UPDATE: In May 2016 the FDA reversed its stance and affirmed KIND can use the term healthy on its labels. Separately, the FDA has confirmed it is re-evaluating its definition of healthy. The decision by the FDA to re-evaluate this standard was prompted in part by a Citizen Petition issued by KIND last December. You can read more about the FDA decision on KIND’s website here.
Earlier this week, the FDA denounced certain KIND Bar flavors as mislabeled because they reportedly contain too much saturated fat to bear the "healthy" title. But if you're devoted to your Almond Coconut or Dark Chocolate Cherry Cashew flavors, don't ditch them just yet. While it's the agency's job to weed out the mislabeled candy on supermarket shelves, most nutritionists agree: KIND bars aren't a health menace, by any means. Here's why.
The Saturated Fat Comes From Nuts
The FDA rules that to label a food "healthy," it should have less than one gram of saturated fat per serving. And KIND bars contain twice as much, they argue. But according to a statement from KIND, the bar's fat ration actually comes from its nuts and coconut oil — a.k.a. the good fats. Even though these are reasonably healthy ingredients, they still have to be reported. Nuts are actually the healthiest form of saturated fat, and studies show they're excellent for controlling your appetite and reducing bad cholesterol. Nutritionists agree: "Kind bars may not transform your diet to the picture of health, but these bars supply heart-healthy fats from nuts (a touch of both saturated and monounsaturated fats)," says Dr. Liz Applegate, nutritionist at the University of California Davis. "Eating nuts routinely — like what you find in KIND Bars — has been shown to reduce risk for heart disease."
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Saturated Fat Is Not Bad For You
Saturated fat has been in the doghouse for a long time, but thinking (and the science behind it) has changed. The most recent body of research now suggests that diets that are heavy on fat but low in carbs — like reducing pasta and bread but continuing to eat meat and cheese — actually help you cut weight faster and reduce your blood sugar and pressure (by burning your fat for energy in the absence of carbs). Some believe it might be the carbs in our food — not the fat — that plump up the waistline, since your body is slower to burn them. And while saturated fat does raise cholesterol, don't forget there's different kinds of cholesterol: LDL (which clogs the arteries) and HDL (which clears them). Studies have shown that nuts — as well as salmon, avocados, and eggs — raise HDL, not LDL.
But Leslie Bonci, director of sports medicine at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, says if you're still worried about any extra unknown fat you consume when sneaking in a bar or two, you just have to eat more mindfully. "A KIND bar can certainly be part of your day, but if you add it, take something else away," she says. "You do get more fat from the nuts, so to be kind to your body, be mindful of where your fat comes from and perhaps a little less salad dressing or bacon to allow for the fat in KIND."
These Are Not Junk Food
You should never replace regular meals with a snack bar, but during those in-between hours when you don't have an option, they're still way healthier than a bag of potato chips. Bonci says we should remember that KIND bars still contain many convenient nutrients that can give us energy and fill us up without having to worry about a long list of unknown ingredients. "I think the bigger picture is what is not in the bar," Bonci says, since KIND bars do not contain too many calories and just a few simple ingredients. She also adds that the snack "provides protein, fiber, and good fat in a small portion."