Trail mix is one of those foods generally regarded as healthy. It has nuts and fruit, two major ingredients that do technically fall under the healthy foods umbrella. However, if you’re on the lookout for a healthy, satisfying snack on store shelves, you might struggle to find a trail mix that includes all the health benefits without also bringing along added sugars, saturated fat, and artificial ingredients galore.
If you lack the time or resources to make your own trail mix at home, at least keep an eye out for these packaged trail mix brands. They may look promising, but they’re not nearly as healthy as you might think.
1. Kirkland Signature Trail Mix
This snack option, a combination of raisins, peanuts, almonds, cashews, and M&Ms, seems fairly healthy at a glance. It has a high nut-to-chocolate ratio, which means it does contain some healthy fat and a little protein. Unfortunately, one serving has 2 grams of saturated fat — as much as eating three Oreo cookies. Something with the fat content of cookies, at only 3 tablespoons per serving, isn’t the best choice for a light snack.
2. Planters Trail Mixes
While almonds and peanuts can serve as a healthy addition to any snack, Planters’ peanut butter and chocolate offering also includes peanut butter candy pieces. These candies contain artificial ingredients, such as yellow 5 dye, which is also used in the making of Doritos chips.
So what’s the issue? Food colorings like yellow dye have high levels of cancer-causing chemicals that are especially dangerous for children to consume. In general, the fewer artificial additives a food has, the safer it is to eat.
3. Emerald S’mores Blend Trail Mix
Bringing along your favorite campfire snack sounds like a great idea! That is, until you realize this collection of mini marshmallows, graham crackers, milk chocolate pieces, and nuts is filled with about as many grams of added sugars in one package as a serving of Pixie Stix candies. Sugars added during heavy food processing can hide on ingredient lists under a variety of pseudonyms, too — corn syrup, cane juice, glucose, even honey. In the end, though, it’s still processed sugar, though it doesn’t taste anything like a Pixie Stix.
4. Great Value Tropical Trail Mix
There’s nothing wrong with reaching for a snack that satisfies your craving for something salty. There are much better options out there than this brand, however. It has a third of the recommended amount of daily sodium in one package. By the time you start searching for an afternoon snack, you may have already reached your allotted amount of sodium for the day. In the short-term, too much sodium can make you feel thirsty. And since it’s often hard to differentiate between thirst and hunger, you might then be prompted to eat more later on than you need to. So much for cutting calories with a quick afternoon snack.
5. Chex Mix Trail Mix
Have you ever wondered why you can eat massive amounts of potato chips without ever feeling full? It’s because snack foods that are high in calories but low in nutritional value often lack significant amounts of fiber and protein. These two ingredients together help send signals to your brain, telling your body it feels full. If you’re looking for a filling snack, this brand of trail mix just won’t cut it. It has small amounts of protein and fiber, and plenty of sugar, but that won’t fill you up before you’ve eaten multiple servings in one sitting.
6. Archer Farms Monster Trail Mix
Hold a handful of this mix in your hands, and you’ll notice something important: How much chocolate it has to offer, and how much it lacks in the nut category. It’s kind of like pouring yourself a bowl of whole-wheat cereal, only to realize it has way too many chocolate pieces to be considered nutritious. You might think you’re getting away with a healthy snack that’s also loaded with chocolate, but the amount of flavorings and dyes that come with it won’t bring you many benefits. Generally, any snack composed of mostly chocolate is just dessert in disguise.
7. Kar’s Apple Nut Trailbreak Mix
In mixes like this one, fruit is dehydrated (dried) by removing the water from it to make it last longer. Dried fruit in its pure form is relatively healthy. However, the dried fruit in this mix has sugar added to it before it’s dried, making it higher in calories per serving and much lower in overall nutrition. And just because raisins are covered in Greek yogurt doesn’t mean they’re healthy.
8. Simple Truth Sweet n’ Salty Mix
If you were given a choice between trail mix and ice cream, and you were asked to choose which was healthier, you would probably pick the trail mix. It turns out, in terms of added ingredients, this brand of trail mix might be worse for you than dessert. It contains more sugar per serving than a small ice cream sandwich. Don’t let the roasted almonds, cashews, cranberries, and raisins fool you: There’s a lot of chocolate in this snack, pretty much canceling out any health benefits from the nuts and dried fruit.
9. Sam’s Choice Mixed Berry Trail Mix
Be wary of trail mixes that push fruit and yogurt as their key “healthy” ingredients. When it comes to trail mix, everything is dehydrated — which makes them more calorically dense. This mix, for example, contains almost as much sugar as a chocolate pudding snack pack. Its combination of Greek yogurt pieces and dried fruit ranks it as a snack not suitable for healthy munching.
10. Mr. Nature Happy Trail Mix
Some snacks are tempting because they’re so pretty to look at. If only every snack could flaunt its beauty naturally! Like many other snack mixes, this brand of trail mix contains yellow dye 6, also contained in Froot Loops cereal. It might look attractive, but in reality, scientists still aren’t completely sure how artificial food colorings could affect humans in the long term. Perhaps it’s better to be safe than sorry.
11. Berkley & Jensen Gourmet Trail Mix
Of the long list of additives that can appear in processed food, flavorings can be one of the trickiest to maneuver. Flavorings are either listed as natural or artificial, and most of the time, neither are particularly healthy. This mix contains artificial flavoring; so does microwave popcorn — with butter that isn’t actually butter.
Unlike natural flavorings, which are derived from real foods, artificial ones are synthetic, made in a lab. If you’re concerned about adding unnecessary chemicals to your body through the foods you eat, you’ll want to steer clear of this trail mix.
12. Wellsley Farms Organic Dark Chocolate Cherry Trail Mix
When it comes to food labeling, “organic” is one of those sneaky manufacturing terms you need to watch out for. Unfortunately, just because a snack food comes with an organic label doesn’t mean it’s a healthy option. This brand of trail mix in particular contains almost as much fat as a serving of Cheetos. While it might seem healthy on the outside, the ingredients certainly don’t match those implications.
13. Second Nature Celebration Medley
This brand of trail mix might not be so bad if it didn’t contain so many ingredients high in added sugars. From the dark and white chocolate down to the dried fruit, it’s an unhealthy mixture of sugar, salt, and saturated fat that provides little nutritional value per serving. This mix is pretty much just like eating a chocolate-coated granola bar stuffed with fruit and nuts. While it might appear healthy at first, when it comes down to it, it’s anything but.
14. Atkins Sweet and Salty Trail Mix
This brand of trail mix contains artificial sweeteners, which manufacturers also add to products like diet soda, gum, and sugar-free snack foods to give them added flavor without the extra calories. Added synthetic ingredients, such as artificial sweeteners, may be lower in calories, but they can also be harmful to your health, as they can become extremely addictive.
15. Nice! Berry Chocolate Trail Mix
This not-so-nice snack contains red 40 dye, the same artificial food coloring added to energy drinks and fruit snacks. Many food colorings, including red 40, may contain cancer-causing chemicals that could become more harmful the more often you consume them. The culprit here is the M&M pieces. They might be your favorite part of the mix, but they’re certainly not doing you any favors.
Sarah Kaye Santos also contributed to this story