KIND updates labels to reflect research showing calories from nuts have been “grossly miscalculated”

By Elaine Watson contact

- Last updated on GMT

KIND: 'We hope this will make consumers feel more empowered to make better food choices' (picture: KIND LLC)
KIND: 'We hope this will make consumers feel more empowered to make better food choices' (picture: KIND LLC)

Related tags: Nuts, Kind snacks

KIND is reducing calorie counts on its nut bars to reflect USDA research suggesting that traditional methods for calculating energy have "grossly miscalculated" the metabolizable energy from whole nuts, the core ingredients in its snacks.

The move impacts 95%+ of KIND’s nut bar portfolio, resulting in a 10-30 calorie reduction per bar, with its caramel almond & sea salt bar dropping from 200 calories to 170 calories, and its best-selling Dark Chocolate Nuts & Sea Salt bar dropping from 200 to 180 calories.

It follows a series of studies conducted by Dr David Baer and others at USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) on almonds, cashews, walnuts, and pistachios, which show that when you bite into a whole nut and break it up into smaller pieces, some of these fragments pass through your digestive system intact, taking the energy they contain with them.

Atwater system not accurate when it comes to nuts, and perhaps some other foods…

The standard way of estimating calories – the 100-year old Atwater system, which assigns 9 kcals to fats and 4 kcals to carbs and proteins — is inaccurate when it comes to nuts, explained Dr Baer, who has been calculating their metabolizable energy (the energy they actually contribute) through analysis of urine and feces.

Nuts remain a nutrient dense snack, but the number of calories provided in a single serving has been grossly miscalculated,” ​said Dr Baer. “Our findings suggest a more accurate representation of calories and food companies using nuts in their products will be able to provide clearer information to the public.”

Learn more about some of the ARS research via the links below:

  • CASHEWS​ (2018) - 16% discrepancy (whole, roasted) between stated and actual metabolizable energy
  • ALMONDS​ (2016) - 19% (whole, roasted) and 25% (whole, unroasted) discrepancy between stated and actual metabolizable energy
  • WALNUTS​ (2016) - 21% discrepancy between stated and actual metabolizable energy
  • PISTACHIOS​ (2012) - 5% discrepancy between stated and actual metabolizable energy

‘At USDA, we have conducted five studies with tree nuts’

The caloric contribution of nuts varies, with almonds, walnuts and cashews contributing 16-25% fewer calories than previously thought and pistachios contributing around 5% fewer than previously thought, Dr Baer told FoodNavigator-USA.

“At USDA, we have conducted five studies with tree nuts; one study each with pistachios, walnuts, and cashews, and two studies with almonds.     

“We’re not certain of the reasons for the difference that we have observed with different nuts.  We do think that it is related to texture or other factors of the matrix of the food that makes it easier for chewing to disrupt the pistachio nut cells, and make the nutrients more available than other nuts.”

He added: “We have studied whole, unroasted almonds twice with a finding of a 19% and 25% difference between measured and calculated calorie content in the two studies, so an average of 22%.”

The second almond study, which suggested the discrepancy of 25% between stated and actual metabolizable energy with whole unroasted almonds, found a 19% discrepancy for roasted almonds, a statistically significant difference, suggesting that roasting has a small impact on nuts’ caloric contribution, he said.  

This may be due to lower hardness of whole roasted compared to whole natural almonds, and to whole natural almonds fracturing into fewer, larger particles, thus inhibiting the release of lipids​.”

The cashews in his study were roasted, with a 16% discrepancy between stated and actual metabolizable energy. 

The discrepancy between declared and actual metabolizable energy is reduced or lost if you grind up or slice nuts, however, with most or all of the fat in nut butters, for example, being released as available energy, he explained.

KIND has always prioritized using and celebrating whole nuts as the main ingredient in our nut bar portfolio. This research indicates that nuts not only contain less digestible calories but are just as nutrient dense as they always have been with essential healthy fats that contribute to heart health.”

Daniel Lubetzky, founder and executive chairman, KIND

Micronutrients from nuts

Asked whether there was enough evidence to update the USDA national nutrient database for some of these nuts, he said: “There have been several discussions about updating the national nutrient database with these data.  Along those lines, there have been some ongoing changes in the USDA database(s) including the recent release of USDA’s Food Data Central.  Because of these changes, the older databases (Standard Release) is no longer being updated.  Right now, the processes for updating data is under revision.  Hopefully, as these new processes get worked out, these newer data on energy (calorie) value will get added to the national databases.”

Asked whether his data supported KIND’s contention that we still get the same level of micronutrients from whole nuts as previously thought, just with fewer calories, he said: “Likely, the maximum absorption of all nutrients from nuts is not being achieved, except maybe from ‘butter’ forms of nuts​.”

That said, data suggests that consumption of whole nuts can lead to an improvement in nutrient ‘status’ while plenty of studies link nut consumption to improvement in health outcomes, he said. “Thus, the positive health impact from nut consumption is still achieved despite the lower energy content.”

Asked if there are other foods aside from nuts where the Atwater system might not be the best way to calculate energy/calorie content, he said: “We are currently conducting a study of lentils and chickpeas.”

‘We hope this will make consumers feel more empowered to make better food choices’

Speaking to FoodNavigator-USA about the label change, Stephanie Csaszar, KIND’s in-house registered dietitian, said: “I feel there are still barriers to consumption of nuts​ [which are nutrient dense, but high in fats, albeit of the healthy variety].

"It’s been great that the government has shifted its thinking on fats, removing ‘calories from fat’ from the new Nutrition Facts labels and looking at updating the criteria for healthy claims ​[to reflect changing views on fats], but calories are still the #2 item checked on Nutrition Facts labels, so we do feel that this will give consumers more confidence to consume nuts.”

“We hope this will make consumers feel more empowered to make better food choices.”

KIND is reducing calorie counts for whole roasted almonds by 19% and whole cashews by 16%  

KIND is reducing the caloric contribution of the whole roasted almonds in its snacks by 19% and the whole cashews by 16% to reflect the ARS data. As walnuts and pistachios do not feature heavily in its products, it will not be changing labels to reflect research into these nuts.

Asked whether this was jumping the gun given that USDA has not formally updated its databases yet, Csaszar noted that the key factor was that the research underpinning the move had been published.

As to whether other brands were updating labels now, or waiting for a formal change from USDA, she said: “We’ve been in touch with the USDA, specifically the lead researcher Dr. Baer, and while their database has not updated yet, we are still moving forward with updated packaging​. No other snack bar brand or snack brand in general has adopted this research yet, largely because KIND is made up of whole nuts whereas competition leads with sugar or blended protein sources, so it wouldn’t even apply.”

She added: “The FDA defines acceptable methods for calculating calories, and the literature falls within that. With the almonds, there was also a lot of consistency between Dr Baer’s 2012 and 2016 research, so that gave us further confidence in the methods.”

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