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High arsenic levels in energy bars popular with athletes

Craig Medred

That arsenic you're eating in your Clif Bar today? Don't worry, it's natural.

That appears to be the reaction from one company responding to concerns raised by a Dartmouth study that found arsenic levels in various energy bars, cereal bars and "energy shot'' drinks up to 17 times higher than the federal standard for safe drinking water.

Many companies appear to be trying to ignore the report. Clif Bar posted a note on its Facebook page that it was investigating:

"At Clif Bar & Company food safety is our number-one priority and your health is paramount. All Clif Bar & Company products fully comply with U.S. laws and regulations and our own strict quality standards.

"We are aware of the 2/16/12 brown rice syrup study and are reviewing this information now. As we do so, it is important to understand that arsenic exists naturally in the soil, water and air, and trace levels can be found in all rice and a wide variety of fruits, vegetables and seafood. Low levels of this naturally-occurring substance do not pose a safety concern."

Ah yes, do not worry. It's natural. It's organic.

Clif Bar is one of the more popular sports nutrition bars in Alaska because it doesn't freeze into a rock like its competitor, PowerBar. Possible arsenic is less of a concern with the classic PowerBar than tooth breakage if the product is used outdoors by skiers or others once the temperature drops below zero. The Dartmouth study did not provide the arsenic levels for the various products tested, but noted that high arsenic levels appear endemic to all that use brown rice syrup.

Brown rice syrup ends up in many products on the market today due to health marketing. Brown rice syrup has been pitched as a healthy, organic substitute for high-fructose corn syrup, which has been attacked for possible connections to diabetes, hypertension, long-term liver damage and mercury, although some medical professionals argue that the biggest danger is simply consuming too much.

High fructose corn syrup contains lots of sugar. Too much sugar makes you fat. And by now almost everyone knows about Americans’ obesity epidemic, which has led to a march toward supposedly healthier food ingredients like brown rice syrup.

Unfortunately it appears, as is often the case, the devil is in the details.

Alaska Dispatch encourages a diversity of opinion and community perspectives. The opinions expressed herein are those of the contributor and are not necessarily endorsed or condoned by Alaska Dispatch. Contact Craig Medred at craig(at)alaskadispatch.com