When it's filled with nuts, fruits, and seeds, trail mix might seem like a healthy and nutritious snack. Why else would hikers and athletes insist on munching down on this dependable pick-me-up? But even though it has high energy, a simple handful of the snack food will run you a decent 400-plus calories. Translation? Say bye-bye to your diet.
Instead, sticking with unsweetened food and adding in better-for-you components gives you the chance to get rid of some totally empty calories and focus on making an actual healthy snack.
"One of the opportunities of trail mix is that it's a really blank palette, but the more items you add, the more calories you add in," says Ellie Wilson, RD. "It's all about a little bit of navigation and adding in a little bit of healthy fat and sweeter bits."
To skip high-fat and high-calorie pieces, Wilson suggests making some basic swaps. Use a little cayenne pepper to make it spicy and make your DIY version of a store-bought spicy cajun mix. Or, nix the sweetened dried cranberries (which have extra fat and sugar added), and instead cut up your own dried apricots—which are a much better, but just-as-sweet alternative.
"First thing I would look at is what your base is," Wilson notes. "You can always add on from there."
Peanuts? Pretzels? Granola? Pick your top ingredient and get to work, adding in healthier building blocks to up the nutritional value without compromising the caloric intake. Because trail mix is mostly known for its sweet and salty flavor combo, a little salt is a must. But don't go overboard. Here's a better hack: "Put it on at the end and do a taste test," Wilson says. "You can always add more, but if you add it at the beginning, you can't take it out."
Ready to give your rehabbed trail mix a go? Try these 5 better-for-you trail mix recipes and get ready for a much-needed energy boost without all those calories.
Mustard-Glazed Snack Mix
(Makes 12 servings)
Per serving: 165 calories, 10 g sugar, 140 mg sodium, 26 g carbs,
4 cups bite-size whole grain cereal squares
1 cup broken whole wheat pretzel sticks (approximately 1" lengths)
1/2 cup unsalted almonds or peanuts
3 tablespoons yellow mustard
3 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons butter, cut into 4 pieces
1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line a jelly-roll pan with foil and coat with cooking spray.
2. Toss together the cereal, pretzels, and nuts in a large bowl and set aside.
3. Place the mustard, honey, butter, Worcestershire sauce, and red pepper in a medium microwaveable bowl. Cover with waxed paper and microwave on high power for 45 to 60 seconds, or just until the butter is melted. Stir together until smooth. Drizzle about one-third of the mustard mixture over the cereal mixture and toss, using a large spoon, until evenly coated. Repeat with the remaining mustard mixture.
4. Spread the coated cereal mixture in a single layer on the prepared jelly-roll pan. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, stirring halfway through, until evenly toasted.
5. Set the pan on a rack to cool to room temperature, and store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.
Adapted from The Sugar Solution
Popcorn Trail Mix
Per serving: 280 calories, 11 g fat, 3.5 g saturated fat, 380 mg sodium, 50 g carbohydrate, 4 g fiber, 11 g protein
6 cups microwave light butter popcorn
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan
2 tablespoons unsalted cashew pieces
2 tablespoons raisins
1. Toss all ingredients together right before you're ready to eat it or serve it at a party so the raisins don't make the popcorn soggy.
Adapted from 400 Calorie Fix
On-the-Goji Trail Mix
(Makes 2 servings)
1/4 bar high-quality dark chocolate, broken into small pieces
1/4 cup goji berries
1/2 cup raw almonds
1. Mix all ingredients, prepare a few zipper-lock bags ahead of time, and you're ready to take on the world!
Adapted from Tone It Up
All-American Snack Party Mix
(Makes 48 servings)
Per serving: 77 calories, 5 g fat, 1.2 g saturated fat, 174 mg sodium, 7 g carbohydrate, 1 g fiber, 3 g protein
3 cups thin pretzel sticks
4 cups Wheat Chex
4 cups Cheerios
12-oz. can salted peanuts
1/4 cup melted butter, or margarine
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. celery salt
1/2 tsp. seasoned salt
2 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
1. Combine pretzels, cereal, and peanuts in large bowl.
2. Melt butter. Stir in garlic powder, celery salt, seasoned salt, and Parmesan cheese. Pour over pretzels and cereal. Toss until well mixed.
3. Pour into large slow cooker. Cover. Cook on Low 2 1/2 hours, stirring every 30 minutes. Remove lid and cook another 30 minutes on Low.
4. Serve warm or at room temperature. Store in tightly covered container.
Adapted from Fix It and Forget It: Diabetic Cooking
Tailgate Party Nut Mix
(Makes 12 servings)
Per serving: 260 calories, 7 g protein, 16 g carbohydrates, 20 g fat (2 g saturated), 105 mg sodium, 3 g fiber
1 cup pumpkin seeds
1 teaspoon canola oil
1 cup whole almonds
1 cup pecan halves
2 tablespoon maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon sald
1 cup dried fruit
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray. Put the pumpkin seeds in a bowl and coat with the oil. Spread the seeds on the baking sheet and roast for about 20 minutes, stirring several times.
2. Place the pumpkin seeds, almonds, and pecans in a medium bowl and stir in the maple syrup to coat. Mix the cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice,
and salt in a small bowl. Add to the nuts and stir well.
3. Spread the mixture on the baking sheet and roast for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until dry. Check often to avoid burning. Cool in the pan for
4. Place the mix in a bowl and stir in the fruit.
Adapted from The New Abs Diet Cookbook