8 Healthy Trail Mix Makeovers That Can Save You Tons of Calories
It's pretty hard to find a trail mix you don't love. Between the perfect balance of salty and sweet and a bit of crunch from nuts or dried fruit chips, it really hits the spot. The only drawback? Those calories and sugars sure can add up—unless you make your own.
Pumpkin pie spiced nuts trail mix
There are more reasons to use pumpkin than just in a pumpkin spice latte (and here are some of our delicious faves). Pumpkin spice can really amplify the flavor profile of traditional trail mix and it works well with other ingredients, like almonds, cinnamon, and sunflower seeds.To increase the healthy fat content and keep the mix low-sugar, Elizabeth Ann Shaw, MS, RDN, CLT, dietitian and blogger at Shaw’s Simple Swaps, shares a secret—she uses nuts over too many sweet ingredients, like dried fruit, to fill up on protein and not sugar. “Nuts are the great building block of a solid trail mix blend that will help increase your satiety since the majority of their nutrient density comes from their unsaturated fat content,” as well as other key nutrients, such as protein, fiber, and magnesium. Get the full recipe.
Deconstructed trail mix
Another tip and recipe from Shaw, this “deconstructed trail mix” helps regulate portion control and instill mindfulness. Here’s why: It can satisfy your guests and fill their bellies with satiating fiber, protein, and heart healthy fats, she says. What’s more, “by using the in-shell pistachios, your guests have to take a moment to crack and pop those beautiful polyphenol-filled pistachios in their mouths, which inevitably means fewer calories consumed,” she adds. Like magic, right? In fact, nutritionists often carry pistachios for a go-to snack during the day. The visual representation of the shells helps remind you just how much you’ve consumed. “So, rather than shoveling a handful of candy-coated trail mix down, which can easily rack up to over 500 calories in less than three handfuls, the deconstructed concept allows you to practice mindful eating a bit more, leaving you content after just a 200 calorie sampling,” says Shaw. Plus, it doubles as a great centerpiece too! Get the full recipe.
Sweet-n-spicy trail mix
The combo of dried fruits and spices, like turmeric and black pepper, really hit the mark on the sweet and spicy, savory mix. Michelle Davenport, MD, co-founder of Raised Real, says, when choosing your nuts and seeds, go unsalted, as this will slash the sodium and make the trail mix healthier. And, if you’re adding dried fruit, go sulfate-free, as sulfates can be irritating to those who suffer from asthma or other respiratory problems. Here, Davenport shares her favorite combination (it makes 10 servings): 1/4 lb raw, unsalted almonds and 1/4 lb Brazil nuts, raw, 1/4 lb unsalted pumpkin and 1/4 lb hemp seeds, sulfate-free, 1/4 lb unsweetened dried organic goji berries, 1/4 lb dried organic white mulberries, and 1/4 lb dried organic blueberries, and last but not least, a few superfoods, like 1/4 lb raw cacao nibs, 1/4 lb shredded unsweetened coconut, and 1/4 lb shredded nori seaweed. And to add more flavor, dust with turmeric and black pepper. Each serving is only 51 calories. “Simply dust coconut with turmeric and black pepper (the black pepper increases bioavailability of curcumin from turmeric by 2000 percent). Lay mixture out on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes at 350F until coconut is lightly toasted. Then mix all ingredients together and store in airtight container,” she explains.
Beet and goji berry trail mix
A common problem with most packaged trail mix blends? They are ridiculously high in sugar. Beyond just blending sugary items, like fruit, chocolate, and pretzels, for instance, added sugar often goes into coating nuts or sweetening already sweet dried fruit, says Maggie Moon, MS, RDN, author of The MIND Diet. The fix? Making your own at home means you can be judicious with the amount and quality of sweetness you add to your trail mix. So, you can ditch the caramel coated popcorn, yogurt pretzels, and cinnamon sugar dried apples, and include your own spices instead to boost flavor, sugar-free. What’s more, you can even swap dried fruit for veggie chips, like beets, which taste naturally sweet but are low in calories, suggests Moon. Try this slimmed-down trail mix of beet chips, goji berries, pistachios, and popcorn for a “great source of potassium, fiber, and vitamin A, with zero added sugar and only 125 calories per serving,” she adds. Get the full recipe.
Easy lunch-box trail mix
Want to munch on trail mix when at work, but are worried about digging into a whole bag? “To avoid temptation to grab another handful, divide your trail mix into resealable snack bags, or find dual compartment food storage container that fits about half-a-cup of food on each side. Many grocery stores and kitchen supply stores stock them,” says Moon. (Check out more tips for packing lunch boxes, too). And, if you’re eating handful after handful, those calories can really add up. “Most trail mixes are calorie dense, which is by design for efficient energy on long hikes (read: lots of calories in a tiny serving). But if you’re snacking away at your desk, you simply don’t have the same needs,” explains Moon. The good news: You can cut calories and still amp up satiety by basing your trail mixes with popcorn (here’s why popcorn is good for you!) and sprinkling with smaller amounts of high-quality, nutritious ingredients, like nuts, dried fruit, and dark chocolate, advises Moon. What’s more, you can even swap dried cranberries (or any fruit), which almost always have added sugar, with freeze-dried fruit to save on calories and added sugar, she says. Get the full recipe.
Superfood trail mix
A good guideline when it comes to slashing calories for trail mix? Go simple, says Rebekah Blakey, RDN at The Vitamin Shoppe. Blakey uses only three ingredients for a slimming, but high-quality trail mix blend that can be added to yogurt or oatmeal or just eaten by hand. She combines 1 oz (about ¼ cup) of pumpkin seeds, ½ oz (about 2 tablespoons) of goji berries, and 1 tablespoon shredded coconut. (She recommends Sunfood Raw Organic Heirloom Pumpkin Seeds, Sunfood Raw Organic Goji Berries, and Now Foods Unsweetened Shredded Organic Coconut, but any brand will do.) Just keep those proportions as is to maintain proper portion control. And, for a little extra crunch? Toast coconut at 350 degrees for five to ten minutes, she says. Plus, here’s the best part: “You get 42 percent of your daily magnesium and 19 percent of your daily zinc needs from the pumpkin seeds alone, and the mix provides about 20 percent of your daily iron,” says Blakey. (Great option for those looking to include more plant-based iron in their diet.) What’s more, “you get ten grams of protein packed in with only eight grams of natural sugar (from the unsweetened berries), and less than 50 mg sodium—making it a diabetic-friendly and heart-healthy snack option. The little bit of coconut provides some extra fiber, flavor, and an extra dose of multiple minerals,” she adds. Want more fiber in the diet? Try these high-fiber recipes.
Blueberry maple walnut trail mix
Whereas store-bought versions of trail mix are usually loaded with sugary ingredients, like sugarcoated dried fruit, chocolate and M&M’s, this homemade trail mix uses fresh fruit, omega-3 rich walnuts, and a touch of maple syrup, to keep the calorie and sugar count low. Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD, of Nutrition à la Natalie, shares her go-to mix, which features dried blueberries for a touch of sweetness. And, this recipe teaches you how to dry fruit in your very own oven without any sugar required. “Basically, just set the oven to a low temperature and let the fruit dry over the course of two hours. It’s extremely simple and lets the fruit shine without any sweetener needed,” says Rizzo. And, she picks walnuts for choice of nut, here. “Walnuts are rich in omega-3’s (here are a few other omega-3 sources to choose from), which lower inflammation, and research indicates that you only actually metabolize a portion of the calories in the nut. Essentially, the study found that one serving of walnuts actually contains 146 calories, which is 39 calories per serving less than the 185 calories listed on the label. And by using unsalted nuts, you’re staying away from unwanted sodium,” she explains. Get the full recipe.
High-fiber cereal trail mix
A great tip for boosting the volume, at few calories, in a trail mix recipe? Add some high-fiber cereal, like Cheerios, Wheat Chex, or Barbara’s Puffins, for instance. These will fill you up and provide some bulk, so you might be able to eat a larger serving (score). This recipe from Katie Morford, dietitian and food blogger of Mom’s Healthy Kitchen, opts for Cheerios (a great choice for kids and adults, alike), which are high in fiber as a cereal and low in sugar and fats. And, by adding a dash of salt, crunch, and more volume with the inclusion of pretzels, you’re able to reach for a greater grab when digging in. Get the full recipe.