When the weather is nice, and you (hopefully) get a few moments to enjoy nature, trail mix is a staple to grab and go. This hiker's favorite is known for being shelf-stable, convenient, high in protein, and it comes in dozens of different sweet and savory combinations. While some blends are delicious and healthy, others simply aren't because of the wrong ingredients. We talked to a couple of nutritionists, got tips for finding a good pack, and picked out some of the healthiest mixes on the market so you don't have to.
Is trail mix healthy?
With the right ingredients, trail mix can provide a host of benefits. Nuts and seeds have a lot of protein, a nutrient that's important for muscle growth and tissue repair, according to Sarika Shah, R.D.N. Another perk of nuts and seeds? They contain unsaturated fats. “Unsaturated fats may decrease LDL—the lousy cholesterol—preventing your risk for heart disease,” says Jerlyn Jones, R.D.N. Two secretly healthy ingredients that provide the sweet balance in some mixes are chocolate and dried fruit. Dark chocolate is associated with heart health and contains antioxidants, while dried fruit is a good source of carbohydrates and fiber. “When you pair carbohydrates and fiber,” says Shah, “it provides a slow release of energy because your body breaks down that combination much slower.”
Trail mix can potentially support weight loss since it fills you up faster than other snacks, but there's still a catch. “A calorie is a calorie," says Shah. "It's super easy to eat quite a bit of a mix, which becomes calorically dense. Most bags of trail mix have a serving size of one-fourth cup which is about a handful.” Trail mix is still a great snack between meals or on a hike because it’s an easy, small snack to hold you over, but everything in moderation.
How to choose a healthy trail mix
Trail mix is fantastic for endurance activities, but ingredients can vary greatly, and there are many bad combos out there. It’s critical to find the right mix in order to make it a healthy snack.
✔️ Read the top 3: Always check the ingredients list because nuts or seeds should be at the top. "People should look for nutrient-dense ingredients such as unsalted nuts, seeds, dried fruit, coconut flakes, and dark chocolate," says Jones.
✔️ Check the sodium: "Avoid high sodium foods (300 mg or more per serving)," advises Jones. Unless you are doing high-impact exercise, you don't need to replenish your sodium levels.
✔️ Mind the sugar: Added sugars are a no-go. “I try to look for packs where nuts or seeds are the primary ingredients, and sugar is not one of the first three ingredients listed,” says Shah. However, don't forget that dried fruit has natural sugars. "I don’t worry too much about grams of sugar, more important is the added sugar. The goal is 5 grams or less per serving."
✔️ Avoid coated nuts and seeds: Peanuts, almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds are all great ingredients, so long as they’re not candy-coated.
✔️ Notice the name: A good rule of thumb, if the name sounds sweet like “S’mores” or “Salted Carmel,” it’s probably not the healthiest.
Trail mix is a great snack for runners, long-distance walkers, hikers, campers, or anyone seeking a body and mind energy boost. By following these tips, we found our top 6 healthiest mixes. Don't like what you find? You can always also make your own!
Gourmet Nut's trail mix offers a perfect nuts and seeds combo to deliver 7 grams of protein per serving and no sodium. This classic trail mix with almonds, cashews, raisins, pumpkin seeds, peanuts, and cherries is also an inexpensive option.
Omega-3 fatty acids have a host of health benefits and this mix aims to deliver them. Planters NUT-rition Omega-3 mix is great for heart health. Plus, the cinnamon apples satiate sweet cravings. One serving contains only 2 grams of added sugars and 0 mg of cholesterol.
The main three components of the Big Island trail mix are roasted almonds, roasted macadamia nuts, and coconut, giving it a distinctly tropical taste. This mix has no added sugar, no cholesterol, and very little sodium! While it has the great benefits of cacao tibs, it's probably not going to fulfill a sweet craving. Shah recommends sprinkling in cinnamon to a mix to boost its flavor without adding sugar!
Finding a healthy, allergen-free trail mix can be really difficult. Enjoy Life Seed & Fruit Mix is specifically packaged safely for anyone with a nut, wheat, sesame, or dairy allergy. It's also just a tasty seed-based option! One drawback: It contains 4 grams of added sugar; however, this is still lower than many options out there, and a real find for allergy sufferers.
Trader Joe’s Bazaar Basket Snack Mix is sweet, savory, and tangy. This mix contains chickpeas, which are an additional rich source of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Two more unique finds in this “basket” are pistachios, containing vitamin b6 and thiamine, and sour cherries, which have a host of benefits, including reducing hypertension.
Back to Nature’s Harvest blend has no added sugar and no added salt but contains plenty of flavors. Dry oven-roasted nuts, raisins, pumpkin seeds, and dried apricots offer a nice variety with a high protein punch of 4 grams.