Whether it is granola bars, energy bars or protein bars, there is no shortage of these snack foods on the market today. However, what started out with the right intentions to offer consumers a healthy alternative to chocolate candy bars, has today become a pseudo-healthy market that is more hype than health, with sugar and fat-laden snacks disguised as health foods. Most bars on the market today contain all kinds of processed or refined ingredients, extracts and isolates of food, dairy and other animal food ingredients, multiple or controversial sweeteners, oils, GMO ingredients and the list goes on.
One brand of bars that market themselves as a healthy choice are KIND bars. Their wonderful slogan “ingredients you can see and pronounce” make the bars seem like a nutritional haven. Their clear plastic wrapper package aims to further emphasize the point by showing consumers various nuts, seeds and dried fruit, and depending on the variety other ingredients like dark chocolate and puffed grains.
But are these bars as clear, honest and healthy as they appear? Unfortunately no. How healthy or unhealthy these bars rate depends on the variety you consider and most importantly, your understanding of optimal human health and nutrition. Let’s explore further as part of this in-depth review.
About KIND Bars
KIND bars are part of the KIND snacks family of foods. The KIND company was started in 2004, in New York, by founder and CEO Daniel Lubetzky, who is also the author of the book Do the KIND Thing. The company made over 500 million dollars of sales in 2015, and in 2017 was reaching three-quarters of a billion. As of May 2018, KIND snacks include 9 different lines of snack foods in the United States:
- KIND bars
- KIND kids bars
- KIND protein
- KIND healthy grains bars
- KIND healthy grains clusters
- KIND breakfast bars
- Pressed by KIND (bars)
- KIND fruit bites
- KIND sweet & spicy bars
- and KIND minis, which are smaller versions of the most popular bars
Currently, KIND bars come in 25 different flavors in the United States, and 12 flavors in Canada . They feature various fruit, peanut butter, chocolate, maple, caramel and wide range of different nut flavors.
My Experience with KIND Bars
It is very rare for me to buy any kind of commercial “healthy” bar, since I make my own bars and snacks easily at home, which is the healthiest and most cost-effective way to go, as you have full control over the quality of ingredients and processing methods. However the odd time I do, it is normally because a bar I trust to meet my health and food standards, or a new potential option caught my attention with a good sale sign, if I have to pass through the bar aisle for any reason, or I want to try one for review purposes, such as this.
My first experience with KIND bars was a few years ago, when I was waiting in line at the grocery store and noticed them in the usual chocolate, gum and candy section by the cash register. I vaguely heard of them before and thought it nice that healthier choices were making their way into this section. I read through the ingredients of the variety that was present at that time, Nut Delight, and even though they were not up to my full standards, I deemed them “good enough” to give the bar a try and have personal experience with KIND bars, given the nature of my work. The biggest thing that stood out from that initial trial was how hard and tough on the teeth the bar was; definitely not ideal for optimal oral health to have such a hard and sticky texture. Fast forward another year and I decide to give KIND bars another try, sampling two different varieties. One was the Almond & Coconut, which had a nicer, chewier texture, and the other was the Dark Chocolate Nuts & Sea Salt, which was reminiscent in hard texture to that first KIND bar I tried. In terms of flavor, regardless of the variety I found all the bars overly sweet and had no intention of trying them again.
In the spring of 2018, on a regular grocery trip, KIND bars caught my attention for the third time, as I was surprised to see how many different ones were now available in the store and the lucrative sale they were on (1/3rd off). I always intended to write a review about them, and this reminded me to do so, as I was also getting more questions about them from audience members. I read through the ingredients again and I was greatly dismayed to see that their already subpar “healthy ingredients” were further degraded, by including things like “sugar” and “palm oil”, which the original bar I tried did not have.
On their website, KIND shares that “These bars are where our journey started and it was simple: whole ingredients like nuts, mixed with fruits and spices bound together with honey.” One look at the ingredients on their bars today tells us that they clearly deviated from that originating mission and are not even in alignment with the “ingredients you can see and pronounce” claim featured on their bars. Isolated and extracted ingredients, like sugar and oils are clearly not any kind of whole foods, nor are they ingredients you can see. This gives the consumer a false idea of what they are actually eating. Add to that dairy, soy protein isolates, flavors and other additives and we are now very far away from what a truly “healthy” bar would be.
Speaking of the term “healthy”, while doing research for this review I also learned that in 2015 the FDA tried to get KIND bars to remove the word healthy from at least some of their bar labels. This decision was later re-evaluated as KIND fought back citing outdated nutritional guidelines. In the end, according to the FDA, the company is allowed to use the term “healthy” to define its corporate philosophy, not to make any nutritional claims about its products.
Upon examining the dispute, I definitely agree with KIND that not being allowed to use the word “healthy” because their bars surpass a certain number for fat guidelines is an outdated and very reductionist way of looking at nutrition, especially when a food contains a healthy, wholesome food like nuts. Their arguments about how the FDA makes rulings on food labelling were also spot on in showing how superficial and off base the guidelines can be. However, there is an elephant in the room that is being missed, which goes beyond what the FDA and KIND can or cannot agree on. The quality of those nuts and other ingredients, as well as the sweeteners and other ingredients used will heavily dictate how “healthy” the product ultimately is, which goes above and beyond any numbers that either party is interested in having.
Of course we are not going to get everyone to agree on a universal definition of “healthy” due to the many perspectives we have about health and comparisons that are used to gauge the healthiness of something. Are KIND bars healthy compared to conventional chocolate, granola or candy bars? You Bet! But are they healthy compared to something like Larabar Organic or better yet real nuts or dried fruits? Not quite. So in this case all I can do is share with you how these bars rate from an optimal health perspective and you get to decide how they rate based on your personal definitions of what “healthy” means to you.
Health and Nutrition Analysis
The first rule of thumb to figuring out how healthy a food product may be is to understand that just because it is marketed or labelled with the word “healthy” does not mean it is, as discussed above.
The second rule of thumb is not to fall for or be swayed by any front package claims. Instead, go straight to the ingredients and get to know exactly what the food product is made of. In the case of KIND bars, the ingredient quality and health value varies widely, as I will demonstrate below.
To feel good about a commercial bar from a health and nutrition perspective, here are some general guidelines of what to look for:
- No dairy or animal products.
- No blatantly harmful sweeteners, like sugar, high fructose corn syrup, glucose syrup and similar refined sweeteners.
- No GMO ingredients.
- Some or all organic ingredients.
- Whole food ingredients in raw or minimally processed forms.
- No isolates like oils, protein powders, etc.
- No preservatives or other harmful additives.
Below are 5 KIND bar ingredient lists and nutrition fact labels, with the most harmful ingredients bolded, and problematic ingredients italicized. Please also note that KIND bar ingredients vary somewhat between their US and Canadian products, as shared below, with greater clarity and transparency given to consumers in Canada. Ingredients are also subject to change or not be exactly what you see on the product package, given that companies reformulate products from time to time, so always read the ingredients on the food package you are considering.
Dark Chocolate Nuts & Sea Salt
US Website Ingredients: Almonds, peanuts, chicory root fiber, honey, palm kernel oil, sugar, glucose syrup, rice flour, unsweetened chocolate, cocoa powder, sea salt, soy lecithin, natural flavor, cocoa butter.
Canadian Website Ingredients: Almonds, peanuts, inulin, honey, palm kernel oil, sugar, glucose syrup, crisp rice (rice flour, sugar, salt), cocoa mass, cocoa powder, sea salt, soy lecithin, natural flavor, cocoa butter.
Caramel Almond & Sea Salt
US Website Ingredients: Almonds, chicory root fiber, honey, palm kernel oil, sugar, glucose syrup, rice flour, milk powder, sea salt, carob powder, soy lecithin, natural flavor, annatto*.
Canadian Website Ingredients: Almonds, inulin, honey, glucose syrup, palm kernel oil, sugar, crisp rice (rice flour, sugar, salt), milk powder, sea salt, carob powder, soy lecithin, natural flavor, annatto*.
(Annatto is a natural food coloring, which is currently recognized as safe.)
Almond & Coconut
US Website Ingredients: Almonds, coconut, honey, glucose syrup, rice flour, soy lecithin, chicory root fiber, sugar, sea salt.
Canadian Website Ingredients: Almonds, coconut, honey, glucose syrup, crisp rice (rice flour, sugar, salt), soy lecithin, inulin.
Blueberry Vanilla & Cashew
US Website Ingredients: Cashew, almonds, chicory root fiber, blueberries, honey, rice flour, glucose syrup, raisins, sugar, vanilla extract, soy lecithin, sea salt, natural flavor, citric acid.
Canadian Website Ingredients: Cashews, almonds, dried blueberries (blueberries, sugar, natural flavor, citric acid), inulin, honey, crisp rice (rice flour, sugar, salt), glucose syrup, raisins, vanilla extract, soy lecithin.
Peanut Butter Dark Chocolate
Ingredients: Peanuts, glucose syrup, almonds, honey, sugar, soy protein isolate, palm kernel oil, peanut butter (peanuts, salt), unsweetened chocolate, cocoa powder, tapioca starch, chicory root fiber, soy lecithin, sea salt, natural flavor, cocoa butter.
Canadian Website Ingredients: Peanuts, glucose syrup, almonds, honey, sugar, soy crisp (soy protein isolate, tapioca starch, salt), palm kernel oil, peanut butter (peanuts, salt), cocoa mass, cocoa powder, inulin, soy lecithin, sea salt, natural flavor, cocoa butter.
Note About Sugars
A holistic view of nutrition pays little attention to nutrition facts labels, because those only focus on numbers, without giving any info of where those numbers come from. A high fat or sugar amount on a label is not necessarily a bad thing, just as a low amount of either is not necessarily a good thing. It all depends on the food ingredients used to make that food product. In this regard, it is the added sugars that consumers should pay attention to the most, where 4 grams of added sugar is equivalent to 1 teaspoon of sugar. This is where ideal food products would typically use whole food sweeteners, like dates, raisins or other dried fruit, which are a healthy and wholesome source of naturally occurring and nutrient-dense sugars. Isolated sweeteners and added sugars should be minimal, or at best nonexistent.
In general, all KIND bars use at least one type of nut, typically almonds, and revolve around the same ingredients, relying on honey, glucose syrup and sugar as their sweeteners. The worst variety, ingredient-wise, is their Fruit & Nuts in Yogurt Bar. Which would be the best? It is hard to say, as you cannot get away from those sweeteners, but definitely the ones without added palm oil, chocolate or dairy will rank better. For an additional perspective, visit Eat This Not That who provides a ranking of all KIND bars.
KIND bars also have flavors that include antioxidants and while these sound good, they are not a wise choice given that isolated, and specifically, synthetic vitamins and antioxidants like vitamins A, C and E have been shown to cause more harm and imbalance in our bodies, than good.
Quality of KIND Bar Ingredients
Aside from the problems with the actual type of ingredients KIND bars contain, there is also the problem of quality of the actual ingredients.
Nut Quality: For starters, the bars heavily rely on almonds. Most health conscious consumers know that almonds originating from California, which is the top almond producer in the world, must be pasteurized for commercial use. This means high heat treatment with steam pasteurization at best, through various roasting pasteurization methods, to fumigation with toxic PPO (propylene oxide) at worst. Secondly, nuts, like almonds, that have been processed with high heat are prone to having denatured fatty acids, higher levels of fatty acid oxidation and formation of acrylamide, which can all increase inflammation levels.
Sweetener Quality: When it comes to sweeteners, I feel that KIND is not even trying in this area, like other bar producers who at least aim to use unrefined versions of cane sugar or less problematic and more wholesome sweeteners like maple syrup or brown rice syrup. Aside from the blatant sugar and glucose syrup they use, the honey used is of little value, as honey should not be heated and will be highly processed as part of the bar.
Oil Quality: Regardless of the type, oil is not a health food to begin with, as it is an isolated extract of the food that has undergone various levels of processing, and increases inflammation. However, there are definitely better and worse oils, and palm oil, which KIND bars use, is one of the worse oils for health and environmental reasons.
Natural vs Artificial Flavors: Although one sounds better than the other, natural and artificial flavors are not much different, and neither of these are ideal ingredients to have in our food. Food should be minimally processed to maintain its original flavor and texture for optimal health. Any flavoring, above and beyond what natural nuts and fruits used in KIND bars can provide, can and should be achieved with pure herbs and spices, like cinnamon, vanilla, etc.
Organic/GMO Quality: KIND bars do not use organic ingredients, and as per their website May 2018, they are not pursuing organic certification. They do claim that their ingredients are non-GMO, which at least helps given that they use soy, and sugars that are likely to be sourced from corn and/or sugar beets, all of which are high-risk GMO foods.
Vitamin/Antioxidant Quality: As mentioned above, the vitamins/antioxidants used in KIND bars, namely Vitamin A (acetate), Vitamin C (ascorbic acid), and Vitamin E (D-alpha Tocopheryl) are all isolated, synthetic or semi-synthetic substances.
Raw Ingredient Quality: KIND bars will not be suitable for those who aim to eat a raw food diet or who care about the nutritional and health value of raw ingredients, given that most of their ingredients and/or the bars themselves have been subjected to various heat processing methods.
Vegan Suitability: KIND bars will not be suitable for vegans, as they contain honey and several contain dairy ingredients.
Gluten-Free Suitability: KIND bars are gluten-free, but for the most part this is more of a marketing tactic than a public health message, given that the bars are based on fruits and nuts, and do not contain wheat or similar grain ingredients. This is something that in truth can be mentioned on the back, along with the allergen information. However, given the thriving gluten-free industry, that is largely scientifically unsubstantiated, many food companies today use gluten-free marketing to make their product appear healthier than it is, ride the fad wave of current consumer demand, and often distract away from the less desirable qualities of the food product.
The positive news is that KIND can easily improve to become a cleaner and healthier food product by simply removing all dairy and sugar, and swapping honey and glucose syrup for brown rice and maple syrup, and swapping palm oil for coconut oil. These changes alone would be a huge step in the right direction.
KIND Bar Review Summary
KIND Bar Pros
- Based on whole food ingredients
- Excellent variety of flavors
- Good tasting
- Gluten Free
- Non GMO
- Average price
KIND Bar Cons
- Use some isolates, extracts and synthetic ingredients
- Use unhealthy sweeteners, including sugar
- Use palm oil
- Not made of organic ingredients
- Hard on teeth
- Overly sweet
- Not vegan friendly (honey, dairy)
- Not raw friendly
Availability & Price of KIND Bars
KIND bars are widely available throughout the United States and Canada, and are expanding into various international markets. You can find them easily at health food stores, many grocery stores, online stores and big-box stores, like Walmart.
- A single KIND bar usually costs under $2.00 US/CAD.
- A box of 12 bars can range from $15 to $30, depending on the store and any sales in effect.
Should You Eat KIND Bars?
Whether you should consider these bars as a potential snack for yourself will highly depend where you are on your health journey.
If you are just starting to become more health conscious and trying to swap out conventional chocolate, candy and granola bars for something with more nutritional benefits and less health harming properties, then KIND bars are definitely a good, potential option for you.
If you are already on a health conscious journey and like to rely on some commercial “energy” bars as snacks, then there are many better options out there to choose from, like Larabar, Larabar Organic or Raw Rev Organic Bars. Otherwise you will have to decide if the ingredients of KIND bars are in alignment with what “healthy” means to you.
If you are very advanced on your health journey, then you are making your own truly healthy bars and not relying on most, if any, commercial bars.
And remember to keep things in perspective where convenience and quality meet; the closer you get to the whole, unprocessed food, the better. So a handful of raw nuts, and/or some fresh or dried fruits are often all that is needed for the fastest, best and healthiest snacks.
KIND bars definitely have a lot of potential and I would love to have supported them in their well-intentioned mission. Unfortunately when there are some clear inconsistencies between what is being said and what is being provided, it raises a red flag and taints the integrity of the product and company. I am all for supplying the public with better food options, compared to the junk that is out there, and KIND is definitely providing a much healthier option to many snack foods out there, but the level of “healthy” promoting marketing that KIND does, does not quite match what their product ingredients say.
I know that it is not easy out there for consumers and companies alike, given the many nutrition and health problems in our world today. But this is also why we don’t need more dilution and confusion of what healthy eating and healthy foods are all about. I hope that as awareness continues to grow about proper human nutrition and how the food we eat impacts our health and the environment, KIND snacks will follow suit to improve and clean up what can be a great and convenient snack bar for people who rely on and appreciate such products.