Image by love janine.
At the urging of my wonderful cousin Gina, almost exactly 3 years ago I wrote a post on the original ObesityPanacea.com examining the healthiness of one of my favourite breakfast spreads – Nutella. It’s been one of our most popular posts, which is likely due to the fact that Nutella is both popular (it is incredibly delicious) and because the somewhat ridiculous notion that a jar of spreadable sugar and fat could be “nutritious” inspires people to go googling for the truth.
This week it was reported that Nutella’s parent company Ferrero has agreed to pay $3 million to settle a class-action lawsuit brought against the company for suggesting that it was a healthy food. As Marie Allard recently pointed out (en francais), Nutella has more calories, sugar, and fat (and more “bad” modified palm oil) than an equivalent amount of chocolate cake icing (hat tip to Yoni Freedhoff). The only real difference is that Nutella includes hazelnuts, and as I describe below, it doesn’t even contain many of those.
Why does this matter? As our friend Yoni at Weighty Matters reports today, Nutella Canada continues to position Nutella as a healthy food.
Just had a quick peek at the Nutella Canada website.
What’d I learn there?
“Moms across Canada choose NUTELLA® as a part of their children’s nutritious breakfast.”
Now of course literally anything can be a “part” of a nutritious breakfast. If I have a boiled egg, fruit salad and some plain yogurt, you could argue that it’s a nutritious breakfast. Adding a bunch of sugar to that breakfast doesn’t mean that those other nutrients disappear, but it does make it a less healthy breakfast.
Given these developments, I thought it was worth reposting my earlier article on Nutella and nutrition. Enjoy the post!
Although this may surprise some of our readers, I really like junk food. I eat far too much pizza, I love chicken wings, and Nutella, the original chocolate hazelnut spread, is one of my favourite breakfast condiments (it’s tasty on a bagel, but its unbeatable inside a fresh crepe with whipped cream and bananas). The interesting thing about Nutella is that its commercials seem to suggest that it is some sort of health food. For example, check out the French Nutella commercial below, roughly translated by myself (for our email subscribers, click on the title of today’s post to view the video on main page).
There’s a lot to experience in the life of a child
Lots of energy to expend…
So much energy…
And try again
To grow up
To discover the world
Hazelnuts and creamy milk:
Nutella – it takes energy to be a kid
Now that commercial implies several things. First off, it implies that Nutella is a great source of energy, especially for kids. Well it should be a great source of energy – the first ingredient is sugar. In fact, in a 19 gram serving of Nutella, 11 grams are sugar. Of course that energy won’t last very long before an insulin spike kicks in and makes the kids lethargic, so they are likely to need something more substantial if they plan to “discover the world” for more than an hour or so.
The commercial also implies that Nutella is mainly hazelnuts and milk. However, hazelnuts only make up 13% of Nutella, and skimmed milk makes up less than 7%. I should mention that the ingredients which go into Nutella vary slightly by country, such that while skimmed milk is used in North America, skimmed milk powder is used in most European countries. So while there are a few hazelnuts and at least some skimmed milk products in Nutella, they are drastically outnumbered by the other, less wholesome ingredients.
Despite all of these things, the makers of Nutella still claim that it can be part of a complete breakfast. How is that possible? The complete breakfast that they suggest includes multigrain bread and juice (which many people would argue is still not an ideal breakfast), but the point is that the breakfast is completewithout the Nutella. If there’s anything that I learned from commercials during Saturday morning cartoons, it’s that anything can be part of a complete breakfast! That doesn’t make it healthy food choice.
Many Nutella ads suggest that Nutella is not only a great source of energy, but is also a nutritious way to start your day. What type of nutrients? After sugar, the second most common ingredient in Nutella is palm oil. The same palm oil which is high in palmitic acid, a fatty acid which the World Health Organization claims is convincingly linked to increased risk of cardiovascular disease (see the report here, and skip to page 98 for the info on palmitic acid). In fact, roughly half the calories in Nutella are from sugar, and the other half are from fat. Only about 4% of the calories are from protein. The Nutella USA website previously suggested that Nutella is healthy because it “is made with hazelnuts which are a great source of vitamins.” Note that they didn’t say that Nutella is a great source of vitamins, because it’s not – a single serving has 0% of the recommended daily intake of Vitamins A and C, and just 10% of the recommended intake of Vitamin E.
Despite all of these things, I’m not going to stop eating Nutella – just like I’ve never stopped eating pizza or drinking pop. Just don’t let the good folks at Nutella convince you that it’s a healthy option, especially for kids.
Thanks to my awesome cousin Gina O’Leary for suggesting this topic, and to my (equally awesome) wife Daun for stopping me whenever I reach for the Nutella too frequently.