Trying to snack on the go isn’t a healthy predicament to find yourself in if you’re not prepared. Vending machines are full of greasy potato chips, high fructose corn syrup-laden cookies, and a plethora of nutritionally devoid candies.
If you don’t keep delicious healthy snacks on hand, you may be too weak to resist these devilish treats and succumb to the power of the glowing box to quiet your rumbling tummy.
But then you see a KIND bar in the vending machine or in the grocery store or even at the gas station and you think, “Hmm, that looks pretty healthy”. There’s whole nuts, pieces of fruit, and very few ingredients.
So you grab one…in every flavor.
And you quickly realize that they’re freaking delicious. Like, so delicious there’s no way they can be healthy for you, but the label says they are.
Well, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sure had a bone to pick with the labeling of KIND bars recently. In fact, the FDA denounced a few KIND bars as being unworthy of the “healthy” foods label.
This surprising turn of events forced me to examine these bars a little more carefully. But what I really learned was that we need to define what “healthy” means in America now.
The FDA Says KIND Bars Aren’t Healthy
The FDA sent the CEO of KIND bars a warning letter stating that four of its flavors were mislabeled as “healthy” when they actually failed to meet the requirements of the official “healthy” label.
According to the FDA’s rules, a food product can only be labeled and marketed as “healthy” if it contains less than 1 g of saturated fat per 40 g.
The FDA called out four specific KIND bars in its warning letter:
- KIND Fruit & Nut Almond & Coconut
- KIND Fruit & Nut Almond & Apricot
- KIND Fruit & Nut Dark Chocolate Cherry Cashew + Antioxidants
- KIND Plus Peanut Butter Dark Chocolate + Protein
Notice anything about these flavors?
Okay besides the fact that they may be some of your favorites (dark chocolate cherry right over here!), these bars all contain nuts.
So it’s easy to see why the amount of saturated fat in these specific flavors is high. Nuts are a notoriously fatty, but healthy food. And here we have almonds, cashews, and peanut butter on the list of bad guys.
You’ll also notice coconut and dark chocolate – more healthy foods that are surprisingly high-fat.
How much saturated fat do these bars actually contain?
Here are the specifics per 40 g bar:
- KIND Fruit & Nut Almond & Coconut bar – 5 g of saturated fat
- KIND Fruit & Nut Almond & Apricot bar – 3.5 g of saturated fat
- KIND Fruit & Nut Dark Chocolate Cherry Cashew + Antioxidants bar – 2.5 g of saturated fat
- KIND Plus Peanut Butter Dark Chocolate + Protein bar – 3.5 g of saturated fat
As you can see, these elevated saturated fat numbers are all beyond the 1 g limit, but is that really a bad thing?
Is Saturated Fat Bad for You?
There was a time when I would have wholeheartedly agreed that saturated fats were indeed bad for us because they clog our arteries and cause high cholesterol and heart disease.
But that time has come and gone.
Now, modern research has shown that this type of thinking is not only outdated, but harmful to the health of our population.
In 2010, an analysis of 21 studies with close to 350,000 participants showed that “there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk” of coronary heart disease, stroke, and cardiovascular disease.
The FDA and the American Heart Association have a hard time accepting this new evidence. It’s like they’re still stuck in the 80s and 90s with their ‘everything must be fat-free in order to be healthy’ mindset.
We know that kind of nutritional philosophy is wrong; when you remove fat from food, you take away the trigger that makes us feel full and instead replace that missing fat with sugar, refined carbs, and other questionable ingredients to make that food taste better.
The result of this social experiment?
We all got fatter and unhealthier and we didn’t understand why.
“When you replace saturated fats with refined carbs, your triglycerides can go up and your good HDL cholesterol can go down”, explains Alice H. Lichtenstein, the director of the Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory at Tufts University.
So today we need to stand by the science that says the right kind of saturated fat in the right amount is healthy for us.
The Right Kind of Saturated Fat
David Katz, MD, director of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center, says there are over two dozen kinds of saturated fat and “they’re not created equal”.
Naturally occurring saturated fat helps:
- Regulate hormone production
- Reduce lipoprotein
- Strengthen bones
- Aid weight loss
- Protect the liver from alcohol and pain medications
- Reduce the risk of stroke
“We can’t judge the healthfulness of a food [only] by how many grams of saturated fat it has. We really should be moving toward a food-based analysis”, says Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, researcher at the Harvard School of Public Health.
While it may be higher in saturated fats than some other oils, it also has cancer preventing powers. It’s loaded with antioxidants that stop cancer cells from spreading and can even induce death in cancerous cells, according to researchers.
But guess what?
Half of that saturated fat comes from lauric acid. According to one study, a diet rich in lauric acid results in lower LDL, or the ‘bad’ cholesterol, higher HDL, known as the ‘good’ cholesterol, and better overall cholesterol levels.
Here’s another plus: “Coconut oil contains medium-chain triglycerides, which are used directly for energy by your body”.
And what about eggs?
They’re one of my favorite healthy foods and despite their reputation for raising cholesterol, “the effect of egg consumption on blood cholesterol is minimal when compared with the effect of trans fats”, according to Francisco Lopez Jiminez, M.D.
You’ll find 1.6 g of saturated fat, 0.7 g of polyunsaturated fat, and 2 g of monounsaturated fat in one large egg. But you’ll also find vitamins and minerals to help build lean muscle and speed up your metabolism.
According to Medical News Today, “the protein within eggs helps keep muscles working well while slowing the rate at which they are lost”.
So as you can see, there are plenty of healthy foods that also happen to be high in fat, and KIND bars fall into that category.
Let’s not forget that KIND bars are full of nuts. In fact, all of the bars singled out contain nuts. “Nuts are actually the healthiest form of saturated fat”.
According to one study lasting over 30 years, people who ate “a handful of nuts every day had 29 percent less deadly heart disease and were 20 percent less likely to die of any cause”.
The researchers of that study believe that eating nuts helps reduce inflammation and influence healthy metabolism so much so that it lowers the risks of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers, all of which contribute to the chances of an early death.
Senior author of the study, Dr. Charles Fuchs, says you can get these benefits by eating an ounce of nuts daily, which accounts for “about 24 almonds, 18 cashews, or 35 peanuts a day”.
The American Heart Association recommends getting between 25–35% of our total calories for the day from fats. One KIND bar equals close to 5% fat using a 2,000 calorie diet.
Doesn’t sound too bad to me.
The FDA Also Says KIND Bars Lack Protein
In addition to their issue with the amount of saturated fat in KIND bars, the FDA also said the amount of protein in the bars is being misrepresented.
When a food item is labeled with a “+” symbol, like the KIND Peanut Butter Dark Chocolate + Protein bar is, that means it has at least 10% more of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI) or Daily Reference Value (DRV) for that nutrient when compared to a similar food item.
So in this case, KIND is saying that their Peanut Butter Dark Chocolate + Protein bar has 10% more protein than other bars.
KIND Peanut Butter Dark Chocolate + Protein bar has 7 g of protein in each bar, which is a nice boost for sure.
However, Nature Valley Peanut Butter Dark Chocolate Protein Bars have 10 g of protein for the same serving size.
Okay, I can see what the FDA is saying here, and they’re right; KIND bars should not be labeled with the “+” symbol unless they boost their protein numbers to meet what their competitors are doing.
So Are KIND Bars Really Healthy?
When you compare KIND bars with other supposedly healthy foods, you quickly realize that they win some healthy points, but they also have their drawbacks, too.
Let’s talk about the KIND Fruit & Nut Almond & Coconut bar for a second.
Here’s the list of ingredients: “Almonds, coconut, honey, glucose syrup, crisp rice (rice flour, sugar, salt), soy lecithin, chicory root fiber”.
Right away I notice that there’s only seven ingredients, and I can pronounce all of them. This is a good sign because that means artificial ingredients, fillers, and additives are all missing, which is a big plus for a processed, shelf-stable food.
Then I notice that the healthiest ingredients are listed first, which means they are the most abundant. See how almonds and coconut are the first and second ingredients? That’s what you want to see. You don’t want high fructose corn syrup anywhere in your bars, let alone near the very beginning.
Almonds may just be the world’s healthiest food. So even though you’ll find 3.4 g of saturated fat in 1 cup of almonds, you’ll also have 28 g of super healthy monounsaturated fat.
On top of that, almonds are:
- Packed with antioxidants
- Energy boosting
- Helpful for losing weight
- Great for heart health
- Full of good vitamins
You’re lucky to grab a ready-to-eat product that lists almonds in first place on the ingredients list.
Then you move on to coconut, which Pacific Islanders believe is the cure for all illness. They believe the palm tree (from which coconuts are grown) is known as “The Tree of Life”.
Eating more of this superfood from the Tree of Life will:
- Boost your immunity
- Up your antioxidants
- Add a nutritious source of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and amino acids
- Treat and nourish your skin and hair
- Develop strong bones and prevent osteoporosis
So as you can see, we’re off to a pretty healthy start. This KIND bar definitely contains whole ingredients and it’s under 200 calories.
But it also has 12 g of sugar, which is pretty high in my opinion for a bar of this size, considering there’s no dried fruit in this one. If this were one of the fruit bars, I would understand that the sugar was at least naturally occurring instead of added.
As for protein, this bar only clocks 3 g, another downside.
Let’s talk about some of the not-so-common ingredients here. That’s right, I’m looking at you, soy lecithin and chicory root fiber.
We talked about the harm soy lecithin is doing to our bodies in this post so I won’t rehash all the details, but know this: it’s a Frankenfood you should only eat in moderation.
As for chicory root fiber, that’s just a cheap way of boosting the fiber content in these bars to a meager 3 g.
After doing this research I probably should have done awhile ago, it seems that my love affair with these tasty little bars is reaching its end. The magic and mystery of why this seemingly healthy snack tastes so good has been solved.
While these guys are definitely not the best snack to grab in a pinch, they’re also not the worst.
Take the time to prep for snacking if you know you’re going to be somewhere out of reach of healthy food. You can try mimicking the ingredients from these bars yourself. Pack up a bag of roasted, unsalted almonds, dried coconut, and bits of dark chocolate, all the best parts with none of the guilt.
And if you’re super addicted to your KIND bars, just make sure you’re cutting fats and sugars elsewhere in your diet and you’ll be fine. The key is always moderation. If KIND bars are your weakness, your vice is already a whole lot healthier than others (mine included!).
Are you still going to eat KIND bars? How do you feel about the brand misrepresenting its nutritional information? Share your thoughts with me in the comments!