwich bag and bring with me to the gym or the pool. It completely satifies between a meal. Yum!