Nutrition Bar Labels Often MisleadingOctober 30, 2001 By Keith Mulvihill
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) -The levels of some ingredients like carbohydrates, sodium and saturated fats in nutrition bars may exceed levels of what is stated on the product's label, according to ConsumerLab.com, a commercial testing company located in White Plains, New York.
ConsumerLab.com licenses its flask-shaped "Seal of Approved Quality" to companies whose products pass testing and want to pay for use of the seal on their products.
"We found that 60% of the bars we tested did not meet their label claims," said Dr. Tod Cooperman, president of the company, in an interview with Reuters Health.
ConsumerLab.com purchased 30 nutrition bars--marketed as either protein bars, meal replacement bars, diet bars or energy bars--and analyzed each of the products for levels of calories, fats, carbohydrates, sugars, proteins, cholesterol and sodium.
In their analysis the company tested one sample of each product. Nutrition bars that failed any of the first round of tests were tested a second time before receiving an official fail rating.
Cooperman reported that 18 of the 30 nutrition bars did not agree with the stated levels of ingredients on their labels.
"Fifteen of the bars had more carbohydrates then stated on the label, with some of the bars having as much as 20 grams more carbohydrate than the label indicated," he said.
"And several of these products were labeled "low carb," added Cooperman.
One explanation for the excess carbohydrates is that some manufacturers exclude the ingredient glycerin from the final carbohydrate tally, according to Cooperman. Glycerin is a sweetener and moisture additive, and the Food and Drug Administration requires that glycerin be counted as a carbohydrate on labels, he noted.
"People concerned about their carbohydrate intake may be consuming more carbs than they realize," said Cooperman.
In addition to the carbohydrate findings, Cooperman says that some of the nutrition bars' sodium and saturated fat levels were as much as 2- to 3-times stated levels on the labels, and many bars contained an average of 8 grams more sugar than stated on product labels.
In general, the amounts of protein, cholesterol and calories where labeled accurately on the nutrition bars that were analyzed, noted Cooperman.
While the findings are not likely to have great implications for human safety, the report underscores the fact that nutrition bars may benefit from tighter quality-control regulation.
In response to the findings, ConsumerLab.com's testing procedures drew criticism from the National Nutritional Foods Association (NNFA), a group that represents some manufacturers of nutrition bars.
"This style of testing should only serve as a starting point for the proper collection and evaluation of additional samples," said Dr. Phillip Harvey, chief science officer for the NNFA in Newport Beach, California, during an interview with Reuters Health.
"What we would consider proper is the testing of a minimum of three samples," he added. "Keep in mind that the FDA requires (the testing of) 12 samples to arrive at a statistically valid conclusion."
With regard to the mislabeling of carbohydrates on nutrition bars, Kim Smith, an attorney for the NNFA, told Reuters Health that "manufacturers thought that not including glycerin in the carbohydrate count made sense since, if their science showed it isn't always metabolized like a carb, why treat it like one?"
"However, when NNFA and several manufacturers presented their case to the FDA, the agency disagreed," she said.
Currently, the NNFA advocates that manufacturers include glycerin in the total amount of carbohydrates listed on the labels of nutrition bars, explained Smith.
The NNFA represents the interests of some 3,000 retailers and 1,000 manufacturers, suppliers and distributors of health foods, dietary supplements, natural ingredient cosmetics and other natural products, according to the organization's Web site.