Recent testing of nutrition bars on sale in the United States has found that labeling has become more accurate, although the wide range in nutritional content means consumers must be aware of the different types of products within the category.
Conducted by testing body ConsumerLab, the latest analysis looked at 20 different protein bars, energy bars, and meal replacement bars.
It follows on from previous tests in 2001 that had found most bars to be mislabeled, with many containing undeclared carbohydrates, according to ConsumerLab. At the time, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sent warning letters to several manufacturers who failed to include certain ingredients in the carbohydrate counts stated on their products.
Further testing in 2005 found the majority of products met their nutrient claims, with only one misrepresenting its carbohydrates and two others reporting lower levels of saturated fat than they actually contained.
.According to the latest round of tests, all bars met their nutrient claims, although a “tremendous” range in the nutritional focus of the bars was found, said ConsumerLab.
However, such findings come as no particular shock, as the nutrition bar category contains products that have different functions, and are therefore positioned on the market in different ways.
Energy bars tend to contain more carbohydrates, protein bars are higher in protein, and meal replacement bars have more of a balance between carbohydrates, protein and fat.
ConsumerLab, which claims its aim is to transmit accurate information on health products to consumers, said that the wide range in nutritional content across the bars it tested created certain “pitfalls” that consumers should watch out for.
- Saturated fat: The group said some protein bars tested contained high levels of saturated fat, with more than half of their fat content being saturated.
- Total fat: Some bars can contain high levels of fat in general, which have more than twice the calories per gram than carbohydrates, said the group.
- Sugar alcohols: Some bars contain many grams of sugar alcohols, such as malitol and lacitol, in an attempt to reduce calories. These can produce gas and discomfort, claims ConsumerLab.
- Added vitamins: The group also cautioned that people already consuming vitamins or vitamin-fortified foods should be careful not to exceed tolerable levels as many nutrition bars are also vitamin fortified.
According to Tod Cooperman, ConsumerLab president, “Bars can be a good occasional source of nutrients such as protein for people on the go, but they vary dramatically in their content. Before eating a bar, a consumer should be sure it has what he or she needs without unwanted ingredients.”
These “unwanted ingredients” could be added vitamins, minerals, herbs or other functional ingredients that consumers would “not expect” in foods. ConsumerLab, which has in the past been criticized for a lack of transparency in its testing methods, says that “it is not necessarily a bad thing” that the products are fortified, but that consumers should simply be aware of what they contain.