Power snacks: Make your own trail mixes
Trail mixes—typically a mix of nuts, seeds and dried fruits—are a common enough sight across supermarket shelves today. The term trail mix alludes to the fact that this energy-packed snack was recommended for long-distance trekkers, basically those on a trail. But even if you aren’t hiking, this handy snack is recommended by nutritionists who cite its potent nutrient-dense qualities as a healthier option than a lot of other packaged foods.
“With so many nuts and seeds combined together, they are an instant source of energy, and particularly suitable for those who are constantly on the go or in between meetings, etc.,” says Tina Sapra, a Gurugram-based nutritionist and founder of the DoctorDiet clinic.
But as with all good things, the key is to indulge in small amounts—no more than a handful once or twice a day—since it’s a high-calorie snack. Niyati Likhite, a dietitian at the Fortis Hospital in Kalyan, Mumbai, suggests that office-goers with moderately active lifestyles should opt for low-fat and low-calorie trail mixes. “Typically, trail mixes that contain walnuts, almonds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, watermelon seeds, muskmelon seeds, chia seeds, flax seeds, dried blueberry and raspberry, with no added sugar and fats, would be considered low calorie and low fat,” Likhite explains.
While there is no fixed ratio of nuts, seeds and dried fruit for a trail mix, Likhite recommends a handful of nuts (20g) a day for health benefits like reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and diabetes. “If you want your trail mix to be higher in good fats, then you should include more nuts. Similarly, if you want it higher in antioxidants, you can include more seeds. But if you want it higher in fibre, then there should be more dried fruits,” says Sapra, who recommends tweaking the mix depending on the season. “For instance, in summer, you can include more cooling dried fruits such as apricots, dried coconut and cranberries in your mix,” she says.
Both dietitians caution against buying packaged trail mixes on a regular basis as these often contain added salt and sugar. “If you are buying packaged trail mixes, the sugar and sodium should be less than 5g and 2g per serving,” Sapra says.
Follow these recipes to make your own healthy trail mix.
Brazil nut and sesame mix
Calorie count: 200 calories per serving
1/2 cup chopped Brazil nuts or almonds, 1/2 cup dry-roasted sesame (choose unpolished sesame seeds), 1/2 cup green or black raisins, a pinch of nutmeg
If you choose to make this trail mix with Brazil nuts, it would be particularly beneficial for diabetics and people with high cholesterol. Manasa Rajan, a nutritionist at the health and fitness start-up Cure.fit, who shared this recipe, says: “Brazil nuts are extremely good sources of selenium, which helps reduce bad cholesterol and boosts insulin sensitivity. Together, the sesame and Brazil nut also help boost immunity.” However, since Brazil nuts are nutrient-dense, a small portion is sufficient for a snack and health impact, she adds.
Conversely, should you choose to make this trail mix with almonds, there would still be major health pay-offs. As Rajan explains, “Almonds, coupled with sesame, reinforce bone health, which is particularly important for women (bone loss increases dramatically at menopause due to dropping oestrogen levels).” Moreover, almonds pack a healthy dose of vitamin E and antioxidants, which, in turn, means healthy skin. Meanwhile, the nutmeg improves cognitive function, helps digestion and is also beneficial for efficient detoxification, while raisins bring an energy boost and are rich in B vitamins and iron. “Spices are a great way to get special anti-inflammatory benefits and antioxidants in our food and snacks,” adds Rajan. When using Brazil nuts, however, be cautious, she says. “These nuts can go rancid quickly, which can affect the shelf life of the mix. It is best to make this with really fresh ingredients and in smaller portions at a time.” According to her, this particular recipe should be sufficient for five portions that can be eaten through the week.
Savoury trail mix
Calorie count: Approximately 170-180 calories per serving
1/2 cups raw almonds, 1/3 cups hulled pumpkin seeds, 1/2 cups raw sunflower seeds, 1 tsp garlic powder, 3 tsp onion powder, 1/3-1 tsp cayenne pepper (as per taste)
This savoury trail mix is great for diabetics for two reasons. First, the absence of dried fruits makes it sugar-free. Second, both the sunflower and pumpkin seeds help fight diabetes and heart disease. In addition, the selenium, a powerful antioxidant found in sunflower seeds, supports thyroid health. Nutritionist Jahnavi Mayur Parmar from Grow Fit, which offers customized diet plans as well as a healthy food delivery service, says: “Even the seasoning is healthy, with a potent mix that helps manage cholesterol, regulate digestion and boost metabolism.” Sharing the recipe, she recommends having the trail mix with some form of hydration (water or any healthy, sugar-free drink), to help the body absorb the fibre.
Power-packed cereal and nut mix
Calorie count: 125 calories per serving
1 cup popcorn, 3 tsp chopped Brazil nuts or walnuts, 2 tbsp dried pineapple pieces, 3 tsp sunflower seeds, 3 tsp roasted broken banana chips, 2 tsp flaked coconut
This recipe, shared by Amiya Sunith, clinical nutritionist at the Sakra World Hospital in Bengaluru, is an energy-dense snack with a combination of cereal, fruits and nuts that provides excellent nutritional power, satiates hunger pangs and provides usable energy for the body. However, since it has high-calorie elements such as banana chips, coconut and dehydrated pineapple, Sunith wouldn’t recommend it to those trying to lose weight. “This mix is great as an after-school snack for children or for those who are constantly on the go,” says Sunith, who explains that the popcorn adds more bulk with fewer calories. “It is also a great source of fibre, which helps to lower cholesterol. The small quantity of coconut, too, provides some extra fibre, flavour and multiple minerals.”
To make your own coconut flakes at home, Sunith suggests shredding some fresh coconut and roasting it in a preheated oven for half an hour at 175 degrees Celsius. You can store this coconut in an airtight bag or jar in the refrigerator for six months. The banana chips add crunch and a significant amount of dietary fibre but it’s important not to pick deep-fried chips. Eliminate the chips if you can’t find dehydrated or roasted banana chips, advises Sunith.