FOOD & HEALTH — 5 ways to make a healthier trail mix

 (Photo by Cianna Woods, Pixabay)
(Photo by Cianna Woods, Pixabay)

By Kayla Colgrove, MS, RDN, ACSM-CPT, Extension Educator

Looking for a snack that is simple and healthy? Trail mix is a perfect snack to eat on the go or at home. It does not require refrigeration, so it can be tucked away in your office desk drawer or packed in a bag when you need a quick snack. Be careful though, some trail mix recipes may not be healthy. When making a homemade trail mix, you are in control of the ingredients. Follow these five strategies to make a healthier trail mix.

Whole grain cereals with low amounts of sugar or air-popped popcorn make a great addition to a healthy trail mix. Whole grains are healthier than refined grains since they are packed with the following nutrients: zinc, magnesium, B vitamins and fiber.

Look for products that include a whole grain stamp or whole-grain ingredients such as brown rice, buckwheat, bulgur, millet, oatmeal, popcorn, quinoa, rolled oats, whole-grain barley, whole-grain corn, sorghum, whole-grain triticale, whole oats, whole wheat and wild rice.

Dried fruit can help you reach your daily recommendation of fruits. A 1/2 cup of dried fruit can be considered as 1 cup from the Fruit Group. Dried fruit is naturally sweet, so remember to avoid products that include added sugars such as sugar or corn syrup in the ingredient list to avoid extra calories.

Snacks high in protein may help provide satiety and appetite control. Include your favorite nuts and seeds to add protein to your mix. My favorites would include almonds, cashews, pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds. Buy them unsalted to help keep your sodium intake low!

A lot of people like a sweet and salty trail mix. Including a dash of sweet can be part of a healthy snack, in moderation. My favorite sweet to add is dark chocolate because it has antioxidants that may help to lower blood pressure and LDL cholesterol. Choose dark chocolate that has at least 70% cocoa in order to receive the most health benefits with not as much fat and sugar as other chocolates. Otherwise, you can include a dash of candy coated chocolates.

Depending on your ingredients, calories can add up fast and the trail mix can turn into a high-calorie snack. Nuts and seeds have a lot of calories, but provide many nutrients and healthy fats. Candy has a lot of empty calories, which are calories from solid fats and/or added sugars that provide little or no nutrients.

Choosing higher calorie ingredients means you have to pay attention to portion size. Snacks usually range from 100–200 calories. Don’t forget to eat the right portion size that fits your calorie needs. A 1/4 cup of trail mix will usually provide you with the right amount of calories and nutrients to make it a healthy snack.