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In Defense of the KIND Bar

Earlier this week, I was forward a link to an article that KIND bars have come under fire by the FDA. It made me sad, and highlighted some interesting issues with the interplay of government and our food supply.

Before I fully get into this, let me share a few disclaimers. First, I appreciate government oversight in our food supply. I like knowing that there are standards and regulations. You might have heard the phrase "they are there to protect the consumer." But take it a step further - those standards and regulations are intended to make YOU healthier. Or at least give you the chance to make an informed choice about your health.

Second, I work for a different food company, dailyServing, and we live in a capitalist system. One might consider us competitors with KIND bars - we're both consumed in that in-between-traditional-meals time. But I am also a dietitian, and I believe that the more healthy options that we have in the marketplace, the better our public health can be.

Third, no food is perfect. Is it healthy? Well, your circumstances, goals, and the other things you're eating may have something to say about that. No food is ALWAYS the right option. There is always room for improvement in the manufactured foods category.

The Issue

There are four offenders within the KIND bar line: Almond & Apricot, Almond & Coconut, Peanut Butter Dark Chocolate + Protein, and Dark Chocolate Cherry Cashew + Antioxidants.

The FDA says these bars have too much saturated fat to be labeled "healthy" (limit is 1 gram) and not enough protein to use "+ Protein". In addition, they said that KIND cannot use the following labels: "anti-oxidant rich," "good source of fiber," and "no trans fats" on its products.

Below is the nutrition information for each of the bars in violation:

Nutrition information compiled from KINDsnacks.com

Nutrition information compiled from KINDsnacks.com

The Response

What has KIND said in response?

Nuts, key ingredients in many of our snacks and one of the things that make fans love our bars, contain nutritious fats that exceed the amount allowed under the FDA’s standard. There is an overwhelming body of scientific evidence supporting that nuts are wholesome, nutritious and healthful. This is similar to other foods that do not meet the standard for use of the term healthy, but are generally considered to be good for you like avocados, salmon and eggs. Our team at KIND is fully committed to working alongside the FDA, and we’re moving quickly to comply with its request.
— Joe Cohen, spokesperson for KIND

And they're right. Nuts are the big offenders in their snacks. While most nuts have a large percentage of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, they do have saturated fat as well. For example:

  • Peanuts (1 oz) = 14.2 g total fat, 2 g saturated fat
  • Almonds (1 oz) = 14.9 g total fat, 1.2 g saturated fat
  • Cashews (1 oz) = 12.4 g total fat, 2.2 g saturated fat

What else? Coconut - surpassing kale as the trendiest of trendy foods, for sure. The fat in coconut is almost entirely saturated. In fact, 1 oz of raw coconut has 9.4 g of total fat and 8.3 g is saturated! But as we have seen, whether that saturated fat is truly as unhealthy as we once thought is being hotly debated. There is evidence that the length of the fat molecule makes a difference, and that medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) found in coconut are metabolized differently. Here are three articles for your reference:

While I wouldn't recommend substituting all of your fats with MCTs or coconut, I do think that research has given us enough evidence that coconut is part of a healthy diet.

Note that palm kernel oil (found in the Dark Chocolate Cherry Cashew + Antioxidants and the Peanut Butter Dark Chocolate + Protein) is very similar to coconut. It is very high in saturated fat, but a lot of that saturated fat is made up of MCTs. We don't have research that talks about palm kernel oil, specifically, so I don't want to make assumptions. But it looks like this saturated fat isn't as unhealthy as the numbers might indicate.

This just leaves whole milk and milk powder (again, found in the Dark Chocolate Cherry Cashew + Antioxidants and the Peanut Butter Dark Chocolate + Protein). The amount of saturated fat that these ingredients bring to the table can't be worth getting up in arms about. They are components of the dark chocolate, which is used in a moderate amount in these bars.

My Thoughts

The FDA is fighting the wrong fight. It's like the cops ticketing the jaywalker, while ignoring murders. Too extreme? It seems that these minor offenses are clouding the bigger picture. Or is it a food version of the broken window theory? There are so many other foods out there making health claims, when they are nothing more than junk. Quick examples:

  • Jiff Reduced Fat Peanut Butter: Labeled as "Reduced Fat", "25% less fat than peanut butter". Makes you feel good. But the ingredients include fillers, corn syrup, and hydrogenated oil.
  • Cheetos: Labeled as "Made With Real Cheese" and "0 Grams Trans Fat". 'Nuff said.
  • Countless cereals: Labeled as "Made with Whole Grains". Which hides up the fact that only SOME of the grains used happen to be unprocessed (the rest are stripped apart and processed), and the amount of sugar is just as bad as a candy bar.

We have enough research that touts health benefits of whole food, plant-based diets, enough research in favor of nuts, and enough growing evidence that saturated fat might not be as bad for us as we once thought.

It's frustrating to see the attack from the government on something like KIND bars - because now it sends a confusing message to the general consumer. "Even KIND bars are bad for me?!" "What can I eat now?!" "If it's all garbage, I give up, I'll just eat what I want!"

As I said, KIND bars aren't perfect. But they are striving to put forth a truly healthy option for us on-the-go, health-conscious people. Also, I would like to point out that their formal statements show class and humility. They are willing to be compliant, while still fighting for the best nutritional science to get to the public.

What do you think? Do you enjoy KIND bars? Does this change your perception of the brand?