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Nutritional Analysis of Bars Reveals Discrepancies


They're filling, easy to eat and certainly more nutritious than candy, chips or a bag of fries. But 60% of the nutrition bars sold to millions of dieters, athletes and other health-conscious consumers do not live up to the claims made on their labels, according to an analysis of the popular products released last week., a White Plains, N.Y.-based company that evaluates the content of vitamins, supplements and other nutrition products, tested 30 nutrition bars for levels of fat, sodium and carbohydrates, among other ingredients. Only 12 of the bars delivered on all their label claims. The remaining 18 were significantly off, usually by underreporting contents that dieters try to avoid, such as fat.

"The most appalling thing was the missing carbs," said Dr. Tod Cooperman, president of Consumerlab. Half of the products tested contained far more carbohydrates than they claimed, often by as many as 100 calories. Many diets call for cutting back on carbohydrates, which are quickly converted to sugar in the body, nutritionists say.

Among products that met all their labeling claims were MET-Rx Food Bar, Balance Complete Nutritional Food Bar, EAS Myoplex Lite Nutrition Bar, Nutrilite Positrim Food Bar, Precision Engineered Symetry and A Better Nutritional Ratio Bar. Consumerlab does not make public those products that fail its tests.

The FDA supervises labeling practices for the products, and during the last year has contacted 18 nutrition bar makers complaining about their claims. The industry has promised to address the problem. Nutritionists are generally lukewarm toward nutrition bars, favoring vegetables, fruits, grains and meat as the best sources for a balanced diet. But makers of "meal-replacement," "energy," "protein," and "diet" bars have built a $1-billion-a-year market by appealing to rushed, nutrition-conscious consumers, according to Patrick Rea, research director at Nutrition Business Journal, which tracks the nutrition industry. What distinguishes nutrition bars from candy and snack bars is protein: You get 10 grams to 30 grams of it in a nutrition bar, versus little or none in snacks and candy. Among other discrepancies the analysis found:

* Sodium. Seven bars contained more sodium than they claimed on the label--two to three times, in some cases. Many studies have linked high sodium intake with elevated blood pressure, and dieters are often told to watch the amount of salt in their food.

* Saturated fat. Four products underreported the amount of saturated fat they contained; one had nearly triple the amount on its label. Diets high in saturated fats are linked to heart disease, some doctors say.

"These labels really need to be accurate, and it's very disturbing that we're not being told what's in our food," said Dr. David Heber, director of UCLA's Center for Human Nutrition. The prevailing diet fads--low-fat, low-sodium, "low-carb"--make it tempting to underreport these ingredients, he said.

Nutritionists generally recommend healthy adults get about 2,000 to 3,000 calories per day from a varied diet in which 60% or fewer calories are from carbohydrates, at least 10% are from protein, and roughly 30% are from fat.

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