The eternal fiancee’ of the skeptical cardiologist (EFOSC) deserves serious kudos for (among myriad other things) challenging his conventional ideas about heart-healthy food and serving as his dietary muse.
However, the EFOSC seems to have a weakness for what I would consider a highly processed, sugared up, over-priced piece of marketing hype—Kind Bars.
I asked the EFOSC recently why she was so enamored of Kind Bars and she told me “I like that they are convenient, you can find them anywhere, they are not expensive and they taste good and they are low in sugar and they are 100 times better than all the other snack bars on the market that are expensive and have tons of sugar and chemicals and disgusting things in them:
She also points out that for frequent business travelers, the bars are more convenient (and often cheaper) than buying a bag of nuts in an airport kiosk.
She is not alone.
The Booming “Healthy and Natural” Snack Bar Business
The “healthy” snack bar business has been booming lately.
The WSJ points out
“Bar makers are opening the floodgates on nuts, dried meats, cricket flour and other nutrient and protein-rich ingredients to compete for consumers and command top dollar. Many of these ingredients cost more than those found in a traditional cookie—and as sources of protein, ounce for ounce, some of them cost more than a steak.There are 1,012 nutrition bars on the market now, compared with just 226 a decade ago, according to a tally by Valient Market Research in Philadelphia.”
Consumers, attracted by convenience and a desire for “healthy and natural” food are paying more for snacks like Kind bars which have high profit margins.
“The average bar costs about two dollars, up from just one dollar 10 years ago, a sign of how much more consumers are willing to pay, or “diminishing price sensitivity,” as Valient founder Scott Upham calls it. “The cost of ingredients makes up only 25% of the price, and profit margins for bars tend to hover as high as 40% to 50%, compared with only 20% to 30% for most other packaged foods, says Mr. Upham.”
Stores love them because “they are individually wrapped and have a long shelf life, yet they are popular and turn over fast.”
Are Kind Bars And Their Ilk Healthy?
Interestingly, about a year ago, the FDA issued a “warning letter” to Kind asking the company to remove the term “healthy” from its product labels.
Violation 1a. of that letter fingers Kind Fruit & Nut Almond & Apricot for having 3.5 grams of saturated fat per 40 grams of food (the so-called Reference Amount customarily consumed or RACC) which is more than the 1 gram of saturated fat per RACC allowed if is one is going to describe one’s food as healthy.
This is clearly a ridiculous and out-dated requirement: saturated fats are a diverse category of nutrients, some of which are likely very healthy (see my posts on dairy fat or coconut oil). According to these criteria, foods that are clearly very healthy such as avocados, salmon and nuts, cannot be labeled as healthy.
Kind fought back and challenged the FDA and the FDA backed down.
According to the WSJ:
“The FDA said in a statement to The Wall Street Journal that in light of evolving nutrition research and other forthcoming food-labeling rules, “we believe now is an opportune time to re-evaluate regulations concerning nutrient content claims, generally, including the term ‘healthy.’”
However, I don’t think Kind bars are necessarily a healthy good food choice. I think people buy them because they have been slickly marketed as “healthy” and “natural.”
As Marion Nestle points out, when it comes to food labels, “healthy” and “natural” are marketing terms. Their purpose is to sell food products.
The ingredients in the almond and apricot Kind bar are: Almonds, coconut, honey, non GMO glucose, apricots, apple juice, crisp rice, vegetable glycerine, chicory root fiber, soy lecithin, citrus pectin, natural apricot flavor.
Nutrition: 180 calories, 10 g fat (3.5 g saturated fat), 25 mg sodium, 23 g carbs, 3 g fiber, 13 g sugar, 3 g protein
Basically, the healthy part of this Kind Bar is almonds and coconut, which you could purchase for a hell of a lot less than what you are paying for this processed junk.
And why is it necessary to add “apricot flavor” if there are real apricots in it?
Also, note that the third ingredient is honey and the fourth is non GMO glucose. What on earth is non GMO glucose? Do we really care whether the added sugar you are pumping into your crappy bars is GMO or non GMO?
Some Kind bars are clearly no healthier than a typical Payday candy bar:
IAs Crains writes:
“the packaging of the dark chocolate cherry cashew bar advertises the word “Antioxidants.” In other words, the bar isn’t promoted as being low in sugar, so it’s a fair choice to compare with a PayDay.
The Kind bar has 9 grams of fat—1 gram less than PayDay’s bar. The sugar count, at 14 grams, is 2 grams less than PayDay. So far, so good. But this particular Kind product has a total carbohydrate count 1 gram higher than PayDay, and 1 fewer grams of protein. The bar has 2.5 grams of dietary fiber, a fraction more than PayDay.”
The Kind PR machine responds thusly:
“It is not at all a fair comparison to equate KIND’s Dark Chocolate Cherry Cashew bar to a Pay Day,” a company spokesman said. “This completely ignores the nutrient-rich ingredients that are in a KIND bar, not to mention the exponentially lower level of sodium.”
You can buy 24 Payday bars at Sam’s Club for $14, about 61 cents a bar.
To be fair to the EFOSC, she usually only eats Kind bars that have about 5 grams of sugar.
Preventing Stroke and Heart Attack with 30g of “Mixed Nuts” Daily
In a previous post (Nuts, Legumes, Drupes and Mortality) I summarized the evidence supporting the cardiovascular benefits of consuming various kinds of nuts.
The PREDIMED trial, in particular, showed a remarkable benefit in reducing heart attacks and strokes when patients ate a Mediterranean diet supplemented with 30g mixed nuts per day (15g walnuts, 7.5g almonds and 7.5g hazelnuts). Walnuts and almonds are actually drupes, but hazelnuts are true nuts.
The Mediterranean diet, including nuts, reduced the risk of cardiovascular diseases (myocardial infarction, stroke or cardiovascular death) by 30% and specifically reduced the risk of stroke by 49% when compared to a reference diet consisting of advice on a low-fat diet (American Heart Association guidelines). The Mediterranean diet enriched with extra-virgin olive oil also reduced the risk of cardiovascular diseases by 30%.
This compares to Kind bars which retail anywhere from $1.99 to $3.50.
The PREDIMED investigators explain why they chose these specific nuts:
“WALNUTS. Walnuts differ from other nuts in that they are very rich in omega 6 and omega 3 type unsaturated fats. Moreover, the antioxidants they contain are among the most powerful in the plant world. It should be mentioned that, like omega 3 in fish, nut fats possess important beneficial properties for general health and the heart in particular.
ALMONDS. Almonds form part of many traditional desserts and sweets of Arabic origin, such as nougat. Currently, Spain is the second largest producer and consumer of almonds in the world, after the United States. As with hazelnuts and olive oil, almonds are rich in oleic acid. They differ from other nuts in that they contain more fibre, vitamin E, calcium and magnesium.
HAZELNUTS. Hazelnuts, another widely consumed nut in Spain, are very rich in oleic acid. Furthermore, they are nuts that provide a large amount of folic acid, a vitamin very important for regulating the metabolism, a lack of which can lead to thrombosis and an acceleration of degenerative processes such as arteriosclerosis and senile dementia.”
Unfortunately, I can eat neither hazelnuts nor walnuts (tree nut allergy), but I’ve decided to create for my patients little baggies filled with 30 grams of the magical PREDIMED nut mixture. I’ll give these out during office visits as I explain the glories of the Mediterranean diet (I’ll try to forbear elaborating to them the difference between drupes and nuts).
I need a catchy name for these bags-“Pearson’s PREDIMED bags” or “Stroke-busting nuts?”
If any reader or patient has a suggestion, please add it to the comments.
If I choose your suggestion, I’ll provide you with 10 bags of nuts and oodles of glory!
Hopefully, once I start creating the nut bags, the EFOSC will begin to eschew the faux healthiness of Kind bars and embrace the natural and unmarketed goodness of drupes and nuts.
A drupe is a type of fruit in which an outer fleshy part surrounds a shell (what we sometimes call a pit) with a seed inside. Some examples of drupes are peaches, plums, and cherries—but walnuts, almonds, and pecans are also drupes. They’re just drupes in which we eat the seed inside the pit instead of the fruit!
“Every 3 months a supply of 1,350-g walnuts (®California Walnut Commission, Sacramento, Cal), 675-g almonds (®Borges SA, Reus, Spain), and 675 g hazelnuts (®La Morella Nuts, Reus, Spain) is provided to each participant assigned to the MeDiet+Nuts group.”