KIND bars are the sort of food that feature in the health food aisle of supermarkets, but the FDA has recently deemed that the labeling of KIND bars as “healthy” is in fact misleading.
What’s the Problem?
Following this FDA decision, many big media companies have performed their own research. One such company took pride in informing its reader that one KIND bar flavor they investigated contains more calories, fat, and sodium than a Snickers bar.
This is an excellent turn out for those wanting to create drama and controversy around the health food brand but doesn’t give us any real insight into the nutritional value of KIND bars.
Yes, it sounds bad – why would I eat glorified granola when my favorite chocolate bar has a better set of numbers behind it? The problem with this lies in under-analysis and all-too-objective FDA guidelines.
The reason the FDA has seen it fit to mark KIND bars as being an “unhealthy” food comes down to one simple thing – there are examples of certain types of KIND bars possessing more than 1g of saturated fat.
Yes, that’s it, that’s the difference between healthy and unhealthy.
FDA regulations state that a food item must contain 1g of saturated fat or less per 40g for it to market itself as “healthy”.
It is true that several KIND bars are examples that break this rule:
- The KIND Fruit & Nut Almond & Coconut product contains 5g of saturated fat per 40g
- The KIND Plus Peanut Butter Dark Chocolate + Protein product contains 3.5g of saturated fat per 40g
- The KIND Fruit & Nut Dark Chocolate Cherry Cashew + Antioxidants contains 2.5g of saturated fat per 40g
- The KIND Fruit & Nut Almond & Apricot product contains 3.5g of saturated fat
This data is accurate and can’t be disputed but focusing on this one nutritional item would be like missing the forest for the trees[1,2].
KIND Bars vs other foods
First, we need to note that the FDA is using 40g as the serving size here for measuring what is healthy as this is the equivalent to one KIND bar. The serving size of every food is not 40g, making a comparison to other supposedly healthier foods more difficult. However, if we take the time to do the maths, we can see that the saturated fat content of the previously mentioned bars is hardly newsworthy.
- 40g of avocado has 1.14g of saturated fat
- 40g of salmon has 1.2g of saturated fat
- 40g of mixed nuts has 3.3g of saturated fat
- 40g of olive oil has 5.6g of saturated fat
- 40g of peanut butter has 4.4g of saturated fat
All these foods have a saturated fat content easily comparable to the amounts found within KIND bars, and all of them exceed the >1g regulation, yet these foods are still (correctly) regarded as healthy.
Are Saturated Fats Really That Bad?
Saturated “fats” are fats that contain a high proportion of saturated fatty acids, which don't have double bonds. Saturated fats are solid at room temperature and examples include lard, coconut oil, full-fat dairy products such as butter or cream, and palm oil.
Research helps us gain the understanding that eating saturated fat seems to increase cholesterol in the bloodstream. This was an important finding back in the 20th century when the prevalence of heart disease rocketed. As we already knew that having high cholesterol was linked to an increased risk of heart disease, it was assumed that saturated fats could cause heart disease. However, no experimental evidence has ever directly linked saturated fat to heart disease. The “diet-heart hypothesis” was based on assumptions, observational data, and animal studies.
Another piece of the puzzle is the fact that the word “cholesterol” is often used inaccurately. HDL (the ‘good’) and LDL (the ‘bad’) cholesterols are lipoproteins that carry cholesterol around.
Consumption of saturated fats raises HDL (the “good”) cholesterol and changes LDL from small dense (“bad”) to larger LDL, which is mostly benign. Overall, saturated fats do not harm the blood lipid profile as was previously believed[3,4,5].
The link between saturated fats and heart disease has been studied intensely for decades, but the biggest and best studies show that there is no statistically significant association.
Studies on the low-fat diet do not show a reduced risk of heart disease or death and some studies show that replacing saturated fat with vegetable oils increases the risk. Although, some people may want to minimize their saturated fat intake, including people with familial hypercholesterolemia or a history of heart disease.
Saturated fats are excellent cooking fats and foods that are high in saturated fat tend to be both healthy and nutritious. Truly harmful fats are artificial trans fats and processed vegetable oils high in Omega-6 fatty acids.
Can Fat be Good for You?
Certain foods have high-fat content but are good for you. These “healthy fats” include well-known foods such as salmon, avocado, olive oil, eggs, and nuts.
The benefits of saturated fats:
- Can help reduce your chances of heart disease, contrary to public opinion
- Weight loss: research shows that when people diet, those eating more of their total fats as saturated fats lose the most weight
- Saturated fats can also help to strengthen bones: saturated fat is required for calcium to be effectively absorbed into bone
- Also good for the liver: proven to shield it from the damaging effects of alcohol and medications used for pain and arthritis.
You do still need to consume saturated fats in moderation though. As much as there may be well-documented evidence for saturated fats having health benefits, they got their bad rap for a reason – and the FDA doesn’t usually enforce regulations just for the fun of it!
The American Heart Association recommends consuming between 25 and 35 percent of our total daily calories as fats. One KIND bar with 5g saturated fat would contain 100 calories from fats, this is approximately 5% of your daily calories (if you are consuming the RDI of 2000 calories a day. This works out as an individual having to eat 5-7 KIND bars a day to reach the recommended daily number of calories from fat.
That’s a substantial amount of KIND bars to be eating daily, so if you’re eating a sensible, balanced diet, having a KIND bar as your mid-morning snack is not going to cause you great harm. It might be a healthy choice!
What about the “+”?
The “+” included in the name of KIND bars is used to indicate that a food contains at least 10% more of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI) for the nutrient than an appropriate reference food.
The FDA believes that the KIND bars that use the “+” symbol in their names (the Peanut butter dark chocolate + protein and Dark chocolate cherry cashew + antioxidants) do not comply with this regulation.
When compared to other similar bars on the market, what the FDA has said is proven to be true. Each KIND peanut butter dark chocolate + protein bar provides 7g of protein where competing products tend to have between 6-15g.
What about the antioxidants?
The KIND Dark Chocolate Cherry Cashew + Antioxidants bar contains 50% of the daily value of vitamins A, C and E. That is comfortably 10% more than competing products which have around 10% of the daily value of only 1 or 2 of these vitamins.
So, KIND bars do have more antioxidants than other snack bars, but probably still shouldn’t be considered a ‘good’ source of these micronutrients when compared to other foods. When comparing KIND bars antioxidant content to that of plant foods such as blueberries, the amounts suddenly seem very small.
The Final Word
As far as snacks go, even when compared to similar bars on the market, KIND bars seem to be a healthy choice despite the FDA's decisions.
The only real complaint here is the slightly higher than desirable levels of saturated fat in the product. But the amount of saturated fat found within KIND bars easily fits trends of that found within other health foods that are “healthy fats”.
Alongside the evidence supporting the health benefits of saturated fat consumption as part of a balanced diet in a moderated and sensible manner, classifying these bars as unhealthy due to in-flexible regulations seems unfair and inaccurate.
Assessing the ‘health’ of a food product should be about more than just total calories and fat being as low as possible.
 Mozaffarian, Dariush. “Foods, nutrients, and health: when will our policies catch up with nutrition science?.” The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology 5.2 (2017): 85-88.
 Charron, Danielle. “Is the FDA Nuts: An Overview of the FDA's Endeavor to Redefine the Term Healthy.” Hous. L. Rev.55 (2017): 199.
 Müller, Hanne, et al. “The serum LDL/HDL cholesterol ratio is influenced more favorably by exchanging saturated with unsaturated fat than by reducing saturated fat in the diet of women.” The Journal of nutrition 133.1 (2003): 78-83.
 Shepherd, James, et al. “Effects of dietary polyunsaturated and saturated fat on the properties of high density lipoproteins and the metabolism of apolipoprotein AI.” The Journal of clinical investigation 61.6 (1978): 1582-1592.
 DELTA Investigators Berglund Lars [email protected] cudept. cis. columbia. edu Oliver Elizabeth H Fontanez Nelson Holleran Steve Matthews Karen Roheim Paul S Ginsberg Henry N Ramakrishnan Rajasekhar Lefevre Michael. “HDL-subpopulation patterns in response to reductions in dietary total and saturated fat intakes in healthy subjects–.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 70.6 (1999): 992-1000.
Emily has spent the last 8 years comparing, reviewing and analyzing ingredients in the supplements industry. She has worked extensively with dieticians, nutritionists and personal trainers to separate fact from fiction and help people achieve their fitness goals. In her free time she works and enjoys the outdoors with her husband and 2 children.