Nutrition Imposter: Nutella

>> Jan 17, 2010


Once in a while I come across a product that is, what I call, a “nutrition impostor”. That is, although the product contains little nutrition, is high in fat and/or sugar, the company would have you believe it is little short of a nutrition powerhouse.

There is a ton of false advertising out there, getting us to believe that things are healthier, “greener” or better for us or the environment than they actually are. I’m going to call those products out.

My first offender - Nutella. Nutella’s TV ads feature a mother telling us why she feeds her kids Nutella, as “Part of a balanced breakfast”. Since when does a balanced meal include sweets?

She says “Nutella is made with skim milk, hazelnuts, and a hint of cocoa".

Nutritious? Nutella provides: (per 2 tablespoons)

200 Calories (100 Calories from fat)
11g fat (3.5g of which are saturated)
21 (!) grams of sugar
3g protein

Since when is a product that high in sugar and fat considered “healthy”??

Ingredients (as listed on the label): SUGAR, modified palm oil, hazelnuts, cocoa, skim milk, reduced minerals whey (from milk), soy lecithin: an emulsifier, vanillin: an ARTIFICIAL flavour.

As sugar is listed first on the label, that means product contains more sugar than any thing else. Secondly, notice that “hint” of cocoa is listed before the skim milk, which means there is more cocoa in the product than milk.

And I particularly like how they make a fuss on the website about having NO artificial colours or preservatives, but they DO have artificial flavour listed right there on the label.

The comment at the bottom of the website states “this website is not brought to you by health care professionals”. No kidding. And above the picture of the “balanced” Nutella breakfast, it states “The ideal Nutella balanced breakfast, as pictured here, is CLOSE to the breakfast recommended by the 2005 Recommended Dietary Guidelines for Americans”.

Bottom line - 2 tablespoons of Nutella is nutritionally equivalent to giving your kids a chocolate bar for breakfast. A tasty treat to be enjoyed on occasion, sure. But claiming the product is anything close to healthy is just false advertising.



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25 comments:

Stacey May 13, 2010 at 10:31 AM  

Thanks for posting this! The Nutella commercials irritate me every time I see them. I'm glad you're calling them out.

Janine Bolton May 14, 2010 at 9:59 AM  

Thanks Stacy... False nutrition advertising is really frustrating. It just confuses everybody! :)

Anonymous,  June 10, 2010 at 6:05 AM  

i wrote the company and they replied with even more lies as though i was some idiot!!

Thomas November 8, 2010 at 4:16 PM  

Yeah I had been curious about the product after seeing the commercials - thought it might be a nice alternative to peanut butter.. then I looked at the ingredient label in the store...

Janine Bolton November 8, 2010 at 8:26 PM  

Thomas - the commercials sure make you think it would be an acceptable breakfast choice! Good ol' natural peanut butter is a better choice any day.

Tim November 22, 2010 at 4:04 AM  

Thanks for the info. The adverts are very misleading and I had my suspicions that they weren't telling the whole truth about the nutritional value. However, I'd just like to point out that your observations are based on two TABLESPOONS of Nutella whereas I would think two TEASPOONS are enough to spread on two slices of bread.

wendy November 23, 2010 at 8:00 PM  

Ya know...I love Nutella; however, I have NEVER EVER thought for even a MOMENT it was even remotely healthy! I was definitely surprised by the commercial, but dismissed it the way I do the "HFCS is good for you" commercials!

Janine Bolton November 23, 2010 at 8:06 PM  

Tim - you're right, 2 tsp isn't much. However, tablespoons or teaspoons, the ingredients are the same. A little Nutella once in a while won't hurt anyone, but it's certainly not part of a balanced breakfast! ;)

Wendy - good for you!

ellens11 January 31, 2011 at 2:55 PM  

Thank you so much for calling them out on that ridiculously deceptive breakfast ad. I always enjoyed Nutella as a once-in-a-while yummy treat. A little Nutella on some whole wheat bread and I had my version of a chocolate croissant. When I was younger and running around a lot, I could afford the extra calories! Kind of like having an occasional chocolate bar as you so aptly said! For the company to imply that Nutella is part of a nutritious breakfast for kids is grossly irresponsible. It's like cocoa puffs or twinkies. I never sent my kids off to school without making sure they had some protein (eggs, or peanut butter, milk...etc), fiber and Vitamin C. I wouldn't have even thought of breaking out the Nutella.

But here's my even bigger big beef with the product: Isn't Palm Oil a REALLY bad player? Isn't it the stuff they used to use to douse movie theater popcorn? Wasn't it outlawed in movie theaters in some states? Last year I saw that on the label and have been leery of eating any Nutella at all. Thanks in advance for your response! (P.S. My kids are now young adults, healthy, fit....& don't eat Nutella at all...LOL!)

Janine Bolton February 7, 2011 at 9:58 AM  

Ellens11,

Thank you for your comment! Palm oil is derived from plants, but is higher in saturated fat than most plant oils. There is some evidence that says palm oil may have similar effects to trans fat - increasing "bad" cholesterol and lowering "good" cholesterol, and increasing the risk for heart disease.

I think the amount of palm oil in a teaspoon of Nutella would be very small, say, compared to what would be on movie popcorn, but the less we consume of these unhealthy fats, the better. All the more reason to have it only as an occasional treat, or not at all!

Pseudo Dave February 8, 2011 at 5:20 PM  

If you were to create orange juice "from scratch" the first ingredient (besides water) would be sugar.

Your nutritional breakdown would be more meaningful if you included vitamin and mineral content as well as glycemic index. Nobody should base nutritional content solely on calories/fat/protein/carbs, and your article does nothing but perpetuate this common oversimplification.

If it gets kids eating whole grain foods, I'm all for it.

As for the sugar... would it be better if it was evaporated cane juice? Not really, but it would sure sound better. And the vanillin could have come from actual beans (would that make it natural, the extraction with ethanol?). It's probably synthesized, but you don't really know that for certain.

I see the point that you're making, and I really do agree with most of it, I just disagree with doing it via fearmongering.

Case in point: I bought a bottle of tea tree oil the other day. It says on the label, "no chemicals inside". I should sue, chemicals are exactly what I just shelled out $10 for.

Janine Bolton February 8, 2011 at 6:14 PM  

Dave, thanks for your comment.

However, I am not a proponent of juice either, and certainly wouldn't encourage people to drink juice for exactly the reason you stated. And no, it would not be better if it were evaporated cane juice. Sugar is sugar.

I agree with you that the vitamin/mineral content of foods is as important as fats/carbs/sugar, etc. However, the vitamin and mineral content of Nutella is minimal, and a little bit of calcium or vitamin E does not a health food make.

I do disagree with you regarding using Nutella to get kids to eat whole grains on a regular basis. Loading them up with sugar and fat likely negates the healthfulness of the whole grains. As I mentioned, it's similar to a chocolate bar in nutritional value, and I'm not going to put that on a piece of whole grain bread and call it a healthy breakfast.

I certainly don't think my post is "fearmongering" and I want to be clear - I'm not against having these types of foods on occasion. The issue here is less about the product, and more about the marketing.

Maria February 28, 2011 at 9:21 PM  

Thank you so much for this post. I once looked at the ingredient list before purchasing the item and after seeing the ingredients coupled with the calories and fats, I changed my mind in purchasing it. My son however kept bugging me to purchase it...he said it was healthy, and that it was probably better than peanut butter...I'm upset that the advertisement confuses my son as to what a healthy product really is!...I say shame on them!!!

Koelner May 20, 2011 at 1:37 PM  

It would be great if one could compare Nutella vs. Peanut Butter - I have heard so many discussions about it.

Janine Bolton, B.Sc., R.D. May 20, 2011 at 1:58 PM  

Thanks Koelner! I can make that happen! :)

Christy December 28, 2011 at 4:31 PM  

I don't consider peanut butter to be THAT much more healthier than Nutella. It can have less sugar but what about when people add the jelly or preserves - where's the difference then? The best bet would be to make your own nutella/peanut butter or find the product with the least sugar and other not so good for you items - or just eat the darn nutella and be sure the remainder of the diet is balanced.

Not sure if this has been mentioned but 23 grams of sugar could be easily consumed by eating a serving of certain fruits like grapes and oranges.

Everything we eat needs to be done in moderation and balance.

By the way, 2 tablespoons of Nutella goes a long way

Janine Windsor (Bolton), B.Sc., R.D. December 28, 2011 at 4:44 PM  

Thanks for your comment Christy. You're right, natural peanut butter can easily be made less healthy with a little jam or jelly, as can any food if we add unhealthy ingredients to healthy ones.

The message here is not "don't eat Nutella ever", it's fine to enjoy most things you like from time to time. My issue is about Nestle's spinning the product to look like part of an everyday balanced breakfast. Which it certainly is not.

And as for fruit, sure, it has sugar. But good food is made of more than just sugar. Fruit also has fiber, vitamins, minerals phytonutrients and far fewer Calories. There is no comparison in my mind.

anonymous April 28, 2012 at 12:54 AM  

Your blog was right on point. Nutella just settled 2 class action lawsuits and will reimburse consumers up to 3.05 million dollars because of their deceptive commercials.

Janine Windsor (Bolton), B.Sc., R.D. April 28, 2012 at 8:10 AM  

Yes, I heard that. Definitely an interesting turn of events!

Thanks for posting!

jadester18 May 13, 2012 at 4:57 PM  

This is just like any sugary cereal advertisement. People need to read labels and if they can't take responsibility for themselves and have to blame others that's what drives me crazy. Nutella is also having to give one woman 3 million dollars which is ridiculous- driving up the cost of food for all.

Nutty May 15, 2012 at 10:34 AM  

Yes feed children 0 calorie no fat no sugar no nothing food so they have zero energy and sit around the house watching TV and texting all day.

test May 29, 2012 at 4:36 PM  

Wait a minute! A corporation is being less than straightforward about the nutrition of their product? And a breakfast product no less?! Scandalous.

Deactivate sarcasm.

Actually, if you consider the fact that one teaspoon of sugar is 4.2 grams, you are actually eating 5 teaspoons of sugar in one serving. And since one serving is 6 teaspoons, this stuff is almost all sugar.

On the other hand, have you had this stuff? It's pretty awesome. Of course I would never feed it to anyone I loved for breakfast on a regular basis.

Shelro Barton July 18, 2012 at 1:10 PM  

At my local (New England area) Target there is another brand of chocolate hazelnut spread called Justin's that is way less sugar, 7g compared to Nutella's 21g. Kinda expensive but very yummy. I bought some for my slightly underweight picky eater toddler and I keep sneaking spoonfuls for myself.

NZMegs October 7, 2013 at 2:38 AM  

Totally agree with almost everything you say. Their omission about the amount of sugar in the product is scandalous. But your comments about saturated fat being unhealthy and wholegrain being healthy are also up for debate. (as I am sure you are aware).

For some epople wholegrain toast (regardless of what is on it) is not a good choice as it quickly increases insulin.

Saturated fat is now being touted by scientists as a healthy food and one we should never been avoiding.

However I think the argument on sugar has been well and truly settled - it is just plain bad for us...and claiming otherwise is misleading at best and dangerous at worst.

Janine Windsor, B.Sc., R.D. October 7, 2013 at 7:46 PM  

Thanks for all the comments. 3.5 years after this was posted it still gets the most interest, and for good reason I think!

NZMegs - thanks for your comment. Yes, I agree, it is settled that sugar is just plain bad for us!

Though, I would have to disagree with you about the saturated fat and wholegrain. Regarding saturated fat - there is some new evidence to say that likely not ALL saturated fat is created equal (e.g. some types may have less negative health effects, or even some benefit), but in general, it's still not something we recommend.

As for whole grains, any carbohydrate will increase your insulin, but whole grain is certainly a better choice than whole wheat or white starches, as the fibre content slows digestion and therefore insulin response, not to mention the vitamins and minerals not present in more processed grains.

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