Low-Carb Trail Mix

Monday, September 5, 2011
Heading out for a hike or a trip? Those packaged trail mixes may look tempting, but usually they are deceptively loaded with sugar. Here’s how to make your own trail mix, have the mix of flavors you want, and keep the carbs down.

The Anatomy of Trail Mix

Trail mixes (AKA “gorp”) are a non-perishable concentrated energy source, convenient when you want to carry something to eat that is relatively light for the calories it provides. This is something to keep in mind: all trail mixes are high in calories because that is what they are meant for. This is great when you are out on a backpacking trip, but if your activity level is going to be relatively modest, or if you just want to have an emergency snack in your purse, bear in mind that a little goes a long way.

Trail mixes tend to have a lot of nuts and seeds, which are good for low-carbers. But there is also a substantial sugar load in the mix for “quick energy”, in the form of candies, chocolate chips, and/or dried fruit. This extra carbohydrate is usually not necessary for those eating low-carb, because their bodies have adapted to getting energy from fats (and to a lesser extent, protein). On the other hand, low-carbers who are engaged in heavy physical activity can usually get away with at least a little more carbohydrate than usually works for them.

A Little Sugar Goes a Long Way

Another reason for the sweet stuff is flavor, of course. Trail mix wouldn’t really be trail mix without a bit of sweet in there – it would just be a nut and seed mix. Nut and seed mixes are great for a low-carb way of eating, but if you want to add some sweetness, here are some things to think about:

Raisins are very high in sugar – at 125 grams of effective carbohydrate per cup, raisins are usually not even in consideration when eating low-carb. However, because they are intense in sweetness and flavor, and if you just have one or two raisins in with a handful of nuts and seeds, you can get that sweet contrast for not a huge amount of sugar. Even better are currants because they are smaller.

Dried fruit often has added sugar – if the fruit didn’t have much sugar to begin with, you can bet some will be added during processing. Thus, berries, such as blueberries and cranberries, which are usually great fruit choices when eating low-carb, almost always have a lot of sugar added when dried and sold commercially. The carb count usually ends up being comparable to raisins.

Sugar-free dried fruit is possible to find, but is usually more expensive. One source is the Just Tomatoes company which freeze-dries vegetables and fruits, with nothing added. Some health food stores carry these products. Note that just reading about freeze-dried products can be a bit deceiving, because the nutritional information is by weight and they are very light, since all the water has been removed (unlike the more common dried fruits). For example, a 1.5 oz tub of freeze-dried cranberries is about 3 cups by volume.

It is possible to make your own dried fruit just plain, or with added sugar substitute. I don't have a dehydrator, but I did develop a method for making sugar-free dried cranberries in the oven.

A Quick Trick for Making Low-Carb Trail Mix

Look at some bags of trail mix and choose the one with the least carbs. Then, “dilute” it by mixing a cup of that mix with several cups of nuts, seeds, and unsweetened coconut.

Chart of Nuts and Seeds (carb counts, calories, fats)

A Recipe for Low-Carb Trail Mix

This is just one possibility, of course.
  • 1 cup roasted peanuts
  • 1 cup raw or roasted almonds
  • 1 cup pumpkin or squash seeds (How To Toast Pumpkin Seeds)
  • 2 oz unsweetened coconut
  • ? cup raisins or currants (loosely-packed, i.e. don’t cram in as many as possible)
Nutritional Information: This should make about 16 servings of ? cup each. Each serving will have 6.5 grams of effective carbohydrate and 3.5 grams of fiber. If you make the same mix without the raisins, assuming 14 servings, each will have 4 grams of effective carbohydrate and 3 grams of fiber.

Other Good Choices For Trail Mix

  • Sunflower seeds
  • Filberts (hazelnuts)
  • Walnuts
  • Soy nuts
  • Other nuts and seeds, but check the labels for carbs

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