What could be better than trail mix when you’re hiking or out camping somewhere? The mix doesn’t just taste delicious. It also gives you plenty of protein, nutrients, and energy at the same time.
Of course, trail mix isn’t just used when you’re being active. Plenty of us eat it as a snack too, perhaps when we want something tasty or when we simply don’t want to prepare a full meal. So, is trail mix good for you? Is it something you should be eating regularly?
To answer that question, we need to think about the different ingredients in trail mix and what they mean for your health. We’re also going to talk a bit about the best trail mixes, as the health effects will be influenced by the type of trail mix you’re eating.
Remember that context matters too. Just like Clif Bars, Gatorade, and similar products, trail mix is healthiest when you need it. The mix is much less powerful as a snack while you’re watching a movie than as a source of energy while you’re hiking.
Is Trail Mix Good For Your Health?
- What Is Trail Mix?
- Benefits Of Trail Mix
- How Trail Mix Can Be Harmful
- When Should You Eat Trail Mix?
- What Is The Best Trail Mix?
- Can You Make Keto Trail Mix?
- Final Thoughts
What Is Trail Mix?
Trail mix is a portable snack assortment, one you can easily eat with your hands. Nuts, seeds, dark chocolate, and dried fruit are the most common ingredients, although you may also see candy, cereal, popcorn, pretzels, or oats included as well.
While many versions simply mix all the ingredients together, some also add ingredients like garlic powder, cinnamon, or salt to change the flavor profile. Not surprisingly, you get a tasty snack, one that’s pretty hard to stop eating.
You may also find versions that use sweeteners as well, such as honey. These are products to be careful with. While the sweetener does provide an extra burst of energy, sugar can be very harmful as well and many of us are already consuming more of it than we need.
Benefits Of Trail Mix
Excellent For Protein
The importance of protein is well-known these days. Not only is protein used in the building and maintaining of muscles, but it also helps to keep you satisfied and performs plenty of other roles in your body.
If you’re out camping or hiking, then the satisfaction effect is probably the most important one. This means you can munch on trail mix, rather than stopping to prepare a meal.
The protein and fat in nuts also mean you’re getting a sustained release of energy. This is much better than a carb heavy snack which would give you a fast energy boost that quickly dissipates.
Perfect When You’re On The Go
Trail mix is also highly portable, doesn’t need to be kept at a specific temperature, and will last for ages. These features make the mix one of the best possible snacks for while you’re out there in nature.
A Source Of Healthy Fats
Trail mix often relies heavily on nuts and seeds, which are both sources of healthy fats. Fat often sounds like a bad word, but we’re now realizing that the right types of fat can actually improve your health, rather than putting it at risk.
In fact, research regularly shows that nuts can improve your heart health by decreasing the levels of LDL cholesterol and lowering inflammation. The protein and fiber in nuts may be relevant here too, along with some of the nutrients.
Filled With Healthy And Natural Ingredients
Trail mix tends to rely on nuts, seeds, dried fruit, and dark chocolate. Those ingredients have all been linked to improved health. They also provide plenty of nutrients and antioxidants.
These ingredients have all been studied independently, particularly nuts and dark chocolate. They can help with levels of inflammation, could decrease the chance of some diseases, and help you to live healthier for longer.
What could be better?
Plus, you can easily mix in your own favorite ingredients, ones that could boost health in different ways. Coconut shavings, small pieces of cheese, and goji berries are just a few uncommon ingredients that you might add in.
Much Healthier Than Processed Alternatives
There are now countless products designed to improve athletic performance, to give you energy while you’re working hard, and to help sustain you while you’re hiking. Clif Bars are a classic example and there are many others.
These products often have similar features to trail mix, in that they provide energy, fat, and protein, often with some sugar as well. They’re also portable and don’t need to be cooked.
However, most such products are highly processed, They may contain additives as well, but even if they don’t, the processing can lead to nutrient loss, making these products much less powerful than trail mix.
How Trail Mix Can Be Harmful
It’s High In Calories
Trail mix is high in protein and healthy fats, so it’s not surprising there are plenty of calories present too. Now, calories themselves aren’t bad. They’re simply a measure of the energy that food provides.
The problem is that it’s easy to overdo it with calorie-dense food. This is the same reason you need to be cautious with your serving size of nuts. Even if you just have a little more trail mix than you need each time, the excess calories could easily cause problems.
To get around any issues, avoid eating trail mix straight from the bag. Portion it out ahead of time. This way you know exactly where your limit is and you’re not tempted to reach for more.
Can Be High In Sugar Too
The sugar content of trail mix is all over the place. Versions that rely heavily on nuts and seeds, while using just a little dried fruit, tend to be relatively low in sugar.
Other versions use large amounts of dried fruit and milk chocolate. Some even have added sweeteners as well, which bring the sugar content up still further.
While sugar makes our food taste better, it’s also deeply concerning. We could write thousands of words about all the risks of sugar and still just be scratching the surface. You probably know many of those issues anyway, like how sugar can increase inflammation, raise your risk of type 2 diabetes, and lead to obesity.
Sugar does provide energy, true, so the sugar in trail mix could be relevant if you’re burning a large amount of energy. Most of us aren’t though and sugary trail mixes don’t do us any favors at all.
Thankfully, you can find details of the sugar content on the nutritional label of any prepackaged trail mix. This should make it easy to avoid products with excess sugar.
Could Contribute To Weight Gain
The calorie density of trail mix is fantastic when you’re on the go and don’t want to spend a lot of time dealing with food. This calorie density starts to be a problem if you’re not being very active.
People who use trail mix as a snack while watching a movie, for example, could easily end up gaining weight.
Watching your portion sizes can help, but you also need to think about whether you need the energy from trail mix to begin with. If you’ve already had plenty to eat, it might be best to skip the trail mix entirely and look for a low calorie snack instead.
The Quality Varies Dramatically
Trail mix is a little tough to talk about, as the different products vary so much from each other. While some can be good for you, others are much more debatable.
Planters Trail Mix, for example, relies heavily on M&Ms and raisins, giving you a product with 10 grams of sugar per serving and only 5 grams of protein. Other versions use larger amounts of nuts and less sugar, so you get something protein packed that will actually keep you going.
With so much variation, shopping around is critical. Failing to do so could leave you with an unhealthy product that doesn’t do you any favors at all.
There May Be Additives
Trail mix itself is generally free from additives, aside from salt and sweeteners. However, some of the ingredients used may contain additives.
For example, M&Ms are a popular addition for their sweetness and bright colors, yet they rely on artificial food colors. Trail mix that relies on chocolate-covered or yogurt-covered fruit could easily have additives as well.
While additives have been tested for safety, there are still concerns about their long-term effects on health, especially if you’re consuming them regularly. It’s wisest to keep your additive intake low, this way you can avoid any potential issues. After all, food additives aren’t ever going to improve your health.
Can Be Expensive
Trail mix gets pricy quickly. You can cut down the cost by buying the ingredients in bulk and making your own trail mix, but even then, you’re paying a decent amount of money per serving.
The price gets even higher if you’re trying to make your trail mix as healthy as possible, as you’ll be avoiding some of the cheap filler ingredients, like chocolate candy and granola.
You can offset the cost a little though, by including peanuts as the main type of nut and using popcorn to help bulk the trail mix out. While peanuts don’t have the greatest reputation, they’re surprisingly healthy, offering many of the same benefits as true tree nuts.
When Should You Eat Trail Mix?
The health effects of trail mix aren’t just related to the ingredients used. When you eat the trail mix is important too.
In particular, the amount of calories per serving makes trail mix a poor choice if you want something delicious while you’re watching a movie or relaxing. This issue gets worse if you’re eating trail mix straight from the bag, as it’s too easy to have much more than you intend to.
It's much better to use trail mix as a way to refuel, either for outdoor activities or for when you’re hungry and eating a full meal isn’t viable.
What Is The Best Trail Mix?
The best trail mix relies heavily on natural ingredients, particularly nuts and seeds. Many versions will contain dark chocolate too, giving you important phytochemicals from the chocolate, with minimal sugar.
Popcorn can be a surprisingly good addition too, as long as it isn’t salted or buttered. Popcorn itself is actually a whole grain, so when it’s served plain you’re getting a surprising amount of nutrients and fiber, with little fat or sugar.
Dried fruit can be relevant too – and not just because it adds sweetness to your trail mix. Dried fruit actually retains many of the nutrients and phytochemicals found in fresh fruit, giving you access to these in a more concentrated and shelf-stable form.
That said, dried fruit contains more sugar per 100 grams than fresh fruit. Most people will see benefits by including some dried fruit in their trail mix, as long as the amounts are reasonable (as too much dried fruit will give you a very sugary snack). This often means your trail mix will have plenty of nuts and seeds, but just a handful or two of dried fruit.
Herbs and spices are fantastic ways to add flavor to your trail mix. Be cautious with sugar and salt though. Both additions are popular, but they offer few benefits and can easily cause harm.
Overall, the best trail mix:
- Isn’t heavily processed.
- Avoids candy (dark chocolate is okay).
- Avoids added sugar.
- Has little to no added salt.
- Keeps the dried fruit content reasonable.
- Matches your needs. For example, if you’re burning a lot of energy, a high calorie trail mix with plenty of dried fruit could be perfect, as it would offer an energy boost and refuels you. If you’re relatively inactive, you might need a lower calorie product, one with less dried fruit.
You might need to shop around a bit to find trail mixes that meet your needs. Don’t worry though, there are plenty of healthy ones out there.
Alternatively, why not make your own? Doing so gives you complete control over the flavor and ingredients.
Can You Make Keto Trail Mix?
Trail mix isn’t normally keto friendly, as dried fruit is a concentrated source of sugar. Even using a little of it adds up quickly. Still, making keto trail mix isn’t impossible at all, you just need to be more selective in your ingredients.
This recipe from Bake It Keto, for example, relies on three types of nuts, along with sugar-free chocolate chips and dried cranberries. This one is more complicated, but gives you a fantastic variety of textures and flavors.
Trail mix can be healthy, if you pay attention to the ingredients, your portion sizes, and when you eat it. The mix is most powerful if you’re using it as a way to refuel and stay satisfied when you’re out hiking or when you’re camping.
If you’re having trail mix at home instead, you’ll need to be much more careful. Trail mix is calorie dense and delicious, features that make it easy to consume much more than you need to.