How to Cut Calories in Trail Mix Without Losing Flavor: Recipes & Tips

Trail Mix — It’s Been Around Forever

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Since ancient times, trail mixes have been a compact, nutritious energy source for travelers, hikers, and nomads. Note that "energy source" part — trail mix is high in calories by design, because people on the move need lots of calories.

Of course, in modern times, we often enjoy trail mix as a snack on its own, not as a way to get a burst of energy while engaging in exercise, and as such we might look for ways to reduce the calorie content of trail mix.

Ingredients Common to Trail Mixes

Let's look at ingredients common to trail mixes first.

  • Nuts and seeds – peanuts, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, cashews, macadamias, pistachios and pecans are all popular.
  • Dried fruit – raisins, apricots, cherries, dates, pineapple, cranberries, and even dried blueberries and strawberries are finding their way into trail mixes.

Other Foods Found in Trail Mix

While ancient trail mixes also consisted of dried meats like pemmican, the most traditional trail mix in modern times is "good old raisins and peanuts," or gorp, and the trail mix varieties we're familiar with all build upon that basic idea of nuts + dried fruit.

  • Cereals – granola and dry breakfast cereal.
  • Other sweets – dried flakes of coconut, chocolate chips, M&Ms, carob chips, butterscotch chips are all examples of other sweets that people might add to trail mix.

How to Cut the Calories in Trail Mix by 40 Percent Without Sacrificing Flavor

You can't really cut the calories from trail mix by removing nuts and fruit — both pretty high-calorie foods — without turning it into something other than trail mix. Instead, we're going to look at ways to dilute the high-calorie component of trail mix with lower-calorie foods. This way we still have the nuts and dried fruit that make trail mix trail mix, while also getting a lower-calorie snack in the bargain.

Here's a basic recipe for trail mix variations that are lower calorie than the standard 170 calories per quarter cup that normal trail mix will have.

Mix in breakfast cereal with some nuts and dried fruit — say, two parts Cheerios to one part peanuts and one part raisins (one cup cereal, one-half cup nuts and one-half cup dried fruit). That ratio comes to 100 calories per one-quarter cup serving, 40 percent fewer calories than regular trail mix!

If possible, use raw or dry-roasted, unsalted nuts and dried fruit without extra sugar added. Oil-roasting, salt, and extra sugar all add calories, sodium and sugar we don't need.

You can try this basic recipe with nearly any cereal/nut/dried fruit combination. Try Rice Chex/macadamias/dried unsweetened flaked coconut/dried pineapple for a tropical mixture, for instance.

You could even cut calories further by increasing the ratio of cereal and decreasing the nuts and dried fruit from the mix. One recipe we found added more cereal and pretzels, for a "grains" to nuts/fruit ratio of 3:1 instead of the 1:1 ratio (e.g., one cup cereal, one cup nuts/fruit combined) above. This recipe had only 60 calories per one-quarter cup serving! While it will certainly be a tasty snack, it's probably not quite "trail mix" any longer, but don't let that stop you from trying it if it sounds good.

Conclusion

Go ahead and experiment. If you live near a supermarket or health food store with bulk bins, you can put together your own low calorie trail mix on the cheap. And if you're feeling adventurous, splurge on some of today's trendy nuts and dried fruits like goji berries, jungle peanuts, or dried yacon (a sweet Peruvian vegetable). Let us know what amazing trail mix combinations you come up with in the comments.

References

The Food Timeline–history notes: muffins to yogurt

Take-along Trail Mix, https://www.clemson.edu/extension/county/bamberg/programs/4h/4h_projects/disaster_prepardness/trail_mix_recipes.pdf

Image credit: Mary_Thompson