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Have you ever tried to find the exact list of ingredients for Nutella online? The identical one that appears on its label - in descending order from the first (largest ingredient by weight) to the last ingredient, as required by food law? Well, you won’t find it! Here’s the hoop-la I went through to discover exactly what the ingredients in Nutella are and why Nutella is not good for your kids.
This post was written in 2011. The Nutella website has changed since then so please bear this in mind as you read.
You'd think that the official website would give the full listing of Nutella ingredients, as well as the nutrition figures, in exactly the same way most other food manufacturers do these days. For example, take a look at the comprehensive Kellogg or Nestle sites where they detail everything. You may not fancy all their products but they do provide detailed info on each and every product including all ingredients, nutrition panel per 100g or per serve, and possible allergens.
Not so Nutella. Here's all they tell you about what's in their iconic product:
|Nutella contains hazelnuts, cocoa powder, skim milk powder, vegetable oil, sugar, soy lecithin and vanillin|
Yes these are the ingredients in Nutella but not in their correct order. Nutella would like you to believe that their product is composed mainly of hazelnuts and cocoa (two healthy-sounding ingredients). So they re-arrange the true order to make a better impression. And leave out the percentage and the correct additive names.
The true list of Nutella ingredients
I actually had to purchase a jar of the stuff to find out the truth about the Nutella ingredients. Once you're looking at the back of the label, you quickly see - when forced by food law - what the product really is made from:
|Sugar, vegetable oil, hazelnuts (13%), cocoa powder (7.4%), non-fat milk solids, emulsifier (soy lecithin), flavour (vanillin)|
Its list of ingredients is very revealing. On the label, it MUST show them in descending order by weight from the largest down to the smallest.
So now I know that the first (read main) ingredient is sugar (not hazelnuts), followed by “vegetable oil” (not cocoa), then hazelnuts, then cocoa solids, followed by non-fat milk solids, soy lecithin and vanilla flavour.
Conclusion No 1
Nutella is more sugar and fat than hazelnuts - its true content of hazelnuts is low at only 13 per cent. Don’t be fooled by the advertising. Here’s what I’ve unearthed about the ingredients. And it really took a bit of detective work.
Sugar is the first ingredient and thus the main by weight of all the Nutella ingredients. In fact Nutella is 55 per cent sugar! That puts Nutella on a par with chocolate.
The vegetable oil is palm oil, a semi-solid fat that’s needed to give Nutella its spreadable texture. At least this was disclosed on the website (see below). The manufacturer says they were using a hydrogenated oil until a couple of years ago but switched to palm oil to cut back on the trans fat in 2006. Palm oil is free of trans fat but is still high in saturated fat so it’s not good for you. It’s a no-win oil choice that many manufacturers face.
Cocoa solids (or powder) gives Nutella its chocolatey taste.
Soy lecithin – a common emulsifier that keeps the sugar, oil, nuts and cocoa nicely blended and stops them separating out during the months on the shelves. Nothing sinister about it. It’s one of my safe additives (unless you’re allergic to soy)
This is not vanilla or vanilla extract such as you use at home. Vanillin, which is most likely the synthetic form identical to the natural vanillin, but much less expensive is the largest flavour component of the vanilla bean but much less interesting.
What’s not present
At least there’s no artificial colours or preservatives, no corn syrup and no added salt.
To fill in the rest of the detail, here’s the part of Nutella nutrition panel from the website which did coincide with the label:
Fat, total 30.3g
Fat, saturated 10.0g
Carbohydrate, total 54.7g
Sodium 33 mg
Serve size is 20g, which is one tablespoon – about what you’d spread thinly on two slices of bread.
Conclusion No 2:
Think of Nutella as chocolate in spreadable form. With 30 per cent fat and almost 55 per cent sugar, Nutella almost mirrors chocolate in its composition. In fact, Nutella is more akin to milk chocolate with hazelnuts for fat, sugar and kilojoules, they're so close. See my comparison of the two weight for weight: Nutella side by side with Cadbury Milk Chocolate with Hazelnuts.
Did you notice that the chocolate block has 19% LESS sugar than Nutella and 23% hazelnuts compared to Nutella at only 13%? Less sugar, more nuts!
Conclusion No 3:
Nutella provides very little in the way of good nutrition. Not much protein, fibre, vitamins, minerals – the nutrients we are lacking. We don’t need more sugar and fat.
Any good points? Yes. Nutella is low in sodium as are many sweet foods. And it's a concentrated food that can increase kids' kilojoule intake easily if they're the chronically-underweight type and already eat a well-balanced diet.
4 most-asked questions on Nutella
Q. Is Nutella healthier than peanut butter?
No. Nutella might be sold in the peanut butter aisle, but it isn't a nutritional swap. Peanut butter has more protein, little sugar, healthy fat and vitamins. It’s a decent protein for vegetarians. Most are 85 per cent peanuts (with some oil and sugar) but you can buy 100 per cent peanut types.
Q. Is Nutella healthier than jam?
Not really. Nutella has 54 per cent sugar, jam and honey have around 60 to 70 per cent. But Nutella slaps on 30 per cent fat, while they have none. The nearest equivalent to Nutella on toast is peanut butter topped with honey on toast. Then it’s the same for sugar and fat.
Q. Is the suggested kids breakfast of fruit, Nutella on two slices of toast and low-fat milk a decent breakfast for kids?
Nope. You know it's not the healthiest breakfast to send your kids off the school with. It never has been and never will be. It’s just Nutella on toast “enhanced” to look better by the fruit and milk and white high-fibre bread.
Best bet: If you are going to give the kids the occasional piece of toast with Nutella, don't use butter or margarine and spread it on wholegrain bread rather than low-fibre white bread.
Q. Is Nutella really low GI?
Yes. But so are things like sausages, corn chips and chocolate cake – usually thanks to their fat content which slows down the rate of digestion and absorption in your system (see the GI Website for more info). However, just because something has a low GI doesn’t necessarily make it a healthy choice. Would you give your kids corn chips and chocolate cake for breakfast?
Simply slapping on a “low GI” claim doesn’t make something healthier overall. If you believed the ads, you’d think that chocolatey-hazelnut spread was the health food of a nation and the perfect breakfast toast topper. It ain’t!
The bottom line
Why try to make out something is healthy when it’s not? And clearly not, when you look at the true list of Nutella ingredients. Just accept Nutella for the chocolatey treat it is! Have it on toast, croissant or crepes. It’s a good case of clever marketing that highlights the few positives — and says nothing about the bad things.
Nutella in the news
UK consumer watchdog Which? has hit out at an Advertising Standards Authority adjudication that rejected 31 complaints about a television advert for Nutella hazlenut spread. Which? complained about the advert on the basis that, firstly, it was misleading because it did not make clear that Nutella also contained a high proportion of sugar (55%) and fat. Secondly, the consumer watchdog said the advert was was likely to encourage poor nutritional habits or an unhealthy lifestyle, especially in children. Read more.