Do you have a jar of Nutella in the refrigerator? Or somewhere around you? Are you sitting on the couch right now with your fingers dripping with it? You might have been told that it is unhealthy right? I know it’s hard to even think of removing that heavenly chocolaty elixir from your life. But this article might convince you to at least reduce your intake.
Nutella markets itself as a hazelnut spread, but the main ingredient in the jar is sugar. This is not a secret; it’s right there on the jar. The quantity of hazelnut is barely 13%. If you look at the nutritional label on the bottle, you’ll notice that the nutritional stats for two spoons of Nutella are displayed on it. 37gms of Nutella has 21gms of sugar in it. Plain and straightforward.
Is Nutella healthy?
There are two main ingredients in Nutella that can be a source of concern if you are aiming to live a healthy life. You should know about them.
All adults need to consume about 2000 calories daily. If the sources of these calories are healthy, you are said to have a good sense of nutrition. Sugar is considered to be an unhealthy source of calories. And it’s the main ingredient in Nutella. It actually takes up more than half of the jar in terms of weight.
Half of the calories in Nutella come from sugar, and a large chunk of the remaining calories are fats. Only 4% of the total calories are protein. While these numbers are not a problem if Nutella is consumed in moderation, they do not make the hazelnut spread a healthy breakfast choice. And that is the way the product is marketed; as a healthy breakfast starter.
Moreover, the amount of saturated fats (bad fats) per 100gm of Nutella is more than half the daily limit prescribed by the World Health Organization. Saturated fats are unhealthy and cause heart problems and cancer.
In 2012, Nutella was fined 3 million US dollars to settle a class action lawsuit for false advertising. As part of the settlement, the company, Ferrero, made changes to their advertisements, product labels, and their website.
Here is one of their ads that conveniently fails to mention the ingredients that make more than 60% of the product; sugar and palm oil.
A lot of companies that manufacture edible products seek some specific qualities. They need their products to be stable, have a longer shelf life and cost less. To achieve these traits, companies convert natural unsaturated oil (not saturated with hydrogen; two or three bonds between carbon atoms) to saturated oil by ‘saturating’ it with hydrogen. The resulting oils are known as hydrogenated or saturated oils. These oils are stable at room temperature.
However, during hydrogenation, some of the natural fats are converted to trans fats. Trans fats and saturated fats are not safe for consumption. If consumed in excess amounts they can cause cardiovascular diseases. Many food regulation bodies across the world have laws against the marketing of products which contain trans fats.
This puts a lot of companies in a tight spot.
A much attractive alternative to hydrogenated/partially hydrogenated oil is palm oil. In its purest form, palm oil is nutritious. However, this pure form is rarely used. Nutella uses something called modified palm oil. This oil is the reason behind the smooth spreadability of Nutella.
Here’s the kicker though. Palmitic acid constitutes 44% of palm oil, and it causes an increase in blood cholesterol levels and contributes to heart disease. According to a World Health Organization report, palmitic acid is in the same class as trans fats as evidence leading to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
So to summarize, companies need hydrogenated oil to increase the quality and longevity of their products. But hydrogenation can lead to the production of trans fats. Trans fats are not allowed in many countries. So companies use palm oil instead. But these palm oils contain an acid which is just as dangerous as trans fats.
How much Nutella can I eat?
The World Health Organization suggests that less than 10% of the daily recommended calorific intake should come from sugar. The organization suggests the same limit for the consumption of vegetable oils. So go on, get your spoon of Nutella and relish it. But maybe, to stay healthy, consider limiting your intake to a few spoons a week. And practice staying away from digging into it and finishing an entire jar in one night.
- Saturated fats and its ill-effects – Wikipedia
- Nutella class action lawsuit – Huffington Post
- Diet, Nutrition and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases, WHO Technical Report Series 916, Report of a Joint WHO/FAO Expert Consultation – Report placing palmitic acid and trans fats in the same category. Page 88, Table 10. Suggestion on the limit of palmitic acid based oils. Page 88.
- Sugars intake for adults and children – World Health Organization