FDA says Kind bars aren't healthy

We gave two of its bars top marks. What gives?

Published: April 18, 2015 07:00 AM

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This Kind bar is one of the healthier options in the snack bar aisle.

The Food and Drug Administration sent a nine-page warning letter to the Kind company recently stating that four of its snack bars are misbranded because, among other things, the company calls them “healthy” when the bars don’t meet the agency’s definition of the word.

One of them is a bar that did well in our recent snack bar Ratings. And a Kind bar not dinged by the FDA, but that makes some of the same claims, was the highest rated bar in our tests, earning a Very Good score for nutrition and an Excellent score for taste.  

Why would Consumer Reports give high marks to a product that the FDA says isn’t “healthy”? When you look at the FDA’s list of complaints against Kind, it’s clear that the company is violating labeling laws designed to prevent companies from delivering misleading information about the healthfulness of their products. But in terms of the effect on your efforts to eat healthy, most of the violations are pretty minor.

Find out how more than two dozen snack bars in two categories scored for taste and nutrition in our tests.

As we noted in our snack bar Ratings, not all bars make for a healthy snack, so we suggest that people look for bars that have real foods—like grains, nuts, and dried fruit—high on the ingredient list. The two Kind Plus bars in our tests—Cranberry Almond + Antioxidants and Peanut Butter Dark Chocolate + Protein—fit that bill.  

While we did find a few nutritional details to quibble with, overall we think these bars are among the healthier options in the snack bar aisle.

The FDA says a food can make a “healthy” claim only if it has 1 gram or less of saturated fat per serving and gets no more than 15 percent of its calories from saturated fat. The four Kind bars called out in the FDA’s letter—Fruit & Nut Almond & Apricot, Fruit & Nut Almond & Coconut, Kind Plus Peanut Butter Dark Chocolate + Protein, and Kind Plus Dark Chocolate Cherry Cashew + Antioxidants—have between 2.5 and 5 grams. The cranberry bar we tested is lower in saturated fat, supplying 1.5 grams.

“Some of the saturated fat in Kind bars come from nuts and coconut,” says Maxine Siegel, R.D., head of Consumer Reports' food testing department. “By the FDA’s rule, a package of plain peanuts couldn’t be labeled healthy because they have 1.8 grams of saturated fat per 1-ounce serving. But peanuts and other nuts are also high in mono- and polyunsaturated fats that are considered to be good for you.”

We did note the high total fat of both bars, and the relatively higher saturated fat content of the peanut butter/chocolate bar in our Ratings.

The use of the “+” symbol also got Kind into trouble. Per the FDA regulations, “plus” can be used if a food has 10 percent more of a nutrient than another similar food, and the product lists that food. The Kind bars don’t.

Finding a packaged product with mostly real foods isn't easy.

Also a product that makes a protein claim is supposed to list the percent Daily Reference Value (DRV) of protein in the Nutrition Facts Label. Kind Plus Peanut Butter Dark Chocolate + Protein does not. With 7 grams of protein, it provides 14 percent of the protein DRV (50 grams). An ounce of peanuts has the same protein content as this Kind bar, but the two aren’t exactly equal. Some of the protein in the bar comes from soy protein isolate, a highly processed ingredient.  

Kind bars carry a “good source of fiber” claim. The FDA defines “good source” as 10 to 19 percent of the DRV for a nutrient. In this case, that’s 2.5 to 4.75 grams of fiber—and the Kind bars in question do meet the definition. However, if the product is not low-fat (containing 3 grams or less), then that fact must be disclosed on the label, near the fiber claim. Again Kind bars don’t.

Still, finding a packaged product that has mostly real foods and few highly processed ingredients in it isn’t easy. Without a doubt, a handful of nuts and a piece of fruit is a healthier snack than a snack bar with nuts and fruit that also contains sugars, chicory root fiber, and, sometimes, chocolate and soy protein isolate. But If you’re looking for a convenient, good-for-you snack, you could do worse than the two Kind bars in our tests.

—Trisha Calvo

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