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Trail Chef: Trail Food Comparisons

M&M's or trail mix? Salami or jerky? When it comes to trail energy there are a lot of options.

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Have you ever been out on the trail and wondered if you should eat a handful of Peanut M&M’s or a handful of trail mix? Which one has more nutritional value for the weight? In regards to protein and sodium intake, is salami better than jerky? Snickers or Clif Bar? Trail Chef answers all these questions in a manner befitting the complexity of the quandary—or at least he tries to.

Should I bring trail mix or Peanut M&M’s?

The amount of energy contained in these two foods is comparable. Peanut M&M’s have 70 more calories (per 1/4 cup) than trail mix (we used Great Value Mountain Trail Mix), but most of those calories are from sugar, a short-lasting energy source. (M&M’s have 17 more grams of sugar than trail mix.) The protein level in ¼ cup of both is the same. However, trail mix has some benefits that M&M’s cannot offer: potassium (170 mg), iron (6% recommended daily allowance), calcium (2% RDA) and Vitamin C (2% RDA). M&M’s have no vitamins or minerals, plus they carry some extra fat (5g of saturated fat per serving and 6g unsaturated fat compared with trail mix’s 2g of saturated fat and 7g unsaturated fat). Also, M&M’s might not survive a hot summer day, while you don’t have to worry about that with chocolate-free trail mix.

Do I want to eat an entire packet of beef jerky?

It’s delicious, but after the third or fourth piece your mouth will feel like the inside of a saltshaker. The amount of protein is significant but is it worth the sodium overload? Perhaps. Dry salami (Italian Reduced Sodium from Columbus Salame Company) is a good alternative to beef jerky (Jack Link’s Original), having half of the sodium in a one-ounce serving (290mg) compared to jerky’s 590mg. Salami contains more calories, with a little more fat, but has half the protein, only 7g to jerky’s 15g per serving. The carb totals for the two are nearly negligible at 2g/serving. To match jerky’s protein punch you would need to eat 2xs as much salami, negating any sodium savings in a serving of salami. The amount of fat in a two-ounce salami serving is 14g (with 6 of those grams being saturated), compared to jerky’s 2g of unsaturated fat. Jerky has the edge on salami in the protein department and cuts out the fat, but be sure not to go overboard on the portions as your water filter may not survive the trip.

Snickers over a Clif Bar?

The Snickers is obviously a giant log of processed sugar with some peanuts tossed in, but that’s not to say it is worthless. Although completely devoid of any vitamins, it does contain a lot of energy from fat and sugar, packing a powerful energy boost in a pinch. It has 30g of carbs from sugar and actually has more calories in a bar that weighs 10g less than a Clif Bar. However, the Clif Bar has a laundry list of vitamins and minerals, as well as significant amounts of potassium and protein without as much fat and sugar as the Snickers. The Clif Bar has 45 total grams of carbohydrates with only 20g coming from sugar. If you need quick energy, grab a Snickers. The body breaks it down very quickly, in a matter of minutes, and sends the sugars to the brain first, body second, giving you energy and helping you think clearer. Unfortunately, the sugars are broken down so quickly that the energy source does not have a long-lasting effect. If you want a bar that will help sustain you over a longer period of time, the Clif Bar should be the one you reach for. The mix of readily available sugars as well as larger molecules like fats, proteins, and complex carbohydrates insures that you will receive a more steady energy release over the course of a day.

(Snickers Bar: 58.7g/serving Cliff Bar: 68g/serving)

–Michael Donley, Trail Chef