In case you’ve missed the recent stream of news, Nutella is being pulled from grocery store shelves in Europe due to a fear it may cause cancer. Before you skim these headlines and run to trash your chocolatey spread, let’s examine the facts.
The European Food Safety Authority, an organization similar to the United States’ Food and Drug Administration, recently released a report stating when palm oil is heated above 200°C (392°F), it forms glycidyl fatty acid esters – compounds which are genotoxic (damaging to DNA) and carcinogenic (cancer promoting).
While Nutella certainly should be evaluated, many other food products also contain palm oil - including ice cream, bread, chocolate, and peanut butter. Even so, when you read Nutella’s ingredient label, it’s understandable why consumers would be concerned. Ingredients are listed on packages by weight in descending order, and the second ingredient in Nutella is palm oil, following sugar.
The swirl of controversy around Nutella’s potential cancerous effects seems to ignore the more glaring issue – the spread is largely made of sugar and processed oil. While there may be some evidence of the product’s carcinogenic capacity, it’s well-established that refined sugar in large quantities has detrimental health effects. It's important to take all the evidence into account, but to not get distracted from the product's nutritional value. When stacked against less processed nut butters, it flops in comparison for protein, heart-healthy unsaturated fat, and beneficial mineral content.
So, what’s our dietitians' takeaway on Nutella?
Nutella should serve as a sometimes food, used to enhance foods with more nutritional value
It’s probably not worth disposing your Nutella if your child is using it to make whole wheat bread more palatable
It’s worth considering a less processed spread for your toast, or using a more modest amount if you’ve been hard-dosing on the sweet spread