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Why Are There So Many Calories in Trail Mix?

One word: NUTS

Trail mix is basically the devil. It tempts you with the promise of healthy nuts and raisins, then bam: You somehow just inhaled nearly 1,000 calories.

A single cupped handful of your average trail mix — the unfortunately small, but standard serving size — comes to somewhere between 150 and 200 calories, so tossing a few back can certainly add up. This is on purpose, though. Dana Hunnes, senior dietitian at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, explains that trail mix is “meant to be calorically dense” so you get “a lot of bang for your buck” while out on The Rugged Trail.

*pours trail mix in mouth while sitting comfortably in air-conditioned home office*

But where do all of those calories even come from? For one, nuts are especially high in calories, containing somewhere between 160 and 200 per small handful. Although, these calories are mostly healthy — nuts are high in protein, fiber and several nutrients, and have been shown to lower your risk of heart disease.

The next calorie contributor is dried fruit. While fruit is generally healthy, dried fruit in particular frequently contains added sugar to enhance the taste, and sugar increases the overall calorie count. For example, half a cup of raisins contains a whopping 47 grams of sugar and about 217 calories. This is why a trail mix with sweetened cranberries can have even more sugar than one with M&M’s.

Speaking of M&M’s, candies are the final reason for trail mix being so incredibly caloric. A single M&M provides no nutritional value and contains 3.4 calories, which is less than a single peanut, but can still add up, especially for anyone who enjoys hunting for M&M’s in their trail mix.

Despite the many calories in trail mix, Hunnes holds that it can be a healthy snack, but not necessarily if you chow down while lounging on the couch for 10 hours a day. “Peanuts and raisins are super healthy for you with natural sugars and healthy fats,” she says. “Chocolates, less so. But if you’re very active and need the calories, I wouldn’t worry too much about sugar.” Still, she recommends sticking to strictly fruit and nut mixes if you want to be extra healthy.

Okay, maybe I was exaggerating a little when I said trail mix is the devil. Let’s call it snack purgatory.

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