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Lowering the Bar
Critics Say Energy Snacks May Be Mislabeled

By Arnold Diaz & Caroline Noel, ABC-TV's MoneyScope Reporters

April 13, 2001: (ABC News) —  "For the athlete in training or the busy employee who has to skip lunch, energy bars may be a godsend."

Perhaps a reflection of our time-crunched culture, the "bar business" has shot up since 1987, when PowerBar first introduced its taffy-like snack to the public. PowerBar now claims 40 percent market share of the $600 million industry — an industry increasingly inundated with rivals.

Grocery store shelves nationwide are teeming with these kinds of bars, many of which make an array of claims about their virtues — whether it's the quick energy they provide, or their high protein level, or that they're packed with essential vitamins and minerals.

Not Always What You Get

But according to some critics, what you read on the label isn't always what you get. Last month, the National Consumers League and the Consumer Federation of America — which has no problem with PowerBar — wrote the FDA a letter, warning that "many of these products carry unauthorized nutrient content claims or are otherwise mislabeled."

Of chief concern to the two groups is the "low carbohydrate" boast that many bars make, when the FDA has never established criteria for making such a claim. They cite the Atkins Diet Advantage bar, the Premier Eight and Premier Protein bars, and Biochem's Ultimate Lo Carb Bar as all containing "low carb" claims on their labels, when such a claim has never been approved for use.

The consumer organizations also claim that the Atkins Diet Advantage Bar misrepresents its total carbohydrates by failing to count glycerin — a syrupy liquid that is a major ingredient in most bars — as a carbohydrate.

In response, both Atkins and Premier say they have stopped labeling their bars "low carb" and anticipate that all bars with "low carb" labels will be off shelves within three to four months. But Atkins stands by its decision to separate its glycerin count from its carb count.

When reached for comment, Richard Hirsch, senior vice president of marketing and brand development for Atkins, stated, "We're not disputing that glycerin is defined as a carbohydrate by the FDA. But since it doesn't have the blood sugar impact of traditional carbohydrates like sugars and starches, we list the glycerin content separately." Atkins is currently in negotiations with the FDA about whether it will be allowed to continue this practice.

Doing Long-Term Exercise

The two consumer groups also take issue with some energy bars — such as the Met-Rx Keto Pro, Met-Rx Protein Plus and Worldwide's Pure Protein bars — that claim to be "high protein," but do not list their actual protein value. Both Worldwide and Met-Rx note that they have since corrected their labeling omissions, and currently include the percent Daily Value of protein on its labels.

And keep in mind that energy bars might not be the best thing for your diet.

According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, energy bars are most appropriate for athletes doing long-term exercise — rather than the average person going for a jog — because they contain more calories than you would be prone to burn off in your workout.

In their December newsletter the center warns, "If you're just looking for a snack or pick-me-up after a game of tennis, save your money" and go for a bagel.

   Bar Break-down

Energy Bar Calories Total
Protein Carbohyd-
PowerBar Harvest (Chocolatey Dipped) 260 5 g 1 g 7 g 45 g
Clif (Chocolate Chip) 240 4 g 1 g 10 g 41 g
Balance (Nut Berry) 200 6 g 1 g 15 g 21 g
Worldwide Sport's Pure Protein Bar (Chewy Chocolate Chip) 280 5 g 3.5 g 32 g 13 g
Met-Rx Protein Plus 250 8 g 8 g 34 g 14 g
Comparison with Snack
Quaker Chewy Granola (Chocolate Chip) 120 4 g 1.5 g 2 g 21 g
Kellogg's Nutri-Grain (Strawberry) 140 3 g 0.5 g 2 g 27 g
Milky Way 270 10 g 5 g 2 g 41 g
Snickers 280 14 g 5 g 4 g 35 g