Nutella: Healthy and Natural Spread or Highly Processed, Slickly Marketed Junk Food?

It’s World Nutella day according to Ferrero, the Italian confectonery company and manufacturer of the globally beloved hazelnut-based spread.screen-shot-2017-02-05-at-6-28-42-am

“With Nutella we spread positive energy to families to bring more happiness to the world” we are informed. On this day, apparently, the world should be spreading Nutella on as many food products as possible, ramping up positive energy levels to unprecedented levels.

Here are some of the other products Ferrero sells:screen-shot-2017-02-05-at-9-08-21-am

Three of them are clearly recognized by consumers as candy.

Should Nutella be in the same category as tic-tacs?

 

 

Nutella Ingredients

Perhaps in anticipation of World Nutella Day, a graphic has been appearing on Twitter:

nutella-englisy

detailing the ingredients of Nutella. The English version of this was posted on Reddit on a subreddit that I can’t mention on my family-friendly blog. It is a translation of a graphic that was published in German originally.

screen-shot-2017-02-05-at-8-18-31-am
If you thought you were getting mostly hazelnuts under the lid as this Nutella website graphic implies, you will be disappointed.

I’m not sure where the original data for the graphic came from but it seems to be a reasonable illustration of how much of Nutella is made up of palm oil and sugar. A 2 tbsp serving of Nutella (37 grams) contains 12 grams of fat, 21 grams of sugar and 2 grams of protein. Only about 12% of Nutella comes from actual hazelnuts.

I don’t have any concerns from a cardiovascular risk standpoint with the fat content of either the palm oil or the hazelnuts in Nutella.

But the 5 teaspoons of sugar per serving screen-shot-2017-02-05-at-8-44-16-am

are just still another source of empty
sugar calories adding to the daily dietary glut of sugar consumers face when consuming highly processed foods.

Nutella definitely is a highly processed, highly sugared product that shouldn’t be a regular part of a healthy Mediterranean diet. Most of the ingredients have gone through  complex sourcing and factory processing although their marketing material strains to emphasize the freshness and naturalness of these ingredients.

screen-shot-2017-02-05-at-6-30-27-am

One ingredient not depicted on the now viral graphic of Nutella is vanillin. From Nutella’s ingredient graphic one might think the screen-shot-2017-02-05-at-6-34-38-amvanillin is being extracted from (per wikipedia)

“the seed pods of Vanilla planifolia, a vining orchid native to Mexico, but now grown in tropical areas around the globe.”

In reality, however, the Nutella people,  ” use synthetic vanillin, an aroma identical to the one naturally present in the vanilla pod.”

Is the Palm OIl In Nutella Carcinogenic?

Some question the healthiness of the palm oil in nutella, either due to its high saturated fat content or its carcinogenic potential. A european food safety authority paper in May, 2016 declared certain toxins found in palm oil in particular to be “genotoxic and carcinogenic”

EFSA assessed the risks for public health of the substances: glycidyl fatty acid esters (GE), 3-monochloropropanediol (3-MCPD), and 2-monochloropropanediol (2-MCPD) and their fatty acid esters. The substances form during food processing, in particular, when refining vegetable oils at high temperatures (approx. 200°C)

The highest levels of GE, as well as 3-MCPD and 2-MCPD (including esters) were found in palm oils and palm fats, followed by other oils and fats. For consumers aged three and above, margarines and ‘pastries and cakes’ were the main sources of exposure to all substances.

As a result, According to Reuters, In Italy, some products containing palm oil have been removed from grocer’s shelves and one pastry company has eliminated palm oil from it products, labeling them as “palm oil free.”

High temperatures are used to remove palm oil’s natural red color and neutralize its smell, but Ferrero says it uses an industrial process that combines a temperature of just below 200C and extremely low pressure to minimize contaminants.

Nutella has fought back, defending its use of palm oil, with television and print advertisements.

Healthier Alternatives To Nutella

Conner Middleman, nutritionist , cooking instructor and author of Zest For Life, has shared with me her recipe for Nutritella, a healthier version of Nutella you can make at home. She points out in her intro to the recipe:

Nutella was invented in the 1940s in the Piedmont region of northern Italy, where hazelnuts grow plentifully. Alas, modern, store-bought Nutella contains a mere 13% hazelnut and only a hint of cocoa; the rest is made up of sugar, palm oil and artificial vanilla flavoring. My home-made version of Nutella, on the other hand, contains very little sweetener (in the form of raw honey), 3 tablespoons of flavonoid-rich dark cocoa, and about 90% hazelnuts, which boast a particularly high concentration of antioxidants and healthy fats (mostly monounsaturated). This is not to say that you should eat this spread by the tablespoonful; its high fat content means it’s high in calories and it should be enjoyed in sensible amounts (1-2 tbsp/day). The good news is that a high-fat food such as this one keeps you sated for longer, and because it is made from whole, real foods, it’s not only rich in calories, but also in nutrients! 

Here’s the recipe:

1 cup/125g toasted hazelnuts (Trader Joe’s roasted Oregon hazelnuts work great here; alternatively buy plain, raw hazelnuts and roast them yourself as described below)

½ oz/2 tbsp/15g unsweetened cocoa

3 tbsp hazelnut oil (La Tourangelle is my favorite brand – available in the oils section of good supermarkets or online)

3 tbsp honey or maple syrup

2 tsp alcohol-free vanilla extract (e.g., Trader Joe’s)

6-8 tbsp milk/plant milk/water

If you are roasting the hazelnuts from scratch, preheat oven to 350F. Place nuts on a dry, clean baking sheet and roast for 8 minutes (set timer). Remove and tip hot nuts onto a clean kitchen towel (pictured here).

As they cool, the skins will loosen, crack and flake off. Gather up the towel by its corners and scoop together into a tight bundle. Hold the bundle with one hand and knead the nuts with the other through the cloth to rub the skins off them. Place bundle back on a flat surface and open; lift out the nuts and lightly shake off the skins. (Leave some skin on the nuts – it’s where most of the antioxidants reside.)

If using pre-roasted nuts, start here.

Place the hazelnuts in an electric blender with the cocoa, oil, honey/maple syrup and vanilla extract. Process on “high” for about 30-40 seconds until all the ingredients come together in a coarse paste.

With the motor running, add milk or water (whichever using), a tablespoon at a time, and keep processing until the mixture reaches the desired consistency.

Transfer to a clean glass jar and refrigerate. Keeps for at least 2 weeks.

You can check out Conner’s excellent website, Modern Mediterranean, replete with more recipes and information on the cancer-fighting benefits of the Mediterranean diet,  here. and her You-tube channel here.

Of course, the skeptical cardiologist Heart Nuts project advocates just eating  heartnutsunadulterated hazelnuts along with other healthy drupes, nuts and legumes for snacking and soon we will be distributing these to you using our trademark-pending walnut-auscultating squirrel, Sparky.

Notnutellingly Yours,

-ACP

 

5 thoughts on “Nutella: Healthy and Natural Spread or Highly Processed, Slickly Marketed Junk Food?”

  1. I’ve never understood why Italians, possessors of arguably the most sophisticated palates in the world, gobble this stuff like candy, but apparently that’s because it IS candy. Thanks for posting!

  2. Interesting article and I’m going to try out the recipe. Nutella on toast is a staple of Dutch children’s breakfasts, and it wouldn’t be Paris without Nutella crepe stands.

    1. thank you. I wonder what clientele is keeping the Parisian Nutella crepe stands in business-tourists or natives? Hopefully the Parisians understand this is a dessert crepe. I think when I read the German article on recent Nutella developments there was mention of children consuming it on toast. Perhaps the carcinogenic potential of palm oil plus the acrylamide from over toasting the toast (see British campaign to go golden with your toast) is creating a generation of dutch and German cancer victims!

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