Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Policy Point Wednesday - Et tu, Nutella?


We, the Hays family, are lovers of Nutella - as a matter of fact, we celebrated Valentine's Day with this excellent Nutella Mousse cake, containing shameful amounts of Nutella and fatty dairy.  We are unashamed of our love of dessert and dessert products.

So, it was with a bit of skepticism that I read about a Mom in California's lawsuit against Nutella.  After all, who would think that a sweet chocolate spread could be health food?

Well, apparently Nutella USA - their website alleges that "The “best” breakfast is the one that will be eaten! With the unique taste of Nutella®, kids may think they are eating a treat for breakfast, while moms are helping nourish their children with whole grains. A slice of whole wheat toast spread with Nutella®, a serving of fresh fruit and a cup of yogurt or 1% milk provides perfect balanced nutrition to start the day." Later, the website states that "Eating a good breakfast helps with the intake of fiber, vitamins, and minerals, especially iron and vitamin C, all essential in a balanced diet*."  "Hazelnuts are a main ingredient in Nutella."  I can see where a consumer might read this website and assume that Nutella is at least as nutritious as peanut butter.

This got me to thinking - just what is in Nutella, anyway - and how much?  The website is quick to point out that there are 50 hazelnuts in a 13oz jar...but sugar and palm oil are the first two ingredients on the label.  What does Nutella look like when it's broken down into its component parts?  Just what does Nutella mean by "a main ingredient?"  Most importantly, why do food companies feel the need to make their foods sound like something different from what they are?

004In offering us an exact number of hazelnuts, Nutella is kind enough to give us the critical piece of information.  We know that the remaining "main" ingredients are sugar, palm oil, cocoa powder and nonfat dry milk.  Fortunately, as I live in a predominately Caribbean neighborhood, palm oil wasn't really that difficult to find, and the remaining ingredients could be found in my pantry.

013Note that palm oil is solid at our somewhat chilly room temperature: it's a solid fat.

I also found dry milk powder (for the photographs, I was only able to find whole milk powder, but I used the nutritional information for dry nonfat milk powder.)  Since Nutella offers 4% of the RDA for calcium, figuring out the amount of dry milk to use was but a few minutes of computation.  I also figured out the milk sugars, so we could subtract them from the sugar grams, just to be fair.

Using calcium, fat and saturated fat, and the given number of hazelnuts - and more algebra than I've seen since high school - I was able to come up with the following recipe that closely approximates a jar of Nutella, both in ingredients and in nutrition (I excluded the flavorings and extenders at the bottom of the list, since they didn't affect the fats or sugars in any significant way)

Each 13 oz jar (10 servings) contains approximately:

0211 cup plus 1/4 tsp table sugar
4 tablespoons palm oil
50 hazelnuts, ground (about 1/2 cup ground)
1/2 cup cocoa powder
about 1/4 cup dry nonfat milk powder

(remember, ingredients are listed by weight and not volume)

Translated approximately into a tablespoon-size serving, it looks something like this:


2.25 teaspoons sugar
Slightly less than 3/4 teaspoons palm oil
1.25 teaspoons hazelnuts
1.25 teaspoons cocoa
about 1/2 teaspoons of dry milk

Now, I ask you - does this look like a healthy breakfast....or does it look like SoFAS?  It's not as though the dairy council is promoting spreading a "slice of whole wheat toast with butter and jam, and a serving of fresh fruit..." to start the day.

*Most interestingly, Nutella is not a good source (FDA - 5% or less is low, 20% or more is high) of any of the "essentials" listed in the above quote from their website.

** If you're really interested in all the algebra, I've created a page for my Nutella Proof.  Feel free to check my math.


Timmi said...

What a fun way to break down treats. We would do this in nutrition class in college.

Lauren said...

Fascinating investigation. Well done!

Michele Hays said...

Thank you both, very much!

Christina @ Spoonfed said...

Michele, that is some impressive experimenting!

It does underscore the problem of deceptive marketing, doesn't it? While I think lawsuits like this send the wrong message (i.e., that consumers hold no responsibility), I also think corporations need to be held accountable for inferior ingredients and misleading marketing. But how to strike that balance? I'm not sure. I do know that it shouldn't be an either-or thing. Companies need to play fair, but then we also need to use the information presented in black and white on the ingredients lists. (Though Nutella's ingredients are a topic for another day. ;-)

Michele Hays said...

Thanks, Christina - yes, and also how subtle marketing can be - I wonder if most people assume Nutella is healthier than it is because it's with the peanut butter in the grocery store. At our local European market, it's with the jelly and jam.

If I did the math right, I think the same weight of marshmallow fluff has less sugar. Why isn't the Nutella next to that?

jenna said...

visiting from TLT, great post. I'm doing a label reading 101 presentation at our health fair this year, i'll add nutella to the list of packages to share.

Mrs. Q said...


Michele Hays said...

Thanks, Jenna!

Michele Hays said...

And thanks, Mrs. Q!

Michele Hays said...

Here's a copy of the class action lawsuit. Again, I'm not sure I agree with this tactic...but for your information:

Jonathan Sabar said...

Thanks for posting this!

I agree 100% that Nutella is NOT a healthy part of absolutely anything, and honestly got a bit irate when I saw their commercial that implies every which way that it is (without ever coming right out and *saying* that Nutella itself is healthy - they carefully skirt that line, and never say anything outright fraudulent). It's essentially hazelnut-chocolate frosting.

That being said, I think it's terribly irresponsible and overall trivial to say that it's Nutella's fault that people don't read the labels. Captain Crunch has been saying since I was a kid that it's "...part of this nutritious breakfast", and it's been playing up the "Made with whole grains" for the last several years.

At the very most, Nutella should be made to change their advertising to stop implying this crap is healthy.

lbvern said...

I love you cousin for always fighting for the truth of the matter! Having issues with corn syrup (a major asthma trigger for me.) I have to read every label. I often go by two rules. 1) the 6 ingredients or less rule: If the label has six ingredients or less, it probably not full of a lot of garbage and 2) the whatitiz rule. If I read an ingredient and don't know whatitiz, I try to avoid it. Of course, its not perfect and childhood cravings sometimes drive me to buy the junk, but my greatest hope is my children will grow up making good choices and being responsible consumers. Well done! xox

Michele Hays said...

Thanks, cuz!

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