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    Say What?: Too Much of a Good Thing

    As regular readers of this column know, I am a big fan of fruit and nut bars like Clif Nectar, Lara, and Pure (basically, any bar that has five or less ingredients — usually dates, nuts, seeds, and, in some instances, cocoa powder).

    Not only are these bars delicious on-the-go snacks, they also provide healthy fats, fiber, potassium, and are free of added sugar, trans fats, and sodium.

    They make conventional “soy and rice crisp and 25 synthetic vitamins and minerals” snack bars taste like artificially sweetened cardboard.

    One aspect I am perplexed by, though, is the nutrition components some of these bars choose to feature on their packaging.

    Lara bars, for example, boast about the amount of Omega-6 essential fatty acids they contain.

    Don’t get me wrong; omega-6 essential fatty acids are certainly needed in the diet (remember, ‘essential’ means that our body is unable to produce it, so we must get it from external means).

    The issue, however, is that the standard US diet is extremely high in them — and too low in Omega-3 fatty acids.

    And it just so happens that excessive intakes of Omega-6 (which is pro-inflammatory) prevent the other essential fatty acid, Omega-3, from doing its anti-inflammatory work.

    This is why, when people get all excited about Omega-3’s and simply start eating more flaxseed meal or salmon, they don’t realize that this dietary change needs to simultaneously occur with a lower intake of Omega-6 for it to have beneficial effects.

    Here’s an eye-popping statistic:

    It is estimated that up until the 1950s, our Omega6 – Omega 3 ratio fell in the desired 2:1 ratio.

    These days? We’re looking at an absurd 20:1 ratio! This is bad news not only for heart health, but also in regards to risks of certain cancers.

    Omega-6 fatty acids are found in plants, nuts, and seeds (and their respective oils). No one in this country is deficient in Omega-6 fatty acids.

    As the movie King Corn pointed out, the United States’ high omega-6 intake is also related to the fact that the large majority of cows serving as sources of dairy and beef are fed corn, rather than grass.

    Grass-fed beef contains a respectable amount of Omega-3 fatty acids.

    Corn-fed beef? Not only is it high in Omega-6 and absent of Omega-3; it is also higher in saturated fat!

    I e-mailed the folks over at Lara Bar several months ago, pointing out how odd it was to advertise the Omega-6 grams in their bars as a health benefit. If you feel the same way, drop them a line!

    Let me again remind you that Omega-6 fats in and of themselves are not unhealthy. It is the Omega 6 : Omega 3 ratio that is problematic.

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    One Comment

    1. Vincci said on February 21st, 2008

      Hi Andy,

      Despite their faulty advertising, thanks for pointing me toward Larabars. They were always at my grocery store and when I saw you write about them I always wondered, “What’s the fuss?” but then one day I actually walked over, picked one up and looked at the ingredients, and was automatically impressed. I’ve tried a bunch of flavours and love them all (except maybe pistachio)

      Anyway, I was wondering if you’ve heard of You Bar, which is a company that lets you customize your own bar and only uses natural ingredients. It sounds like a really cool idea, although for me it’s a bit expensive (with shipping it works out to US$4 for a bar, while a Larabar here costs me CA$1.79) and I don’t think I can wait 3 – 4 weeks to get my fix.

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