Your Trail Mix Might Be A Lot Worse For You Than You Think

Is there any snack that sounds quite so wholesome as trail mix? It's just a handful of some nuts, some seeds, and some dried fruit, and it's hard not to imagine the sun rising over the lake in a beautiful mountain range as you rip into that pack and treat yourself to little bits of salty-sweet goodness. The problem, though, is that you're probably eating your trail mix in the car, after a long day of sitting at your desk, at work – not when you reach the top of a hilly trail, after having spent hours hiking.

"Trail mix was created for active people on the go, like hikers, hence the name 'trail' mix," pointed out Lynell Ross, a certified health and wellness coach, certified nutritionist, and Resource Director for Test Prep Insight, where she helps people reach their mental and physical potential to succeed in their education and career goals. In an interview with Mashed, Ross explained just how high in calories this seemingly healthy snack can be. "If you snack on trail mix by the handful, you can eat up to 800 calories in no time, almost a half a day's worth."

Trail mixes can be made with unhealthy ingredients

If you haven't noticed, your trail mix may contain more than just nuts and fruit, Ross pointed out. "There are trail mixes on the market with unhealthy ingredients," she said. "Be careful to look at all the ingredients in your trail mix, as they are all different. Some stores create bulk trail mixes with very healthy ingredients, such as various nuts, seeds and dried fruits, the more natural ingredients the better." The issue, though, is that just as many brands throw in some not-so-healthy tidbits into their mixes. "[S]ome packaged mixes contain candy like color-coated chocolate pieces made with dyes, or yogurt covered raisins."

But wait — yogurt is supposed to be good for you, is it not? "The 'yogurt' they refer to isn't really yogurt at all but a coating made from partially hydrogenated soybean oil," which is a source of trans fat, Ross pointed out. "Trans fats are the worst thing we can eat, and are disguised by calling them yogurt covered raisins."

You don't have to walk away from trail mix completely. Here's why

So, those trail mixes filled with candy and yogurt-covered raisins need to be avoided, but you can find healthy ways to enjoy this snack, according to Ross. The key is portion control. "[A] problem with trail mix is that it is very high in calories, so even if you are eating a blend of nuts, raisins and dried fruit, one serving is usually about 1/4 of a cup," she said. So, grab yourself a measuring cup and ratio yourself out a serving: You'll notice that won't be more than a handful (unless you have tiny, child-sized hands!). This advice applies even when it's an all-natural, nutrient-packed variety. "[E]ven if your trail mix is made with nuts, which is a healthy fat, you don't need to eat more than one or two portions," Ross added. "Dried raisins and other dried fruit are also high in sugar, so a little goes a long way."

Of course, if you are going to spend the entire morning hiking, or are training for a marathon and trail mix is your preferred post-workout snack, you can eat more. For the rest of us, though, "measure out your portion size to 1/4 or 1/2 cup and put the rest away for the next day," Ross said, "unless you want to gain weight."