Monthly Archives: September 2015

DIY Trail Mix – How to Create the Perfect Blend for Energy, Health, and Taste

The weather’s finally starting to cool down, which means that hiking season is here! For at least the past century, trail mix has been a preferred snack for hikers; it’s easily portable, lightweight, and doesn’t need to be refrigerated. With the right ingredients, it provides sugar for a quick burst of energy as well as protein for more sustained efforts: factors that also make it a great snack for work. As with most foods, however, it’s important to check the nutritional information on prepared trail mixes before assuming that they’re all healthy; some of them are so loaded with sugar, fat, and salt that they should be treated like a dessert or special treat, not a healthy snack.

how to make your own healthier trail mix

One way to avoid confusion about trail mixes is to make your own. You can craft it to meet your own specific tastes and be sure to avoid any surprises in the fat, sugar, and salt departments. Here’s a handy guide on making your own trail mix.

Go crazy: add protein with nuts, legumes, and seeds.

The base of your trail mix—at least 50%—should be comprised of nuts, legumes, and seeds for protein. Whenever possible, choose options without extra salt and fat; you can always add your own salt later. These are good nut choices:

  • Almonds
  • Hazelnuts
  • Cashews
  • Chestnuts
  • Pistachios

Good legume choices include the following:

  • Peanuts
  • Soybeans/edamame (dried or roasted)
  • Chickpeas (dried or roasted)

These are good seed choices:

  • Pumpkin
  • Hemp
  • Flax
  • Chia
  • Sesame

Go slower: add sugar and fiber with dried fruit.

Dried fruit is a delicious part of many trail mixes. It provides a little sweetness, a little tartness, and some sugar and fiber to get you through the day. As with your protein choices, try to avoid extra fat and sugar. Banana chips, for instance, are often fried! And some dried fruits are loaded with sugar. When adding dried fruit to your trail mix, aim for about 40% of the total. Good dried fruit options include these:

  • Cranberries
  • Raisins
  • Blueberries
  • Apple chips
  • Cherries
  • Dates
  • Figs

Be careful: add treats.

Added sparingly, treats like candy can make your trail mix extremely appealing, but make sure to keep the percentage to no more than 10%. Yummy treats include the following:

  • M&Ms
  • Chocolate-covered fruit or pretzels
  • Yogurt-covered fruit or pretzels
  • Chocolate chips

 

 

Foods That Appear Good for You… but Aren’t: Part One

 

Everyone knows that foods like bacon, double cheeseburgers, potato chips, and ice cream sundaes are not good for you. We may splurge sometimes, but these foods make no claims for their nutritional value. The same can’t be said for some junk food that masquerades astricky-foods healthy food, or food that just plain seems like it should be healthy, but isn’t. Below, we’ve compiled a list of some of the foods that people most frequently think are healthy… but aren’t.

Trick Food #1: Granola

Is there any food that has such a reputation for healthfulness as granola? Since the 1960s, when many in the counter-culture movement embraced it as a health food, granola has been considered one of the most nutritious breakfast or snack foods available. But if you read the labels of most of today’s commercially available granola, you’ll see that a cup often contains as many as 500 calories, in addition to many grams of sugar and fat. Some granolas are healthier, but be sure to check the nutrition facts before you do some inadvertent damage to your diet.

Trick Food #2: Veggie Chips

It sounds too good to be true: crunchy, salty snacks that taste like potato chips but are as healthy as a serving of fresh vegetables. Unfortunately, things that sound too good to be true often are, and that’s the case with most veggie chips, sticks, and other snacks. In most cases, these snacks are indeed just potato chips in disguise; their primary ingredient is potato flour, and the vegetables are present only as coloring. If you really want to snack on veggies, look for vegetable snacks that actually look like vegetables; baked or fried veggie snacks are increasingly available and provide a genuine alternative to potato chips.

Trick Food #3: Yogurt-Covered Raisins, Pretzels, or Anything Else

Purveyors of yogurt-covered snacks trade on the public’s perception that anything involving yogurt is healthy. Yogurt itself is, of course, healthy; it’s filled with calcium, vitamin D, protein, and probiotics. But the main ingredients in the yogurt coating of most snacks are palm oil and sugar, with “yogurt powder” running a distant third. If you’re looking for the health benefits of yogurt, have a real yogurt, and treat yogurt-covered snacks as an occasional splurge.

Tea Trends: Yerba Mate and Yaupon Make Waves in the Beverage World

A plain “cuppa” just doesn’t cut it in today’s world of fast-moving food and beverage trends. When it comes to tea, many drinkers have moved far beyond the typical English Hot teas that new to you and great for your bodybreakfast brew and have discovered the leaves of our ancestors: brewed drinks that haven’t been seen in this country for centuries, if at all. Two of these, yerba mate and yaupon, continue to (re)gain popularity among the health- and trend-conscious.

Yerba mate (ilex paraguariensis) is a rainforest holly plant that is native to Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, and parts of Brazil, where it has been consumed for centuries. The leaves are dried and then brewed in hot water, creating a drink similar to tea (which is technically only made from the leaves of camellia sinensis). Yerba mate contains caffeine, antioxidants, and nutrients like Vitamins A, B, C, and E as well as iron, potassium, calcium, and zinc—prompting many to call it a superfood. One study has tied yerba mate to reduced cholesterol, better management of obesity, and the prevention of cancer.

A more recent (re)addition to the brewed beverage scene is yaupon, which comes from an American cousin of yerba mate’s holly plant: the unfortunately (and misleadingly) named ilex vomitoria, or yaupon holly. Yaupon is native to the southeastern United States from coastal North Carolina all the way to Texas. Southeastern American Indians used the leaves to brew a strong concoction called “black drink,” which they consumed as part of one of their purification rituals. Archaeologists have found clay mugs with yaupon residue in Cahokia, Illinois, that were used as early as A.D. 1050!

Yaupon’s unfortunate Latin name comes from European explorers who saw the tribes’ purification rituals and wrongly assumed that the beverage was an emetic. In fact, some suggest that the name was a deliberate smear campaign in the early 18th century by a botanist in the employ of Ceylon tea importers, trying (successfully) to make sure that European settlers continued to drink their imported tea instead of the leaves that were growing in their back yard. In actuality, yaupon is a caffeinated beverage that tastes quite similar to green or black tea, with similar levels of antioxidants. It is gaining popularity as a locally sourced alternative to imported caffeinated drinks. Watch out, English breakfast!