I admit it: I’ve always been a fan of Nutella. I’m not the only one – the chocolate hazelnut spread has a Facebook following of 11 1/2 million and is consumed in over 75 countries – there’s no question it’s delicious. However, the ads have always bothered me – the reference to Nutella as a healthy breakfast or snack, a “blend of simple and wholesome ingredients – hazelnuts, sugar, skim milk and a hint of cocoa” when in fact the first two ingredients are sugar and modified palm oil. (That means it contains more modified palm oil than it does hazelnuts, and even more sugar than palm oil.)
In September, journalist Marie Allard from the French Canadian newspaper La Presse compared Nutella to No Name Chocolate Frosting. The result? It’s worse than I thought.
Today W begged for Nutella on bread – his 6 year old argument? “But Mom, it’s healthy! It’s made out of milk and hazelnuts!” Why would he think otherwise, when all he has to go on are the commercials on TV? Of course it’s not just kids who are fooled into thinking it’s mostly skim milk and nuts.
I wouldn’t dream of serving the kids bread thickly spread with chocolate frosting for breakfast or as an after-school snack, but it turns out they might actually be better off. I picked up a jar of each yesterday just to compare labels – here’s a quick look at how Nutella compares nutritionally to a tub of No Name Chocolate Frosting:
Nutella (per tablespoon):
6 g fat
2 g saturated fat
1 mg cholesterol
11 g sugar
No Name Chocolate Frosting (per tablespoon):
3 g fat
1 g saturated fat
0 mg cholesterol
7.5 g sugar
Yes, Nutella contains considerably more calories, fat, saturated fat and sugar than frosting. But wait, Nutella has all those hazelnuts in it, right? So it stands to reason it should have more protein and fiber. Barely – 1 Tbsp. of Nutella contains 1 g of protein, but 2 Tbsp. of chocolate frosting provides the same! Ditto the fiber content.
But what about all that wholesome skim milk? Nutella must be higher in calcium? Not really – 1 Tbsp. of Nutella contains 2% of the daily value of calcium, and you’ll get the same from 2 Tbsp. of chocolate frosting. I wouldn’t have considered frosting to be a measurable source of any of the above. (It turns out it too contains skim milk powder and cocoa – the ingredient lists are very similar, although it would seem laughable if chocolate frosting was promoted as a healthy snack.)
(On the labels below, note that for Nutella it’s per 1 Tbsp, the frosting is per 2 Tbsp.)
It’s not unusual for ads to be misleading – they are of course designed to make products appear healthier and more wholesome than they may truly be. But as we become more label-savvy, it’s important to be able to properly categorize those products being marketed to children and their parents – as dessert, cookies or candy as the case may be, rather than healthy spreads, breakfast bars and cereal bars, if those ingredient lists and nutritional profiles are a better fit.