Obesity Panacea

Image by love janine.

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 (for our email subscribers, click on the title of today’s post to view the video on main page). Unfortunately I couldn’t find any English Nutella commercials, but I have put my functional bilingualism to work by attempting to translate it for you myself:


There’s a lot to experience in the life of a child
Lots of energy to expend…
To play
To dream
To concentrate
So much energy…
To try
And try again
To learn
To grow up

To discover the world

[Voiceover]

Hazelnuts and skimmed 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.

Many Nutella ads, including those on their American website which can be found here, 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 website also suggests that Nutella is healthy because it “is made with hazelnuts which are a great source of vitamins.” Note that they don’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, 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 complete without 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.

I’m not going to stop eating Nutella – just like I’ve never completely stopped eating pizza or drinking pop (although moderation is always a good idea). 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) girlfriend Daun for stopping me whenever I reach for the Nutella too frequently.

Travis

This article was originally posted on Obesitypanacea.com on April 30, 2009.

Comments

  1. #1 plutosdad
    June 21, 2010

    I make my own nutella out of chocolate protein powder and hazelnut butter. It is almost as good and beter for you. I usually use a slower digesting meal replacement-type protein powder.

  2. #2 theshortearedowl
    June 21, 2010

    You many not know that nutella is a hazelnut spread and releases its energy slowly. It is a low glycaemic index (GI) food. In fact, every 15g portion contains 2 whole hazelnuts, some skimmed milk and a dash of cocoa. When using nutella the hazelnut spread there is no need to use butter or an alternative fat spread.

    http://www.wakeuptonutella.com/nutrition.html

    So there. Yay, chocolate! And it’s healthy!

  3. #3 NoAstronomer
    June 21, 2010

    “Despite all of these things, the makers of Nutella still claim that it can be part of a complete breakfast. How is that possible? ”

    Easy. Just spread it on food.

    That Nutella is spread kinda thick in the first picture don’t you think? I use just a bit on fresh french bread.

  4. #4 Moopheus
    June 21, 2010

    I haven’t had any for a long time, but I recall just spooning it right out of the jar. Put it on something? No time for that!

    In Ye Olde Days–up until the 1950s or so–ice cream was similarly marketed as having health benefits. It was dairy, right? All that fat and sugar was energy! Mind you, I’m not going to stop eating ice cream anytime soon (I make my own), but I don’t think of it as a health food.

  5. #5 csrster
    June 21, 2010

    But can you deep fry it in bacon fat?

  6. #7 Dr. Lavinia Rodriguez
    June 21, 2010

    What I think is most helpful about your article about Nutella is that you shared the fact that you still have foods in your life that, while not the best choices nutritionally perhaps,are foods that you do not intend to totally exclude. They can be a part of ones life within limits and not present any problem. People like to see that one can be fit, healthy, and be a fitness expert and not be what they think is perfect. I personally think that those foods are important for our psychological balance and, by being flexible enough to have them as part of our lives, it makes it easier to eat well the rest of the time.

  7. #8 red rabbit
    June 21, 2010

    MMmmmm… for the crepes, I prefer fresh sliced strawberries with my nutella. And really strong coffee with cream.

    Breakfast of champions, as long as the champion will have time for a nap.

  8. #9 Travis Saunders
    June 21, 2010

    Over half of that 15g portion (8.3g) is sugar – that’s a lot of sugar! I didn’t realize that Nutella had a low GI, but that still doesn’t make it a healthy choice. As Dr Rod points out, that doesn’t mean that I won’t be eating it, but I think it’s disingenuous to tell people it’s a healthy choice when it really is not.

  9. #10 Snarkyxanf
    June 21, 2010

    I’m glad to see you point out the silliness of calling Nutella health food, and that you still intend to eat it.

    The attitude that every food you eat must be healthy at all times ends up undercutting healthy diets, I think, because people resort to amazingly unhealthy “healthy” food.

    Better to let your broccoli be broccoli, and your cake be cake.

  10. #11 confused
    June 21, 2010

    How does Nutella manage to have a low GI if it has so much sugar in it?

  11. #12 Travis Saunders
    June 21, 2010

    I’m not sure to be quite honest – anyone else like to jump in?

  12. #13 Jenni
    June 22, 2010

    Here’s a news report from a couple of years ago in the UK where out trading standards upheld several complaints about nutella adverts being misleading. They accepted complaints that it wasn’t healthy like the ads claimed, but rejected those about its ingredients claims (all about the hazelnuts again) and its being a low Gi food. So I don’t know how it can be low Gi either, but apparently the food standards agency does(?)

    http://uk.reuters.com/article/idUKL2715405720080227

  13. #14 theshortearedowl
    June 22, 2010

    How does Nutella manage to have a low GI if it has so much sugar in it?

    Actually, that’s why I posted it – I hoped Travis would have some physiology-y explanation. Because it sounds basically impossible.

    Of course, they don’t define what “low” is…

  14. #15 Travis Saunders
    June 22, 2010

    Unfortunately this isn’t really my area of expertise, although I have found a few sites that all seem to suggest that Nutella has a lower GI than I’d have expected. I’ll check with my dietitian friends and see if they have any thoughts.

    Travis

  15. #16 Travis Saunders
    June 23, 2010

    I spoke with my dietitian friend, and she suggested that it’s likely due to the relatively high fat content in Nutella, which can also slow digestion and absorption of the sugar. She agreed that despite it’s low-GI rating, it’s still best considered as a treat, rather than a health food :)

    Travis

  16. #17 LQ
    June 23, 2010

    The Nutella that we get here is made with some kind of “modified palm oil,” which apparently the studies are still out on in terms of whether it’s essentially trans-fat-like or not (although environmentally speaking, they claim to use responsibly harvested palm oil). Nonetheless, I’ve switched to Loacker’s knockoff, which is made with expeller-pressed cottonseed, sunflower, and rice oil.

  17. #18 Robin
    June 23, 2010

    The commercial that I have seen (in W. Mass) suggests not that Nutella is healthy, but that moms can get children to eat healthy things like whole grain bread by spreading a little nutella on them. Seems more honest, and a small amount is probably not too bad. . .

  18. #19 x-ine
    June 23, 2010

    Ha – I just saw an English commercial for Nutella on CTV last night and was telling my boyfriend that they sure make it sound like Nutella is healthy when it’s really not. His response: “Obviously, you didn’t grow up in an Italian household.”

    Also – does it really matter what the GI of nutella is if you’re eating it with something? The glycemic load of nutella & whatever you’re eating it with would be more important, no?

  19. #20 Michele
    July 1, 2010

    In our house, we call Nutella exactly what it is … icing.

    Sugar + fat + flavoring = icing.

    It’s incredibly yummy but certainly not healthy.

  20. #21 Scott M
    July 4, 2010

    Came upon this blog after searching for Nutella when I saw a commercial showing it’s wholesomeness and a family member was confused at my laughter.

    The GI questions are valid but as pointed out the added fat lowers the GI of any food. Of course everything goes out the window as soon as you combine foods such as spreading nutella on bread or in crepes(much more fun). People don’t eat in a “vacuum” and are usually food combining so GI is somewhat misleading and only part of the picture.

    Potato chips have a lower GI than baked potatoes(54 vs 85) but I don’t think many would argue with the chips being superior for health or the waistline.

    It is quite tasty stuff and is fine in moderation if you want but not the health food it’s advertised as.

  21. #22 Rrr
    July 9, 2010

    I spent some time in UK a while ago, and I found the advertisement quite awful, and made me want to kick the advertisers in the shins. Especially since it stated in the end that “and it releases energy slowly” as if that was the most important thing. It pretty much implied it was a healthy snack great for getting a lot of energy with slow release for kids.

    But to be fair, the amount they spread onto the bread in the commercial was quite thin in comparison to what have seen people spread elsewhere IRL – no doubt because of people’s habits there of eating stuff such as marmite and e.g. “Gentlemen’s relish”, which has to be spread really thinly because of the ridiculous amount of salt they contain.

  22. #23 Jay
    October 14, 2010

    We recently discovered this treat and like a lot of people I originally thought there was some enhanced nutritional value to this product. After reading the label in more detail and using some common sense (taste way to good), I decided to do a little due diligence on the internet for info. It is pretty much unanimous that this is a candy spread imitating a healthy snack. I will still eat it but in extreme moderation.

  23. #24 Ken
    March 7, 2011

    It is just so tasty, I can’t stop eating once I start, just like cheese.. one is full of sugar and fat , the other full of fat.. So yes everything in moderation, but I’d rather have a couple of spoons of peanut butter rather than nutella for greater health benefits and weight control purposes.

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