Nutella: Not a Health Food

I went through a big Nutella phase in college. When I was running a lot, I would eat it by the spoonful. (And then feel dizzy from all the sugar.) To this day I can’t keep it around because I have almost no control over the pace at which I’ll eat it. To me, the taste and texture are clear indicators of its decadence. I never saw ads for it in college, so I read the nutrition facts and formed my own opinion about Nutella: it’s certainly not a nutritional powerhouse.

Since then, however, I’ve seen ads framing Nutella as a healthy breakfast item to feed kids. When I first saw them, I laughed a little on the inside and thought, “Wow, that’s a stretch. Who’s going to buy that?”

Apparently a lot of people.

One California mom recently filed a class action lawsuit against Ferrero, the manufacturer of Nutella, for implying via advertising that the spread is a healthy food. http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/04/29/italy-nutella-idUSL5E8FT1DU20120429 She felt tricked into feeding the spread to her daughter, believing Nutella was “healthier than it actually is.”

Here are Nutella’s nutrition facts. Note the 200 calories per serving, 100 calories of fat, 3.5 grams of trans fat, and 21 grams of sugar:

The ingredients:

sugar, palm oil, hazelnuts, cocoa, skim milk, reduced minerals whey (milk), lecithin as emulsifier (soy), vanillin: an artificial flavor.

Source: http://www.nutellausa.com/about.htm

The FDA mandates that ingredients must be listed in descending order of predominance by weight, meaning the ingredient that weights the most is listed first, and ingredients weighing less are listed in descending order. So Nutella is primarily sugar and palm oil (saturated fat). Not exactly a breakfast of champions, right?

Two thoughts come to mind about the lawsuit:

1. Good for this mom for taking action. I bet most of us have seen the Nutella commercial in which a thin mom and a few healthy-looking kids are running around their kitchen on a busy morning. The mom tells viewers about Nutella’s natural, wholesome ingredients, and that it “goes well with multi-grain toast.” Well, Fererro, bacon probably goes great with multi-grain toast, too, but that doesn’t make it a healthy addition to breakfast. The commercial also claims that toast, Nutella and juice make a complete breakfast. Might that breakfast actually be healthier and more complete without Nutella’s 21 grams of sugar and 11 grams of fat?

(Here’s a link to the commercial: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ThIrw_LpuRA)

Tons of food companies today use marketing to imply their packaged products are healthy when many actually have little to no nutritional value. I’m glad this lady spoke up when she thought the marketing had gone too far.

2. On the other hand, was this mom so easily swayed by a TV commercial that she purchased a jar of Nutella and fed it to her daughter without ever looking at the nutrition facts? I know we’ve all had those moments where we’re happily snacking away, only to flip the package over to learn we’ve just consumed an exorbitant amount of calories, sugar, sodium or fat. It’s a bad feeling, but it’s our own fault. On packaged products like Nutella, the information is there. It’s up to us to seek it out. Or, did she just not know how to decipher nutrition facts?

Whose fault is it that this mom was unknowingly sending her daughter off to school with as much sugar in her system as is in a candy bar? The company’s, for shedding false light on its product? Or the mom’s, for taking a TV ad at face value and not doing her own research? Does this case prove that people of all ages need more education and information about health and nutrition? I definitely think so.

**The suit was settled for $3.05 million, and if you purchased Nutella between August 1, 2009 and January 23, 2012, you can file a claim to get up to $4 back on each jar purchased (up to $20). Ferrero is also changing some of its marketing statements about Nutella.

Want to learn more?

FDA Food Labeling Guide

http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceComplianceRegulatoryInformation/GuidanceDocuments/FoodLabelingNutrition/FoodLabelingGuide/default.htm

USDA: “Palm Oil Not A Healthy Substitute for Trans Fats”

http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr/2009/090415.htm

More on Ferrero’s lawsuit:

http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/business/2012/04/nutella-after-suit-drops-health-claims/

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