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  • 12.02.15

Kind Bars Exposes Outdated FDA Guidelines In A Debate Over What’s “Healthy”

Kind wants the FDA to admit that some fats are good.

Kind Bars Exposes Outdated FDA Guidelines In A Debate Over What’s “Healthy”
[Top Photo: Flickr user Mike Mozart]

Kind bars are made from nuts, fruits, and whole grains. Are they healthy? It depends on who you ask.

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The FDA has told the company to stop making “healthy” claims. Kind bars exceed the maximum 3 grams of fat (and 1 gram of saturated fat) that regulators allow for a food to be marketed with the term.

But the New York-based company won’t let go of “healthy” without a fight. On December 1, it filed a petition saying that how the FDA defines “healthy” is all wrong, since the fat criteria exclude foods that contain nuts, avocados, olives, and salmon–all foods that nutrition experts encourage people to eat precisely for their health benefits.

Both parties are right, and both are wrong.

The FDA’s “healthy” guidelines were created more than 20 years ago. They are outdated, and Kind is right to point out that they unfairly exclude these food items.

“The current regulations were created with the best intentions when the available science supported dietary recommendations limiting total fat intake. However, current science tells us that unsaturated fats in nutrient-dense foods like nuts, seeds, and certain fish are beneficial to overall health,” CEO Daniel Lubetzky said in a statement.

However, Kind’s petition, which has the signature of a number of nutritionists, doesn’t emphasize the flip side of its argument, which is that the science has also advanced in understanding how bad sugar can be for a person’s long-term health. The FDA’s “healthy” guidelines currently have no criteria for sugar or added sugar at all–that’s why sugary breakfast cereal or low-fat Pop Tarts can call themselves healthy. Truly healthy foods, like nuts, would also be low in sugar.

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Today, Kind doesn’t always do so well on that front. Its Almond and Apricot bars, for example, contain two sweeteners–honey and non-GMO glucose–and 13 grams of sugar. Its Dark Chocolate Cherry Cashew bar has 14 grams. Both the American Heart Association and World Health Organization recommend trying to limit added sugar intake to no more than 25 grams per day, so those would be about half a day’s allotment. (That said, other lines of Kind bars do actually have pretty low sugar, at around 4 or 5 grams.)

So Kind is right to raise the issue. But if the FDA were to truly do a science-based update on its definition “healthy,” it’s still unclear where some of Kind’s products would fall. The company announced recently it does plan to reduce added sugar on its higher-sugar Fruit & Nut line by 15%-50% starting this spring, and it does support the FDA’s proposal to included a daily value for added sugar on nutritional food labels. But we’re probably all better off just downing a handful of whole almonds and calling it a day.

About the author

Jessica Leber is a staff editor and writer for Fast Company's Co.Exist. Previously, she was a business reporter for MIT’s Technology Review and an environmental reporter at ClimateWire.

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