Ads for the most popular hazelnut spread, Nutella, claim that it’s “an example of a tasty yet balanced breakfast.” Commercials show a mom feeding it to her healthy kids while the label includes a picture of Nutella surrounded by “healthy” items such as fresh fruit, whole wheat bread and orange juice. They tout the fact that their spread is made with wholesome ingredients like hazelnuts and skim milk. With all these images and messages of health, we are easily swayed into thinking that chocolate-hazelnut spreads are good for us.


Nutella’s has done a stellar job of fooling us into eating a junk food. One brave mother led a putative consumer class action suit in 2011 against Nutella for a misleading and deceptive advertising campaign. Nutella contains about 70% modified palm oil and processed sugar by weight, far more than the hazelnut and skim milk ingredients. Palm oil is a naturally occurring fat comprised of a balanced mixture of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids. Nutella used to be made with hydrogenated palm oil, which means that there was quite a bit of trans fats. After anti-trans-fat laws were passed, manufacturers needed to find an alternative, since non-hydrolyzed palm oil didn’t have a sharp enough melting point. Enter the nebulous term “modified”: a process that, in chemical terms, refers to “interesterification.”

Fats occur as triglycerides: three long fatty acid chains attached to a glycerol backbone. By rearranging these fatty acids using chemical or enzymatic processes, you can replace an unsaturated fat with a saturated one, producing a fat that has properties better suited for food products. The effect of interesterified fats on health has received little scientific attention, but one thing is certain: It’s not a naturally occurring fat.

The only good thing about hazelnut spreads is the hazelnuts, but there are only about 10 grams of nuts per 100 grams of Nutella, which means that 90% of your hazelnut is not hazelnuts. That space is reserved for fat and sugar.

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