A fast, easy blend of fruit, nuts, and seeds is easy to grab and eat by the handful as a quick source of healthy fats, fiber, antioxidants, and other energy-boosting ingredients. But is trail mix good for you? It all depends on each blend’s ingredients and portion sizes.
Once a snack reserved for hippies and avid hiking enthusiasts, trail mix has expanded its reach to just about everyone these days.
A convenient snack of nuts and dried fruit is the perfect, quick snack to grab between meetings, pack in our kids’ knapsacks, and eat on the days when we don’t seem to have enough time to go around.
Like many other foods, modernized food industries adapt the ingredients in this fruit and nut mix to make it more appealing to its consumers and grab a bigger share of the trail mix market:
- Some producers choose to pump their trail mix full of high-end beneficial ingredients like goji berries so they can charge a premium and appeal to health-minded consumers.
- Others create mixes that appeal because they drop in some tasty but less-nutritious ingredients, like chocolate or added sugars, while still riding on the consumer belief that eating trail mix is healthy.
Traditional trail mix has several benefits to offer consumers, and you can still enjoy the more indulgent blends.
Still, moderation is key - even the most nutritious, healthy nut mix contains an ample dose of calories, so portion control is vital.
Learn more about the many trail mix benefits, ingredients, choosing the right trail mix, and how to avoid eating too much trail mix.
What is Trail Mix?
This tasty blend originates on the dusty trails, where a room temperature stable, lightweight snack that provided some quick and straightforward nutrition was the easiest way to combat an energy drop on a long, strenuous hike.
These days, everyone wants in on that convenience. Trail mix usually contains:
- Roasted or raw nuts;
- Dried fruits;
- Most often, makers often add in seeds, cereal, pretzels, chocolate, candy, coconut, and more - you can toss almost any dried food into the mix.
The delicious blend of sweet and savory appeals to our senses, making it all too easy to pop handful after handful into our mouths to crunch.
Trail Mix Ingredients: From Nutritious to Indulgent
What’s in trail mix?
As you can imagine, with such a variety of possible ingredients, no two trail mixes are precisely the same.
These are the most common dried ingredients you’ll find in a bag of trail mix:
- Nuts: cashews, almonds, peanuts, walnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, pistachios, and hazelnuts
- Dried Fruit: cherries, raisins, goji berries, inca berries, cranberries, blueberries, pineapple, mango, prunes, dates, figs, apples, and banana chips
- Seeds: Sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, ground flaxseeds, hemp hearts, pumpkin seeds, puffed quinoa,
- Savory Extras: Roasted chickpeas, lentils, or soybeans, popcorn, sliced dried meat, and pretzels
- Sweet Extras: Coconut flakes, chocolate chunks, peanut butter chips, M&Ms, candy, and oats or granola clusters.
- Seasoning: Almost any blend of spices, from savory chili flavors to sweet cinnamon and nutmeg mixes
- Sweetener: maple syrup, honey, stevia, coconut sugar, and refined sugar
Health Benefits of Trail Mix
Trail mix is the snack of choice for hikers for a good reason - beyond convenience, this tasty snack offers some pretty hefty health benefits.
High Protein and Low-Glycemic Index Nuts
Nuts and seeds are a great plant-based protein source, which helps to grow strong cells and maintain most bodily functions.
These little powerhouses are also low on the glycemic index, meaning they won’t mess with your blood sugar unless you pair them with other sugar-laden ingredients.
Fiber and Satiety
The main ingredients in the trail mix are high fiber: dried fruit, nuts, and seeds.
Fiber helps to balance our digestive systems and keep our bowel movements regular. It takes a while to digest, so fiber keeps us feeling full for a longer time, helping prevent overeating.
You can count trail mix fruit toward your total daily intake of fruits and veggies, as they’re still quite nutritious in their dried form.
The variety of vitamins and minerals you receive varies from fruit to fruit, but they all offer their own range of benefits for our bodies.
Nutrition experts tout Plant-based mono- and poly-unsaturated fats as the best types for our bodies, and the best source of these fats are plant-based ones like nuts and seeds.
These fats aid heart health and promote healthy and well-balanced cholesterol levels.
Antioxidant and Nutrient-Rich
All of the primary ingredients in trail mix contain loads of antioxidants and other essential nutrients.
Antioxidants combat oxidative stress on our bodies and prevent premature cell aging, while micronutrients, vitamins, and minerals help support every bodily function.
Is Trail Mix Bad For You?
You can easily reap the benefits above by eating the right trail mix, but as we said, they can become unhealthy in an instant with the wrong ingredients tossed into the mix.
We’re collectively more stressed out and anxious than ever, and we often regard food as a treat to seek some temporary emotional relief.
We may want to pick up the trail mix that contains chocolates and candies, but these can be sky-high in added sugars - your best bet is to stick with the traditional combo of fruits, nuts, and seeds and watch your portion sizes.
It’s okay to indulge in a more decadent trail mix combo from time to time, as long as you aren’t eating it by the scoopful because trail mix is healthy.
Trail Mix + Weight Loss
Trail mix calories tend to sit on the higher end - nuts, seeds, and fruits are all nutrient-dense yet calorie-dense. Don’t let this discourage you, as trail mix can help you lose weight when used as part of a nutritious diet.
- First, choose the healthier varieties to keep the calories and sugar levels as low as possible.
- Some packages can be deceiving, so look at trail mix nutrition facts on the back of each package and compare the healthiest options.
- High levels of nutrients will help your body function optimally, priming it for weight loss.
Trail Mix Serving Size
Weight loss is a numbers game, and even the most nutritious foods won’t help you lose weight if you’re not eating a calorie deficit every day - you need to eat fewer calories than you burn.
To do this well, keep your trail mix servings in check:
- Most trail mixes measure servings by the ¼ cup, so stick with that amount in each snack. We know the serving seems ridiculously small, but don’t discount the power of fiber - you will feel full more quickly than you think.
- If you’re still hungry after one serving of trail mix, eat some freshly chopped veggies or fruit to round out your snack without adding much more to your caloric intake.
The Best Trail Mix: Make Your Own At Home
Trail mix is effortless to make at home and gives you complete control over what goes into your personalized blend of goodness.
You can make a sweet treat trail mix for an indulgence as dessert, a savory munchie to replace chips on movie night, or a nutritious snack to give you the energy to get through the day.
Try these healthy salty snacks, or build one of your own!
Choosing a Healthy Trail Mix
The best way to enjoy a healthy trail mix is to build your own out of the most nutritious ingredients.
If you’d rather the convenience of a pre-made mix, read your labels closely and look for ones low in added sugar, calories, and salt.
Whichever mix you choose, it’s still all about portions - limit your serving to 1 or 2 handfuls, or pre-measure your trail mix to take out the guesswork and enjoy this deliciously satisfying snack without overdoing the calories.