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Is Nutella Bad for You?

Now-a-days you can surf the internet and find almost any information from any source to back up your claim. Somewhere out there, someone agrees with you. In this case I was more interested in not justifying what I want to hear, but discovering if what many are saying about Nutella being a healthy snacking choice is actually true.

My methods involved digging through the internet and looking at a variety of articles to discover the pros and cons of this addictive chocolatey decadence in a jar and see if it really is meeting enough nutritional requirements to be considered healthy.

Setting the Bar

In order to make the claim that something is healthy or not we have to set the bar. Based off of today's standards, I began my investigation by discovering if Nutella met the basic nutritional requirements according to a 1600 calorie diet. According to SF Gate, the average person needs the following each day based on a 1600 calorie diet:

  • Fat - 53 grams. What to eat: Unsaturated fats that are heart healthy like walnuts, avocados, fish oil, seeds, and nuts.
  • Protein - 80 grams: What to eat: egg whites, poultry, seafood, nuts, seeds non-GMO soy, low-fat or non-fat dairy, legumes, wheat protein (seitan).
  • Carbohydrates - 200 grams: What to eat: whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes low-fat or non-fat dairy.
  • Fiber - 25 to 38 grams: What to eat: legumes, whole grains, brown rice, berries, bran cereal, oatmeal, nuts, plain popcorn.

Now with a clear standard set, I set to inspect the ingredients listed in Nutella and find out if these ingredients match up with the basic nutritional requirements of a healthy diet. Below are the nutrition facts for Nutella based on a 2000 calorie diet:

Serving size: 2 tablespoons or 37 g

  • Calories 200
  • Calories From Fat: 110
  • Total Fat 12g (18%)
  • Saturated Fat 4g (20%)
  • Sodium 15mg (1%)
  • Total Carbohydrates 21g (7%)
  • Fiber 1g (5%)
  • Sugars 21g
  • Protein 2g
  • Calcium 4%
  • Iron 4%

Ingredients: Sugar, Palm Oil, Hazelnuts, Cocoa, Skim Milk Reduced Minerals, Whey (Milk), Lecithin as Emulsifier (Soy), Vanillin: An Artificial Flavor.

Nutella Consumption Part I

How Often Do You Consume Nutella

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Combing Through the Ingredients

Off the bat there are some issues with the nutritional facts. The data I found on daily intake requirements is based off of a 1600 calorie diet whereas as the nutritional facts on the back of the Nutella jar are based off of a 2000 calorie diet. Though only a 400 calorie difference, it may make some of the percentages look better or worse than they seem.

  • Fat: The first item in question is the fat content. With the total fat at 12 grams and the saturated fat at 4 grams, are we to assume that the remaining 8 grams of fat is polyunsaturated and monounsaturated? If so, why was it not listed? The ingredients list tells us that hazelnuts, palm oil and milk in the form of whey, as well as skim milk are included in Nutella, so must we assume that this make up all the fat? For now, it seems like the best guess. Considering that nuts and milk are including on the list of basic daily intake, we can check this off. As far as Nutella being considering healthy by looking at fat alone, that is true only in moderation. Consuming 4 tablespoons of Nutella would put you at 24 grams of total fat and be nearly half of the percentage of fat you can have in a day. So, moderation is key here.
  • Carbohydrates: One serving of Nutella is a drop in the bucket (7% or less) of the amount of carbohydrates you need in a day. Not much to report here, other than this food is not a major source for carbs.
  • Fiber: Because there are very few carbohydrates in Nutella, the fiber content is also low, as it probably primarily stems from the whey milk and hazelnuts. So if you're in need of fiber. The 1 gram from Nutella in your first serving just won't cut it. Perhaps smearing this on a while wheat bagel or bran muffin will make your meal more balanced. Same thing if you're trying to boost your carbohydrates intake.
  • Protein: Another miss here. With a measley 2 grams of protein, if you only ate Nutella for protein, you would exceed your fat intake and end up consuming 480 grams of fat! However I don't think most people will ever eat 40 servings of Nutella in one day – and don't even think about doing a Nutella challenge.

A Doctor Speaks on Nutella

The Extra Stuff

So now that I've matched up the nutritional facts with the standard daily intake requirements it is obvious that some things have fallen though the cracks, like sugar, sodium, lecithin and vanillin. We addressed palm oil, but what the heck is it?

The issue we find here is we have no idea what kind of sugar is in Nutella. Is it refined sugar, natural sugar, cane sugar, stevia – who knows? According to an article by Business Insider, Nutella has just as much sugar as five Oreos –yikes! But that still doesn't answer the question.

Apparently we need sodium and a serving of Nutella only gives us 1% of the daily requirements so I guess we'll let that one slide.So let's take a closer look at the remaining offenders: sugar, palm oil (because I'm not sure what it is), lecithin and vanillin:

  • Sugar: I searched almost endlessly online to find out what kind of sugar is in Nutella. The more I looked I could only find more negative claims about the unnecessarily high content of sugar in Nutella. The attached video attributes a good visual as to exactly how much sugar is in Nutella. And this article by Doctor's Closet explains the misleading marketing content of Nutella's claim to boost energy. In summary, Nutella provides a lot of energy because of the high sugar content, but expect to crash later in the day, as energy from sugar is not as sustainable as energy from lean proteins and heart healthy fats, carbs, and fiber.
  • Palm Oil:This one is quite interesting. Healthguide.org claims that palm oil is considered a saturated fat and places this item under the “questionable fats” category implying it is neither good nor bad, but definitely worth eating in moderation. As oil from the fruit of certain palm trees, palm oil sounds like a good thing. From a sustainability perspective, cultivating palm oil poses a threat to rainforest vegetation in tropical areas like Sabah, Malaysia and Borneo in Southeast Asia, says an article by The Guardian.

In addition to these concerns, there are plausible health concerns. Dr.Oz points to a variety of different palm oils such as red palm oil and palm kernal oil, the later having a much higher saturated fat content. Red palm oil on the other hand when consumed in moderation can aid in lowering cholesterol and provide the body with antioxidants. Then there's pressed palm oil which is a hydrogenated form (think tans fats—yuck!) found in processed and packaged snack foods which are often still labeled as cholesterol free and trans fat free. What worries me here is Nutella claims to be both cholesterol and trans fat free. So does that mean, this processed jar of chocolate and sugar is ridden with processed palm oil, too?

What more unsettling is the numerous internet sources mostly said the same thing about all these different types of palm oil including the Human Food Project.

  • Lecithin: So we already know this is an emulsifier because it said so on the jar. According to WebMd, it keeps opposing ingredients from separating. Also able to be taken as a supplement or used as a moisturizer, Lecithin poses many healthy benefits from treating memory disorders like Alzheimers and Dementia. It can even aid with diseases in the liver and gallbladder, treat psychological issues and curb high cholesterol. Well, that's great. I guess we don't have to worry about that one.
  • Vanillin: We're not off to a good start here because the jar already says vanillin is an artificial flavor. Why couldn't the manufacturer use real vanilla? Derived from a processed called “synthetic biology,” vanillin is obviously not natural and is a “mix of chemical compounds,” according to a research journal by Friends of the Earth. It really comes down to money. It's much cheaper to genetically engineer vanilla as vanillin than to cultivate it from the actual vanilla plant.

Nutella Consumption Part II

After reading this article, will you continue to eat Nutella?

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Conclusion

Investigating the ingredients on the back of the Nutella jar reveals an interesting story. Nutella is definitely not a superfood like kale or flaxseed, but it's also not a killer like having a pack of cigarettes every day. For the sake of simply meeting your nutritional daily intake, Nutella does not do much for you as it lacks a decent amount of protein, fiber and carbohydrates for in one serving or 200 calories. It seems perfectly fine to have on your bagel, muffin or toast or might make a graham cracker or a pretzel taste more heavenly. However you like to eat it, moderation or limited consumption seems wise.

Or, you could jump on the political bandwagon and ban it because of its ties to environmental and sustainability concerns which would pretty much mean banning everything processed from your diet.

On the other hand, there is one suitable alternative to Nutella. It's called Nocciolata, it's organic and it contains actual vanilla instead of synthetic vanilla and much less sugar! It can be found at budget retailer like Costco or Amazon. Personally, I can't tell the difference in taste and I feel more confident eating something that has organic ingredients and does not contain palm oil.

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