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.