Trail mix is great health food, or at least it can be when prepared thoughtfully. A source of varied nutrients and even a good start for the day, it's breakfast on the go.
Composed of nuts, seeds and dried fruit, trail mix contains assorted beneficial fats, protein, minerals, vitamins, fiber and other nutrients limited only by our choices and creativity. There are dozens of premixed blends on the market, but often they contain unwanted candy or berries sweetened and glazed with unneeded oil.
You can make your own healthy trail mix "from scratch" starting with some basics, such as raw almonds and walnuts, adding lightly toasted hazelnuts, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, raisins, dried apples, pears, coconut, dates, figs and currants.
Some bulk-bin mixes that you can find in area stores have sprouted nuts and novelty fruits such as persimmons, mango or exotic tropical berries. Others contain certified-organic fruits, seeds and nuts, as well.
To make a batch, I often start with a couple of basic, premade mixes and then add some of the fruits and nuts I mentioned. I also sprinkle in raw cacao nibs, which help lower blood pressure. They contain fiber, magnesium and distinctive plant nutrients with multifaceted cardiovascular benefits. Added dried fruits offset the nibs' slight bitterness.
The broader the variety, the bigger the potential nutritional benefits, so don't forget Brazil nuts, pistachios, pecans and pine nuts when affordable and available. Brazil nuts are a great source of selenium, a trace mineral critical to thyroid function and associated with reduced cancer risk.
Pistachios and pecans contain some of the same kind of good fat as olive oil — monounsaturated fats — that reduce cardiovascular risk. Pistachios also have other heart-healthy nutrients, including vitamin B6 and magnesium. Pine nuts help reduce inflammation, contribute to repair of the gastrointestinal tract and slow skin aging.
Leaving a container of trail mix for kids to pick at may teach them to enjoy foods far preferable to snack bars and candy — a new twist on the classic cookie jar.
When I'm on the go for morning classes, I often eat some trail mix, half an apple, and I'm out the door. After all, breakfast doesn't have to be big or complex to be satisfying and nutritious. Healthy trails to you.
Michael Altman is a nutritionist at Ventana Wellness and the Centre for Natural Healing. He teaches at Southern Oregon University and College of the Siskiyous. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.