Finding a yummy, easy, on-the-go snack all-the-while still containing a variety of vitamins and minerals can be difficult. When scanning the grocery aisles for a snack to satisfy all of these components, a packaged trail mix may look like the best option at hand. However, there are many overpriced trail mixes that are full of added oils, salt, and sugar.
Benefits to creating a homemade trail mix:
- Customizable combinations are endless
- Can be more affordable or tailored to your budget
- More control over ingredients and health (like adding more nuts and seeds to increase protein and unsaturated fats)
What makes a great trail mix?
When creating your own trail mix, it is important to have an ingredient combination that provides you with lasting energy.
When building your own mix at home, be sure to include:
Protein + Fat
(Nuts & Seeds)
Protein allows the body to repair tissue and rebuild bones, muscle, cartilage, and skin. Unsaturated fats allow the body to feel and stay full, increase focus, lower cholesterol levels, and may help reduce the risk of heart disease. Certain nuts such as: almonds, cashews, pistachios, peanuts, and walnuts contain high levels of protein and unsaturated fats. Nuts also have strong anti-inflammatory factors that aid in protecting the body from infections and diseases. If you are allergic to certain nuts or prefer seeds as an interchangeable ingredient, pumpkin and sunflower seeds also provide a high source of protein and unsaturated fat.
Antioxidants improve and protect cell function and help with digestion and gut health. A benefit to dried fruit or fruit chips (dried apple/banana chips) in a trail mix is that they can be preserved for a longer period of time without spoiling. Common dehydrated fruits like grapes, cranberries, dates, mango, and pineapple can provide a source of antioxidants. Of these, dried grapes (raisins) are possibly the most affordable. They are packed with other micronutrients like fiber, iron, magnesium, and potassium.
Be careful to avoid candied dried fruits, which are coated in processed sugar before the drying process. You can ensure you are not buying candied fruits by always reading the labels of items for added sugars before purchasing. Candied dried fruit will include added sugar on the nutrition information and ingredient label.
(Savory Crunch: pretzels, popcorn, granola, etc.)
Along with protein and fats, carbohydrates (carbs, for short) are an essential daily nutrient which is a source of energy and fuel for the entire body, especially the brain. Certain carbs are better than others: simple carbs vs. complex carbs. Fruits and veggies fall into the complex carb category.
In the case of trail mix, look for a whole grain (which is a complex carb) to add to the mix. This can include items like: lightly salted (or plain) popcorn, whole grain granola, or pretzels which add a savory crunch into the combo. You can be as creative as you’d like, and even shake it up with some whole wheat Chex or cereal of your choice!
Optional: Sweet Treat
Although milk chocolate melts smooth and tastes delicious, it contains significantly less actual cacao than dark chocolate. According to Well and Good, dark chocolate can contain 70-80% cacao while milk chocolate usually contains only 10-50%, increasing the sweetness through milk and added sugar.
Cacao contains brain-healthy minerals like magnesium, zinc, and iron. These minerals support healthy brains and bones. In addition, magnesium (depending on the type) can be beneficial for sleep, zinc is good for the immune system, and iron can improve energy levels. When looking for a dark chocolate option to add to your trail mix, always check the ingredient list to lookout for hidden ingredients like added sugars or lactose.
The main benefit to making a homemade trail mix is that you can create a tasty, healthy snack customized to your needs and tastebuds. You don’t have to be a professional chef to throw together a few things to create a great snack!
To create a balanced trail mix, be sure to include a source of protein and fat to increase focus, repair and rebuild cells, and satisfy your hunger. Examples include nuts and seeds like almonds, cashews, pistachios, sunflower seeds, etc.
Include dried fruit like raisins, mango, pineapple, or dates to provide you with antioxidants needed to protect and improve cell function and promote healthy gut functions. Include a type of carbohydrate like popcorn or whole grain pretzels to increase energy and brain power.
Lastly, if you’ve got a sweet tooth, consider adding a little bit of dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa) as the cacao in it contains brain-healthy nutrients like magnesium, zinc, and iron.
When creating a homemade trail mix, the possibilities are endless!