KIND Fruit and Nut Bars Get FDA Linguistics Lesson: Words Only Mean What Bureaucrats Say They Mean

FDA dings KIND for using the word "healthy" since bars contain more than 1 gram of saturated fat.



The insanely flawed perspective and priorities of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are once again on display, as the agency targets the makers of fibrous fruit-and-nut bars. The bars, from Kind LLC, are a decent source of protein, vitamins, and good fats, without an excessive amount of processing or a slew of artificial ingredients. But according to the FDA, Kind cannot call its bars "healthy" because they contain more than 1 gram of saturated fat. 

The logic here is maddening. A bar of sugar cubes held together with agave nectar would be fat free, but that hardly makes it healthy. Conversely, the simple presence of saturated fat alone doesn't make something unhealthy. "Saturated fat" is actually an umbrella category for more than two dozen different saturated fatty acids, some of which are more nutritious than others. The saturated fat butyrate, for instance—found in fermented foods and beverages and butter—may suppress inflammation in the gut and increase insulin sensitivity (that's a good thing). Lauric acid, a type of saturated fat found in milk (cow, goat, human) and coconut oil, is stellar at increasing levels of good cholesterol in the blood. Palmitic acid, however—found in much meat and dairy, as well as vegetable oils such as palm—tends to be linked to mostly negative health effects. 

Sometimes, whether a particular fat is good or bad can depend on the other nutrients with it. Whether because or in spite of their high fat content, foods such as dark chocolate and almonds have been shown in study after study to have health protective properties, perhaps because they're also high in antioxidants and plant sterols. Which brings up another important matter when evaluating whether foods are "healthy": nutrients don't exist in a vacuum. They work together and can actually radically alter one another's function or effect.  

Because KIND bars contain a lot of nuts, they're relatively high in fat, both saturated and unsaturated. Some varieties have up to 5 grams of saturated fat and 13 grams of fat total. Each Kind bar also contains around 2-3 grams of fiber, 3-7 grams of protein, 5-14 grams of sugar, and not insubstantial levels of various vitamins and minerals. They're not apples, but they're better than Kit Kats, and better than a lot of snacks you can grab on the go. 

In a March 17 warning letter to Kind CEO Daniel Lubetzy, the FDA said KIND bars were in violation of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. The FDA specifically objected to Kind's use of the word healthy in marketing copy such as "all of our snacks are pretty much the nirvana of healthful tastiness" and "KIND Peanut Butter Dark Chocolate + Protein is a healthy and satisfying blend" of peanuts and dark chocolate. This is because the Kind bars the FDA looked at contained between 2.5 and 5 grams of saturated fat per serving. Per the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, only foods with less than 1 gram of saturated fat can be legally described as "healthy" on product labels or marketing.

"None of your products listed above meet the requirements for use of the nutrient content claim 'healthy,'" the FDA warned the company. Furthermore, 

Your Kind Peanut Butter Dark Chocolate + Protein and Kind Dark Chocolate Cherry Cashew + Antioxidants product labels bear the term "+" (plus) as part of the product name but the products do not comply with the requirements governing the use of this term.

A plus sign can apparently only be used on product labels if it references the percentage of a nutrient relative to the government's recommended daily intake. 

The FDA also faulted Kind for using the phrase "good source of fiber," which can only be used if the packaging also states "in immediate proximity" that the food is not low in total fat. And apparently voluntarily disclosing GMO status is a no-no: "non GMO glucose" is not an approved way to list the ingredient "glucose syrup" under federal code.

Kind told Quartz that "there is an overwhelming body of scientific evidence supporting that nuts are wholesome and nutritious. This is similar to other foods that do not meet the standard for use of the term healthy, but are generally considered to be good for you like avocados, salmon and eggs." But in a statement, Kind said that it is "moving quickly" to comply to the FDA's requests.

Some members of Congress have been championing the creation of a new federal agency to oversee food safety, arguing that the FDA is overburdened and hence an uptick in "food fraud" (serious mislabeling of products, which tends to be common with things like honey, spices, and olive oil) and bacterial outbreaks. But if the FDA is overburdened, it's because it's become so mired in its own bureaucratic minutiae that it can't see straight. Perhaps the agency would have more time for addressing serious food fraud and safety issues if it spent less time regulating things like the use of plus signs on granola bars, how breweries package spent grains, the words cough drop makers can use in their tweets, and the porosity of cheese boards 

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  1. No alt-text? That’s just nuts.

  2. But according to the FDA, Kind cannot call its bars “healthy” because they contain more than 1 gram of saturated fat.

    Fat is good for you.

    1. Not until the FDA says it is, comrade.

    2. I’d say “healthy” is a health claim, and one that honestly no single food product should ever make in those terms.

      (And while I suppose removing the FDA’s power to enforce such things, it has power over health claims in marketing materials now, and at least the Commerce clause provides a plausible grant of power, for once.

      Ain’t no food “healthy”; entire diets are relatively healthy in tendency, that’s about it.

      Also, Kind bars are delicious, even if made-of-real-hippies.)

      1. Fuck off slaver.

        If it doesn’t rather actively kill you, it’s healthy or can otherwise be used to promote health.

        The FDA should only be involved in the most brazenly fraudulent use of the term.

        1. “Suppose” is an obvious mistyping of “support”, and SLD he shouldn’t need anyway. Calm down.

          1. Silly me. I took “suppose” out of context when he followed it with, “and here’s a *legitimate* need for the commerce clause.”

        2. “Fuck off slaver.”

          Then you go on to say:
          “The FDA should only be involved in the most brazenly fraudulent use of the term.”

          Which would require the FDA to be funded how??? Through extortion (taxes ) which requires force, if which folks do not pay voluntarily, wich makes them slaves……..

          You slaver in disguise you. Slaver light, limited slaver…..

      2. it has power over health claims in marketing materials now,

        How does a federal agency exercising prior restraint over marketing comport with “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press”?

        They don’t have the Constitutional authority to do any such thing, IMO.

        False advertising and the like is fraud, and can be prosecuted as such. No need for prior restraint.

    3. They could just decrease the portion size, & therefore be “healthy”. Or they could correct their word usage & write “healthful“.

  3. A bar of sugar cubes held together with agave nectar would be fat free, but that hardly makes it healthy.

    Ah, but being *gluten* free does.

  4. And Google News shows headlines that buy into the FDA opinion hook, line, and sinker.

  5. And apparently voluntarily disclosing GMO status is a no-no: “non GMO glucose” is not an approved way to list the ingredient “glucose syrup” under federal code.

    Yeah, because you shouldn’t have to unpack a lot of random marketing nonsense to figure out what’s in the damned thing.

    They can disclose GMO status (though I don’t trust them to be accurate, even if they’re sort of trying) all they want – just not *there*.

  6. They’re not apples

    How great are apples, really? An apple probably has at least as much sugar in it. I am under the impression that high fat is generally less bad than high sugar.

    1. Dude – apples got their rep through progressive identity politics.

      Its like, everybody hates soda even though a Starbucks frappacino . . . thing has more sugar and fat than an equivalent amount of soda. But soda will get taxed into oblivion while the ‘healthy’ alternative puts you in a coma.

      1. Well, I hate soda and frappuccinos.

        But stupid poor people like soda and not Starbucks. I think that is how that works.

    2. Oh, you’re going the nutrition route.

      I was gonna take that quote and go the “ugh, has anyone ever finished an apple? they suck” route.

      When I’m god-emperor, all apple trees will be uprooted and replaced with peaches. and cherries.

      1. Apples have their place. They can be turned into alcohol. And while I would rather eat a raw cherry or peach, I like apple pies a lot more. For some reason cooked stone fruits don’t do it for me.

    3. Apples are basically little sugar grenades. In moderation, they’re fine (likely nearly everything else). But they are marginally, at best, more healthy than soda, frankly.

      1. Here you go:

        A large apple has 23 grams of sugar, while a cup of slices (4 oz, roughly) has 11 grams, for 2.75 grams per ounce.

        A 12 ounce Coke has 39 grams, while a cup (8 oz) has 26 grams, for 3.25 grams per ounce.

        Coke has about 18% more sugar by weight than apples. Seems hard to hang a “healthy” v “unhealthy” distinction on that.

        1. Most of the sugar in Coke goes into overcoming the bitterness, a problem ripe apples don’t have.

  7. without an excessive amount of processing or a slew of artificial ingredients.

    Please, please tell you you don’t really buy into this hippy-dippy bullshit.

    There’s nothing special, good, or safe about ‘natural’. Nor is there anything inherently wrong or dangerous about ‘artificial’. As a matter of fact the division between ‘natural’ and ‘artificial’ is artificial.

    1. “non GMO glucose”

      The FDA sucks, but this is a good reason to avoid these bars all on its own.

      1. Eh, they know who they are marketing to. Like supplement companies selling $75 “non-gmo, grass fed, etc” whey protein to crossfitters.

      2. Meh. Why let it bother you? They are just exploiting foolishness for financial gain. What’s not to love? And they are pretty good if you like nuts.

        1. Its dishonest and we should call out dishonesty.

          1. Fair enough. I can’t be bothered. I have enough things to be annoyed about.

    2. It’s more of an observation of fact than any kind of hippy-dippy, I think. In this case, at least. For the most part, highly processed foods are junk. Yeah, it’s not a law of nature, and “natural” definitely doesn’t necessarily mean good for you. But I think it is a reasonable rule of thumb that processed foods with lots of engineered chemical ingredients are not the best. That’s not to say that “artificial” ingredients are always bad. Most of the best things that people do are “artificial” in some sense. Almost by definition.

      1. The things is

        1. *All* chemicals are highly engineered. Some are engineered by the mind of man and some are engineered by the blind hand of evolution.

        2. All foods sold commercially that aren’t prepared for immediate consumption (within 24 hours)are highly processed. No exceptions.

        3. Highly processed foods are junk because tons of sugar, salt, and fat are added to improve palatability, but its not an inherent part of the processing – just marketing.

        1. 1. I don’t think we use the same definition of engineered. I don’t call something engineered unless some intentional agent did the engineering. To equate human engineering with blind evolution sells human engineers short. People haven’t accomplished all the amazing things we have in the past few centuries because of some random chance. The problem (as you note well) is the assumption that “artificial” is bad. In general, it is not.
          2. So, a potato is highly processed?
          3. That’s why it’s a rule of thumb and not a law of nature. Highly processed foods do tend to be, as a matter of fact, filled with cheap (processed) fats, (processed, refined) sugar and salt.

          1. 1. My point is that they’re all chemicals. To say that ‘natural’ chemicals are normally better than ‘artificial’ chemicals is strange – especially when they’re often the *smae* chemicals, just produced differently (‘non-GMO glucose’ for example).

            2. A potato is not highly processed – a potato chip is. Or do you regularly eat raw potatoes?

            3. Yes – its also why its weird give a product a thumbs up because its ‘doesn’t have an excessive amount of processing’. Of course not – the thing is *made of sugar and fat, you don’t need to add more in.

            1. I see your point.

              Perhaps I misinterpreted #2.

      2. Yeah, it’s not a law of nature, and “natural” definitely doesn’t necessarily mean good for you. But I think it is a reasonable rule of thumb that processed foods with lots of engineered chemical ingredients are not the best.

        I have a degree in Biochemistry so I understand the chemistry perfectly well.

        It’s the unnecessarily complicated bullshit that bugs me.

        Peanut Butter: Peanuts. Maybe Salt. – WTF is palm oi, completely hydrogenated vegetable oil, and corn syrup doing in my PB?

        Ketchup: Tomatoes, Vinegar. – WTF is calorie laden corn-syrup in a sauce that should be calorie free?

        I hate finding corn syrup in things. Not because I think corn syrup to be inherently worse than regular sugar, but it’s used to thicken and sweeten foods up to make them more palatable (and adds calories incidentally). Like we’re all 12 and our coffee is too bitter and tomato paste too sour.

        1. Ketchup made only from tomato puree and vinegar would probably not be thick enough to legally be called ‘ketchup’.

          Yes the US government actually regulates the consistency of ketchup.

          1. Ketchup or tomato sauce, the ‘too much HFCS’ stands either way.

            Pizza with sweet tomato sauce is worse than New York style.

            1. I think sugar is traditionally part of ketchup. But I agree generally. Sweet pizza is the worst. There is too much sugar in too many things. I don’t much care if it’s white sugar or glucose syrup or HFCS. But HFCS is what’s cheap now, so it’s what is in everything.

            2. Won’t argue that.

              You can find ketchup with just plain sugar without much difficulty, no special stores or anything. Good old free market is supplying where a demand is arising.

              Wife only buys the plain sugar version. I can’t say as I notice a difference.

        2. I agree with this.

          Here’s the thing: corn syrup is cheap. Tomatos are relatively expensive. So rather than make a thick tomato-y ketchup made purely with tomatos and vineger, by cooking it down more to thicken up the tomatos, they add corn syrup which thickens and sweens it, and also makes it cheaper.
          But it also, incidentally, cuts down on the nutritional value and increases the amount of sugar your consuming.

        3. I have a Ph.D. in Biochem too. The palm oil & hydrogenated oil is to make the peanut butter cheaper, hoping you won’t notice the difference in taste.

      3. To be a bit more clear, it’s not the “artificial” ingredients that are bad. It’s the fact that highly-processed foods tend to be relatively unhealthy, being mostly carbs, fat, salt and sugar. When I think of “highly-processed foods” I think “bag of cool-range doritos” or “fruit roll-ups”. Nobody really cares if the canned pinto beans have a preservative in them.

    3. My anti-aging food supplement is made entirely with natural ingredients: 100% organic clostridium botulinum.

  8. As a matter of fact the division between ‘natural’ and ‘artificial’ is artificial.


    1. Literally.

  9. Just repackage the product so that a single serving contains 1 gram or less of saturated fat.

    1. ..or adjust the serving size to ‘2’ on the same pkg (provided they can weasel it that way)

    2. KIND Bites?

      1. There should be a warning label so that people don’t eat a whole one all at once while wearing corduroy.

    3. My favorite example of that is “fat free” cooking sprays. Which are pretty much 100% fat. But since a serving is less than 1 gram (or .5 gram or whatever the rule is), they can call it “fat free”.

      1. And the dispensing time for a one serving amount is ~1/3 s or something equally irrelevant relative to human reaction times.

        1. And I don’t see how that could be enough to wet the bottom of a skillet even if you could accurately gauge 1/3 of a second.

  10. Speaking of KIND, some of their bars contain hemp seeds which recently caught the attention of the military’s urinalysis jobs program……..=123442681

    1. “People need to stay away from [hemp seed products] because if they digest a lot of them, the hemp could turn to THC, which is a chemical found in marijuana,” Roski said. “I don’t know how much they would need to eat, but it’s better to just avoid it altogether.”

      Sadly, this is completely representative of the level of training and knowledge the military’s ‘Drug Demand Reduction Program managers’.

      Its about par with reinstating the ban on poppy seed buns.

      1. You know it’s not safe to cook anything on the stove for more than an hour, because the cookware will start to transform into THC. even in pans.


      2. At least poppy seeds do often have some residual opiates on them. I’m pretty sure hemp seeds can’t “turn to THC”. Unless you plant them.

        1. I think hemp seeds also have some residual THC – but, like poppy seeds, unless your drug test has a stupidly low threshold (yeah, military, I know) you’re not going to pop positive unless you’ve been gorging on the bars constantly for weeks.

  11. Dear FDA,

    We meant ‘healthy’ as in ‘robust’. Our products are robust and satisfying blends of ingredients. Fuck off.


  12. Pause a moment and think about the resources in money and manpower needed to make this important determination. Your tax dollars at work.

    1. *sighs, reaches for bottle of bourbon*

  13. Everyone knows saturated fat is bad for you! It’s been bad for you ever since the Senate Select Committee on Human and Nutrition Needs published the McGovern Report in 1977. It’s only common sense!

  14. Think Progress/Gawker types are so anal about their choice truths that this news actually sent shock waves of relief across the socialist spectrum. Let it be known that on this day the government rose up against candy bars camouflaged as health snacks and saved Americans from an evil speck of fat.

  15. fill the bars with unproven platitudes and you can actually refer to them as health care.

  16. To be fair, there has been a depressing trend in the “energy” and “nutrition” bar market where they all seem to be turning into candy bars. Everything has chocolate chips or a chocolate coating, (or whatever that white yogurt shit is). Maybe even some caramel.
    At what point is a caramel-cookie-nut bar no longer a health food but just a few pieces of granola away from a Snickers bar?

    1. energy = calories

      Nutrition lit always refers to “energy” rather than calories, but might denominate the energy in kcal, if not joules.

  17. only foods with less than 1 gram of saturated fat can be legally described as “healthy”

    I think it should be illegal to call a product “tasty” if it’s yucky.

  18. only foods with less than 1 gram of saturated fat can be legally described as “healthy”

    I think it should be illegal to call a product “tasty” if it’s yucky.

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