KIND Snacks wants to know: What could be “healthier” than nuts? The pioneering brand of better-for-you snack bars, built on fruit, nuts and dark chocolate, has formally challenged the definition of “healthy” food that has been used by the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to regulate the claim by US marketers for two decades.
In its petition to the agency, KIND asked the FDA to update its regulations around the term “healthy” when used as a nutrient claim on food labeling to exclude the grams of saturated and total fat content in their products that come from nuts, fruits, vegetables, seeds, whole grains and legumes, in most cases.
The agency currently mandates that “healthy” can be used as a claim only to describe foods that contain 3 grams or less of total fat and 1 gram or less of saturated fat per serving (except for fish and meat). Because of nuts—”key ingredients in many of our snacks and one of the things that make fans love our bars,” KIND notes in a press release—the bars contain nutritious fats that exceed the fat amounts allowed under the FDA standard.
And indeed, KIND has been targeted this year by the agency over this issue in a warning letter stating that some KIND bars don’t meet the current healthy claim because they contain more than 1 gram of saturated fat per serving.
“The current regulations were created with the best intentions when the available science supported dietary recommendations limiting total fat intake,” KIND CEO Daniel Lubetzky said in the statement. “However, current science tells us that unsaturated fats in nutrient-dense foods like nuts, seeds and certain fish are beneficial to overall health.”
In many ways, the agency itself seems to have recognized that claims used by food and beverage companies to promote the healthfulness of their products have been outdated by a number of factors, ranging from the move of the entire CPG industry toward “better-for-you” foods, the relative decline in the number of new products that simply attach “healthy” as a rider to their overall positioning, and greater levels of education by many consumers about the nutritional qualities of their food.
A few weeks ago, for instance, the FDA surprised the industry by announcing that it will reconsider the use of the term “natural” in labeling claims. Many observers have pointed out that the claim as currently used is essentially meaningless.
But KIND isn’t wearing a pure white hat, Fast Company pointed out, because many of its bars contain a lot of sugar. So it’s not surprising that KIND, which has established a brand with a rather altruistic aura , said recently that it plans to cut added sugar in some of its bars next spring and supports the FDA’s proposal to include a daily value for added sugar on nutritional food labels.
— KIND Snacks (@KINDSnacks) November 25, 2015
The petition reads, in part:
Under FDA’s current application of food labeling regulations, whether or not a food can be labeled “healthy” is based on specific nutrient levels in the food rather than its overall nutrition quality. FDA formulated those regulations more than 20 years ago, when available science and federal dietary recommendations focused on limiting total fat intake. Today, these regulations still require that the majority of foods featuring a “healthy” nutrient content claim meet “low fat” and “low saturated fat” standards regardless of their nutrient density. This is despite the fact that current science no longer supports those standards.