A registered dietitian breaks down what you need to know about healthy trail mix including if it’s a healthy snack and if you should grab trail mix instead of potato chips.

Lisa Valente, M.S., R.D.
November 16, 2020
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Trail mix is one of my favorite snacks. I’ll grab a handful to fuel my afternoon and definitely pack it for hikes. But is it good for you? Well, like most foods, that depends. Trail mix can be a part of a healthy diet, but if you want it to be a go-to snack, there are ways to make it healthier. Here’s how to enjoy trail mix and make sure it’s still good for you. 

What is trail mix?

Trail mix is typically a mix of nuts and dried fruit, sometimes with chocolate, seeds, cereal or pretzels mixed in. It’s made for the trails, hence the name. Trail mix is perfect for hiking because you get a lot of energy in a small package. It keeps for a long time in a backpack too. Since it’s shelf stable, you don’t have to worry about packing a cooler. You can make your own or buy premixed packages. 

The nutrition facts will vary based on what brand you choose and the ingredients that are in it. Kirkland Signature trail mix from Costco, which comes with peanuts, M & M’s milk chocolate candies, raisins, almonds and cashews has 160 calories, 11 grams of sugar and 5 grams of protein per serving.

Is trail mix good for weight loss? 

If you’re wondering if trail mix is going to help you lose weight or stall your weight loss, I say go for it! The reason people may have this question in the first place is because trail mix is made up of high-calorie foods. Nuts and dried fruit are energy dense, but they’re both good for you.

The base of trail mix—nuts and fruit—are two foods that can help you lose weight. Nuts are packed with healthy fats, protein and fiber, three nutrients that help keep you full. Fruit delivers fiber and other key vitamins and minerals. (Try these other top foods for weight loss.)

If you’re trying to lose weight and want to snack on trail mix—consider portioning out some trail mix or buying trail mix in smaller packages versus one giant bag. Also, you don’t need a dietitian to tell you that trail mix made with cashews, pistachios and dried cherries is going to be better for you than the ultimate chocolate lover’s package (right?). If you’re eating candy but calling it trail mix, it may be time to make your own or buy a lower-sugar mix. If you’re making your own and want it to be a larger portion, bulk up your mix with whole-grain cereal like Cheerios or a bran flake. 

Is trail mix better than potato chips? 

I don’t want to hate on potato chips, but if you’re looking for a healthy snack that’s still salty and crunchy, I would choose trail mix most of the time. Again, the nuts and fruit you find in trail mix are good for you. And even though many trail mixes have more calories than potato chips, it’s more about what’s in your calories. Trail mix will fill you up, whereas potato chips tend to leave you wanting more (so salty, so yummy, so hard to eat just one). 

If you think about trail mix compared to energy bars or granola bars, I also think trail mix comes out on top most of the time. Bars are great because they’re pre-portioned and really easy to throw in your bag and go. What holds most bars together is sugar, so trail mix tends to have less sugar than many bars. 

Is trail mix with chocolate OK?

As a chocolate lover, I’m going to say yes. We know that dark chocolate has health benefits (thank you, science), and a little bit of chocolate can help make your snack more satisfying. The problem with many store-bought mixes is that they include multiple types of chocolate or sweets. Instead of just chocolate chips, there are three types of chocolate chips plus mini peanut butter cups or yogurt-covered pretzels (again, candy in disguise). Take this Monster Trail Mix from Target ($7.99 for 32 ounces). It has peanuts, M & M’s, raisins, chocolate chips and peanut butter chips. Three of the five ingredients are candy and there’s 180 calories and 10 grams of added sugar per serving. Compare that to their Omega-3 Trail Mix ($11.99 for 32 ounces) which is made with cranberries, almonds, walnuts, pepitas and pecans. It has 160 calories, half as much added sugar and more fiber and healthy fats from the nuts. If you want some chocolate in your trail mix, look for some that only has a little bit or add a small handful of chocolate chips to some nuts and dried fruit.

Welcome to The Beet. A weekly column where nutrition editor and registered dietitian Lisa Valente tackles buzzy nutrition topics and tells you what you need to know, with science and a little bit of sass.