Trail mix is enjoyed by everyone from hikers on a rigorous journey to children who need a quick snack between school and soccer practice. But no single trail mix is suited for all walks of life.
The problem with store-bought trail mix, while it can be packed with of protein and vitamins to give you a boost throughout the day, is that is may also be loaded with fats, sugar and artificial ingredients. Creating your own trail mix gives you more control over what you're putting into your body and is tailor made for the type of day you're going to have.
First and foremost, nutrients break down in different ways. If your trail mix needs to fuel strenuous physical activity, quickly metabolized carbohydrates are appropriate. If you're just looking to stay focused during a three-hour exam, you want something that will stay with you, like fiber and protein. The best way to determine which foods will metabolize more quickly is to check the glycemic index.
If you want to create your own trail mix to keep you going throughout a long day, try to include as many of these ingredients as possible:
1. Almonds or Other Nuts – Almonds contain a high number of monounsaturated fats and are quite high in protein, vitamin E and fiber to give you extra energy. Overall, nuts can be considered the staple of a healthy trail mix. While almonds are going to be your best bet in terms of overall nutrients, others nuts such as peanuts or walnuts help balance out the flavor of trail mix and are packed with protein, positive fats and fiber. To cut down on your sodium intake, which can leave you dehydrated, try experimenting with curry or ginger powder for a spicy taste and bonus nutrients (Expert Tip: To get the powder to stick to the nuts better, try moistening the nuts with a small amount of water.).
2. Dark Chocolate -- Outside of adding a bit of a sweet taste, dark chocolate provides a substantial amount of antioxidants. Dark chocolate does contain sugar, but most of it will be converted into energy. You can also try chocolate in its raw form, cacao nibs.
3. Unsweetened Dried Fruits -- Fruits are naturally sweet and satisfying and don't contain empty calories as all of their sugar is converted into energy. Try to stay away from the sugar coated fruits as those don't offer as much of an advantage. Also avoid any produced with oils or chemicals. The main fruits used in trail mixes which offer the greatest benefit are blueberries, cranberries or pineapple rings.
4. Oats -- Oats are high in fiber and help lower cholesterol levels in the body, protecting your heart from disease.
5. Jerky -- If you're looking for even more protein to add to your diet, try adding bits of jerky to the equation. Sweeter flavors of jerky, such as teriyaki, can mesh well with the salty and sweet tastes of the nuts and fruits and provide a nice contrast. Look for the most natural you can find.
6. Pumpkin Seeds -- Full of minerals including phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, iron, copper and zinc, pumpkin seeds have been shown to protect against osteoporosis as well as reduce levels of LDL ("bad") cholesterol in the body. They're also an excellent source of protein, B vitamins and vitamin K for improved energy and endurance.
7. Protein Chips -- True to their name, protein chips normally contain high amounts of protein and fiber to help you stay full throughout the day. Try to find a variety low in calories, sodium and fats.
If you're interested in creating your own trail mix to enjoy, use these portion as guidelines to create a balanced mix that tastes great:
1/4 cup almonds
1/4 cup dark chocolate pieces
1 cup protein chips
1 shredded piece of teriyaki jerky
1/2 cup of oats
1/8 cup dried blueberries
1/8 cup dried cranberries
1/8 cup sliced/shredded dried pineapple rings
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
After mixing, store your trail mix in a larger container with a scoop (reuse one of those old ones from a tub of protein powder) or portion it out into smaller contains or plastic bags so it's always ready for the taking.
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