Trail mix is often recognized as the go-to snack to pack when going on any adventure, especially hikes. Have you ever wondered why? The answer is because it is a well balanced and healthy snack that is perfect for keeping your energy levels up and satiating your body when being active.
Trail mix is one of the best hiking snacks, as long as it is healthy. You might be asking, “What makes one trail mix well-balanced and healthy for you, and not another?” Here is the answer.
What is a Healthy Trail Mix?
First, let’s start by defining what makes a trail mix a healthy trail mix. A trail mix is generally a mix of snack foods, including dried fruits and nuts. As we all know, trail mix has grown to include much more than just dried fruits and nuts, but let’s look at these two key ingredients and why they’ve stood the test of time.
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds make up the largest portion of any trail mix. When we look at the health benefits of different nuts and seeds it becomes clear why. One of the greatest benefits of eating these are that they are full of heart healthy fats. Most of the fats found in nuts and seeds are monounsaturated and or polyunsaturated which are the type of fats that help lower bad cholesterol levels, aiding in heart health.
Not only does this ingredient provide you with the healthy fats your body needs, it is also a great source of protein. There is nothing worse than being hungry when being active; it takes away from the fun and experience of what you are doing. So, trail mix being packed full of protein from the nuts allows you to snack on the go and not suffer from hunger. While each different kind of nut and seed has their own health benefits such as added minerals like magnesium and zinc, which ever ones you choose or prefer in your mix will always offer these benefits.
Dried fruits are in a trail mix to add a boost of healthy sugars and vitamins, but surprisingly the bulk of the nutritional power comes from their high amounts of fiber and antioxidants. Fiber assists in digestion and keeps you fuller longer. Having healthy sugars from dried fruits also helps in stabilizing your blood sugars giving you a steadfast energy source, verses a poor energy source that gives high peaks and low valleys like you get from added sugars.
How Do You Tell a Healthy Trail Mix From an Unhealthy One?
What separates a healthy trail mix from an unhealthy one is the additional ingredients found in the mixture as well as the quality of your nuts and dried fruits. Like all snacks, trail mix should be enjoyed in moderation. Just because something is healthy doesn’t mean you can eat an entire bag of it. By eating a serving size or two of trail mix on a hike you are consuming the nutrients and calories you need to keep your energy levels healthy.
We would always recommend that you make your own trail mix. By doing this you can control the number of additives you put in your body, but let’s face it, sometimes we just don’t have the time. So, when shopping for a store-bought mix there are a few things that you will want to look out for to know you are keeping it healthy. The better quality of ingredients you can get the greater the nutritional value of the mix.
Salt in and of itself is not bad, but when a snack is high in sodium it can assist in dehydrating you while on the trail. Like with other high sodium snacks it can make you very thirsty, and this is not a desirable side effect when being active.
Now, all trail mixes have sugar in them, but try to stay away from high fructose and other processed sugars that can make their way into store bought mixes. While dried fruit have natural sugar, they come with fiber as well and give a steady blood sugar boost. Much like salt, sugar can also dehydrate the body.
Most of the ingredients in trail mix are calorie dense but be aware of unnecessary high caloric mixes. These ones are usually packed with more additives than nutrient rich ingredients. Your trail mix should roughly be 50% nuts and seeds, 40% dried fruit, and 10% anything else. So, if the trail mix on the shelf is 40% candies, chocolates, and cereals that is a clear indicator to avoid that blend. In order for a trail mix to do what it was designed to do, it needs to be balanced and consist of the more nutrient rich ingredients and less of the fillers.
Overall, trail mix is a staple for all active people for a reason. It is a great source of the macronutrients needed while camping, hiking, or taking on any other adventure. It replenishes your muscles, brain, and body with healthy fats, ample amounts of fiber, and muscle refueling proteins. Your best bet is to prep a large batch of trail mix at home so you can control the sugar, sodium, and other additives found in store bought brands. Plus, by preparing your own trail mix you can be creative and cater the flavor profiles to what you desire. The combinations are only as restrictive as your imagination.
If this is not an option and you need to buy store-bought trail mixes, don’t worry; just read the bag. As long as the trail mix is mostly nuts and dried fruits, and not horribly high in sodium or sugar, you will most likely get the health benefits you need from the mixture. Trail mix has stood the test of time as a staple because it truly is a healthy way to snack.
By Amanda K. Camargo