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Product Review: Nutrition Bars (Energy Bars, Fiber Bars, Protein Bars, Meal Replacement Bars, and Whole Food Bars)
 

Initial Posting: 10/1/13

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Nutrition bars go by many names including "protein bars," "energy bars," and "meal-replacement bars." Nutrition bars are generally much larger by weight than snack bars (such as granola bars) or candy bars (such as chocolate bars) and have a much higher protein content -- generally 10 grams to 30 grams of protein in a nutrition bar versus little or no protein in a snack bar or candy bar. Some "fiber" or "whole food" bars may also contain little protein, as it is not their focus. (See ConsumerTips™ for daily nutritional requirements).

Nutrition Bars Reviewed by ConsumerLab.com (Energy, Fiber, Meal Replacement, Protein, and Whole Food Bars) Quality Concerns and What CL Tested For:
A concern with bar products is whether they contain what is stated on their labels. In 2001, testing by ConsumerLab.com (CL) found most bars to be mislabeled, with many containing undeclared carbohydrates. At around the same time, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sent warning letters to several manufacturers who failed to include certain ingredients (e.g., glycerol) in the carbohydrate counts stated on their products. When CL tested bars again in 2005, the majority met their nutrient claims -- only one misrepresented its carbohydrates and two others reported somewhat less saturated fat than they actually contained. All of the bars tested in 2008 met their nutrient claims.

Some labeling discrepancies can be spotted by calculating the expected calories in a product (based on the protein, fat and carbohydrate contents on the label) and seeing if the total matches the declared calories (see ConsumerTips™). However, most problems, and the magnitude of such problems, can be determined only with laboratory testing.

Neither the FDA, nor any other federal or state agency, routinely tests nutrition bars for quality prior to sale. ConsumerLab.com, as part of its mission to independently evaluate products that affect health, wellness, and nutrition, purchased nutrition bars sold in the U.S. (including some snack bars) and tested their nutrient claims (see How Products were Selected). The products were analyzed to determine their total calories, total carbohydrates, total sugars, sugar alcohols, total protein, total fat (including a breakout of saturated fat), sodium and cholesterol. Results were evaluated to determine if the products' nutrient claims were accurate (see Testing Methods and Passing Score).

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