The Marathon Smart Stuff Bar, which is sold in some middle and high schools, is advertised as a healthy snack in part because less than 35 percent of its calories are from fat (10 percent from saturated fat) and it is less than 35 percent sugar by weight.
Does that make it healthy?
I ran a few of the claims found in a press kit past registered dietitian Andy Bellatti, who first saw the bar displayed at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ annual Food and Nutrition Conference & Expo. He blogged about it on Small Bites.
Mars Inc. says: The Marathon Smart Stuff Bar is “a healthful snacking solution that provides balanced nutrition for active minds and bodies.”
Bellatti says: “Nothing that contains partially hydrogenated oils (man-made trans fats) should ever be described as ‘healthful.’ What is this supposed to be a 'solution' for? There are plenty of wholesome, healthful snacks out there: fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole-grain crackers, bean dips, etc.”
Mars Inc. says: The Marathon Smart Stuff Bar is “fortified with a blend of eight essential vitamins and minerals.”
Bellatti says: “Diet Coke Plus contains added vitamins, yet that doesn't make it a ‘good’ or healthful beverage. Aim to get most of your vitamins and minerals from foods that intrinsically offer them. Research has shown that many nutrients, once isolated outside of their original ‘food matrix,’ don't always behave the same way or confer health benefits to the same degree. If nutrition were just a matter of getting vitamins and minerals in pill form, then snacking on Starburst candies and popping a multi-vitamin would take care of our needs. It doesn't.”
Mars Inc. says: The Marathon Smart Stuff bar is an “excellent source of calcium and contains 3 to 5 grams of fiber per serving.”
Bellatti says. “It is simply fortified with enough calcium to make it an ‘excellent’ source and has isolated fibers (in this case, corn fiber) tacked on. Food companies love isolated fibers (especially cheap ones like corn fiber, which are very likely from genetically modified corn) because it allows them to bump up fiber grams in a jiffy. It's a much better idea to get fiber from whole foods. That way, you also get other nutrients and, more importantly, the hundreds of plant-based compounds that we continue to discover, each with its own combination of health benefits.”
Mars Inc. says: The Marathon Smart Stuff bar “satisfies the Alliance for a Healthier Generation Competitive Food Guidelines for Snacks.”
Bellatti says: “The fact that it satisfied these guidelines doesn't mean this bar is healthful; it simply means the guidelines aren't stringent enough. The AHG is happy to provide a seal of approval — and OK a food product’s presence in school vending machines — if certain macronutrient (fat, carbohydrate, protein) percentages, sodium and calorie limits, and ‘zero grams of trans fat per serving’ requirements are met.
“This is problematic because it isn't about true nutrition and nourishment, but rather about manipulating a processed food so it can meet certain pre-established values. Moreover, weight percentages make for convoluted criteria; I would much rather see a cutoff based on grams. A limit of 35 percent of weight as sugar is extremely generous. By those rules, a sugary cereal like Trix 'makes the mark.'"Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun