The MFDS conducted an inspection on 660 popular protein bars sold online between May 20 and 27 and announced the findings on July 8.
Of which, 17 items were advertised in a manner in which they could be mistaken as a health functional food, while four made fake claims.
Specifically, the advertisements positioned the products as 1) a body fat reduction diet bar, 2) a diet bar for muscle strength 3) nutritious snacks for supporting health or 4) food for weight loss support.
However, the ministry did not identify the names of products marketed with these claims.
It added that there was a diverse range of protein bars sold in the market, including those made from processed grains, nuts, and chocolate.
Protein bars are regulated as general food and not a health functional food in South Korea.
They have gained popularity recently due to a wave of weight loss craze in the country, the MFDS said, adding that it would request for a ban on websites selling products with problematic advertisements.
Last year, protein, together with omega-3 EPA, DHA, the prebiotic fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) and complex nutrient products – which contain more than one type of vitamin and/or mineral – were the most imported health functional foods in South Korea.
“The MFDS will strengthen the inspection of illegal acts such as false and exaggerated advertisements online as online consumption have increased due to the circumstances brought by COVID-19,” the regulator said.
Potential side effects
According to an expert panel formed by the MFDS, excessive intake of proteins and fats might cause constipation, diarrhoea, and in serious cases, liver dysfunction.
The panel, consisting of 51 professionals from the medical field and the academia, was formed to advice MFDS on the validity of claims and advertisements used to sell protein bars.
“In general, protein bars have a higher fat content – especially saturated fats – as compared to carbohydrates. If consumed for a long period, it may negatively affect energy metabolism and so, it is preferably consumed as snacks between normal meals.
“Extreme diets containing excessive amounts of certain nutrients such as high protein and high fat may cause side effects such as liver dysfunction, constipation, diarrhoea, and headache,” the panel said.