Celebrate National Trail Mix Day by combining your favorite trail mix ingredients and taking a hike

Trail Mix Ingredients You Can Mix & Match

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, so the post has been reproduced here.

CELEBRATE NATIONAL TRAIL MIX DAY BY COMBINING YOUR FAVORITE TRAIL MIX INGREDIENTS AND TAKING A HIKE

The end of August signaled the end of summer vacation and the start of school to me when I was growing up, so I always felt a twinge of dread as it approached. That all changed when I learned August 31st is National Trail Mix Day. Trail mix has been a staple in my life and brought me endless pleasure as I’ve combined different trail mix ingredients to make batch after batch.

There’s plenty to celebrate about trail mix, even if you aren’t taking a hike!

Portable, nonperishable, compact and satisfying are the qualities that make trail mix the ideal travel food, whether on foot, bike, boat, or skis. You can customize your mix to make it savory, sweet, or spicy and opt for a crunchy, chewy or crispy combo.

Do’s and Don’ts of Trail Mix Ingredients

Chocolate is not a good idea if you (and your trail mix) will be exposed to warm temperatures since it will melt and turn your mix into a lump. Same for marshmallows and soft or sticky candy pieces.

Salty items will increase your thirst and add unneeded sodium if you’re not in the Amazon. Go for herbs and spices to add flavor, but be careful you don’t get carried away. You could end up with a culinary collision of Cajun-Curry-Chinese mix!

Calories can be lowered by using a higher ratio of cereal, popped and baked items to the dried fruits, nuts and seeds. Shoot for a 2:1 ratio to keep the mix under 200 calories a cup.

By using flavorful ingredients, like smoked nuts, cheese-flavored crackers or spicy bits, you can bypass the step of having to coat the whole batch with oil, season and bake as some recipes instruct. Skipping that step, and any fried or greasy ingredients, also makes it less messy to eat since you are using your fingers.

Mix and Match Your Trail Mix Ingredients

Cereal

  • Squares, like Chex® or Crispix®
  • Circles, like Cheerios® or Kashi Heart-to-Heart®
  • Woven, like Mini Shredded Wheat or Cracklin’ Oat Bran®
  • Balls, like Kix® or Barbara’s Puffs®
  • Chunky, like Granola

Nuts

  • Honey-roasted peanuts
  • Roasted soy nuts
  • Toasted corn nuts
  • Smoked almonds
  • Spiced walnuts
  • Shaved coconut
  • Cajun cashews

Seeds

  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Sesame seeds

Crackers

  • Cheese-flavored
  • Herb seasoned
  • Oyster crackers
  • Mini graham crackers

Dried Fruit

  • Cranberries
  • Banana Chips
  • Dark or Golden Raisins
  • Blueberries
  • Cherries
  • Apricots
  • Crystalized Ginger

Popped & Baked Snacks

  • Popcorn
  • Mini popped rice cakes
  • Popchips®
  • Pirate’s Booty®
  • Pretzel nuggets
  • Baked Oriental rice cracker mix
  • Wasabi peas

Check out my post about which is the best nut and to learn more about dried fruit.

What’s in your trail mix?

Studies show a bowl of cereal is an easy healthy breakfast

Is a Bowl of Cereal a Nutritious Breakfast?

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. This site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, but you can see the post here.

STUDIES SHOW A BOWL OF CEREAL IS AN EASY HEALTHY BREAKFAST

I’m one of those people who can hardly get down the stairs in the morning – let alone out the door – without eating breakfast. I wake up hungry, so head straight for the kitchen. Lucky for me since more and more research shows the benefits of eating a nutritious breakfast.

But what about the one-third of Americans who do not start their day that way?

The excuses I hear run the gamut from “I don’t have time” to “It’s too fattening.” My response to all of them is, “Eat a bowl of cereal.”

Ready-to-eat cereal is an easy healthy breakfast that’s lower in calories than most other foods people eat in the morning. If you choose a cereal made from whole grains and pair it with skim milk and fruit, it delivers three important food groups to start the day. With them come key nutrients most often lacking in our diets: fiber, calcium, Vitamin D and potassium.

Here’s what else research has to say about the most important meal of the day.

Benefits of a Bowl of Cereal

Better Weight Control

Children who regularly eat cereal for breakfast (at least 7 out of 14 days) have lower body mass index (BMI) than children who only have cereal 4-7 times or fewer than 4 times every two weeks, reports the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine. The same holds true for adults. A study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found lower BMIs in women who had ready-to-eat cereal rather than higher-fat breakfast foods, and a Harvard study of more than 17,000 men found those who routinely ate breakfast cereal consistently weighed less than those who rarely ate breakfast.

Better Quality Diets

People who rush out the door without eating in the morning have diets that are lower in essential vitamins, minerals and fiber than those who do make time for nutritious breakfast. Even if something is grabbed on the run, the types of foods selected do not make up for the nutrients provided by a breakfast of fortified cereal with milk. In fact, a review of the research on breakfast and health found the diets of people who people who eat whole grain cereal with milk and fruit or fruit juice come closest to meeting the recommendations in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Better Cognitive Function

Eating breakfast doesn’t just help children perform better in school; it can help adults with recall and memory, too. Many people think they need a jolt of caffeine to clear the cobwebs from their head’s in the morning, but a healthy breakfast is more important.

After an overnight fast of 8-12 hours with no food, your blood sugar level is at its lowest. The only fuel our brains can use is glucose, and the best way to get it is from complex carbohydrates, such as those found in whole grains. They are digested more slowly so deliver a steady supply of glucose that keeps our brains fueled longer. And who doesn’t need more help staying focused these days?

These are just a few of the many benefits to eating breakfast, and the options to make it quick and easy are endless. Whether you eat your cereal dry with a smoothie on the side, stir it into some yogurt, or buy a cereal bar to nibble on with a latte, eating breakfast is the best way to start your day.

Breakfast can be made up of any foods that are part of a healthy diet

Breakfast Myth: Breakfast Foods Are Too Fattening

This blog was written as a guest post for the Bell Institute for Health and Nutrition. You can read the original post here.

It’s easy to understand how some people might believe that certain foods are more “fattening” than others. Classifying foods based on whether they can make you gain weight or not is a far simpler notion to grasp than the concept of energy balance (where calories in should equal calories out)!

So whenever the topic of “fattening foods” comes up, I try to clarify the issue with this brief lesson in anatomy: The stomach does not have eyes.

That’s my way of explaining that the body has no idea what we have eaten. It does not know (or judge!) whether we have had a chocolate éclair for breakfast or a chewy granola bar. It just sorts out the nutrients and calories that were in the food and either uses them, stores them or eliminates them, as needed.

I then explain that since the body continually “sorts” what we are eating all day long, no one food can really be more “fattening” than any other. It’s the sum of all the calories we have consumed by the end of the day that determine whether or not we have exceeded our energy needs, which could make us gain weight over time.

Once that concept sinks in, it’s possible to illustrate how all foods can actually be included in a well-balanced diet complemented by regular physical activity. It also provides an ideal time to introduce the topic of nutrient density – another difficult one to grasp.

My approach is to stress the fact that all of the calories in the foods we eat are exactly the same, but the nutrients are not. And since we need more than 50 distinct nutrients to maintain health and prevent disease, we must choose our foods so they deliver the best nutritional package for the calories they provide.

From there it’s a smooth transition to a discussion of food groups to understand how different types of foods fit together to make an overall healthy eating plan, such as in MyPlate. Any lingering thoughts about “fattening” breakfast foods are then easily replaced by the more important question, ”What are the best breakfast choices for me?”

Consider these important facts about ready-to-eat cereal with fat free milk and fruit when you answer. One serving provides:

  • Less than 200 calories per serving on average
  • Key nutrients many of which are lacking in American diets – calcium, potassium, Vitamin D, Vitamin C, folate and fiber
  • Many whole grain options that help meet the goal of making half our grain choices whole grain
  • More nutrients with the fewest calories compared to most other popular breakfast choices