More years ago than I’d like to admit, my husband and I spent a few weeks in Europe. We hiked and explored beautiful towns in different parts of Europe, tried local foods, and also indulged in way too much of an Italian favorite: Nutella. However, once I found out more about the ingredients in Nutella, I was determined to find a healthier, organic lower sugar version of this hazelnut spread. Luckily I found Nutiva Organic Hazelnut Spread.
The History of Nutella
Some form of chocolate hazelnut spread has been popular since the early 1800s when Napoleon tried to stop British commerce during the Napoleonic Wars. Without the ability to import many common foods, the price of many foods drastically increased. The cost of chocolate was one of the most affected, so chocolatiers started adding hazelnuts, which they had an abundance of, to stretch the chocolate. They called the resulting chocolate hazelnut goodness gianduia, and it maintained popularity though the years.
During WWII, the price of chocolate skyrocketed again due to rationing, and Italian chocolatier Pietro Ferrero revived the idea of stretching the precious chocolate supply by adding hazelnuts. Thus Nutella was born. These days, the chocolate spread is still very popular in both Europe and the US.
Unfortunately, the US version contains a LOT of sugar and some questionable ingredients. While it is marketed as a healthy breakfast food, I’d lump it in with donuts and pastries due to its high sugar content.
Is Nutella Healthy?
Based on the commercials, you may think Nutella is a health food, worthy of a place on your breakfast (and lunch and dinner) table. Unfortunately, there are some problems hidden within those apparently simple ingredients:
Nutella Ingredients: sugar, palm oil, hazelnuts, cocoa, skimmed milk powder, whey powder, soy lecithin, and vanillin
Seems like simple and relatively healthy ingredients, right? At least we can pronounce them all! Heck, even my 5 year old could probably pronounce all of those ingredients. Unfortunately, the problem with the ingredients that may not be so obvious…like the artificial flavor vanillin.
There are several red flags in these ingredients that disqualify Nutella from health food status:
The first ingredient in Nutella is refined sugar… and not a small amount of it. In fact, two tablespoons of this chocolaty spread contains 21 grams of sugar, or 5 cubes of sugar! That’s more than most candy bars and donuts!
On top of that, the sugar is not-organic, and likely comes from sugar beets, resulting in a highly refined sugar that often contains large amounts of pesticides! Hardly a health food. If you wouldn’t eat a candy bar for breakfast or feed one to your child, then skipping the Nutella is probably a good idea too.
There is definitely a time and a place for sugar consumption (in moderation, of course), but it’s important to choose organic and non-GMO sugar.
This is the biggest problem with Nutella’s ingredients, and the reason that France’s ecology minister, Ségolène Royal, has called for a boycott on this popular dessert.
Why? Because this conflict palm oil is harmful to the planet!
Palm oil is an ingredient in many commercial foods, and most of the world’s supply is harvested in Southeast Asia and contributes to deforestation, habitat destruction, water pollution, and human rights offenses.
Thankfully, not all Palm Oil harvesting is harmful to the environment, and properly sourced Palm Oil can be a very nutritious ingredient. A recent campaign called Palm Done Right works to raise awareness about properly sourced palm oil and encourages consumers to choose ethical and healthier options.
Soy is a controversial ingredient on its own, but unless it comes from an organic source, soy is a highly sprayed crop and is processed with hexane, a harsh solvent and byproduct of gasoline. There are healthier alternatives from foods like sunflower seeds, which don’t carry the same problems.
I often hear the claim that soy must be healthy because Asian cultures consume it and don’t struggle with many of the health problems we do.
I’d venture that in many of these cultures, they have a variety of healthier habits that may account for this difference. Additionally, the soy used in the US is usually highly sprayed, and much of the soy in other cultures is not. We used to live near a field that was commercially farmed. The farmer would rotate corn, wheat, and soybeans. I saw first hand the amount of pesticides and herbicides sprayed on these crops. They would spray multiple times in a growing season with tractors and planes (and the guys spraying wore HazMat suits!).
Soyalso contains xenoestrogens, which are potent endocrine disruptors. In fact, many experts think that these xenoestrogens may be partially to blame for rising rates of reproductive issues!
Nutella also contains non-organic “skimmed milk powder.” Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with ethically sourced dairy, but that isn’t what you’ll find in Nutella.
Commercially sourced dairy comes from cows raised in terrible conditions and fed GMO grains and antibiotics. On top of that, it is pasteurized and homogenized. By the time it becomes “milk powder,” it is also full of oxidized cholesterol, which is one of the most harmful types of cholesterol.
Hazelnuts are a wonderful and nutritious food that originated near the black sea. Unfortunately, many modern hazelnuts grown in the US and Canada are sprayed with commercial pesticides. Always choose organic hazelnuts to avoid pesticide contamination.
Another nutritious food that does have a place in a healthy diet is cocoa. Unfortunately, much of the world’s supply is harvested in unethical ways including slave labor and child labor. As I explained in an earlier post:
Most of us don’t realize while we are boosting our PMSing serotonin levels with chocolate that we are also contributing to child slave labor.
It is ironic and sad that the treats that are loved and consumed by women and children in the United States are produced with forced child labor and child slavery:
According to an investigative report by the BBC, hundreds of thousands of children are being purchased from their parents or outright stolen and then shipped to Ivory Coast, where they are enslaved on cocoa farms. Destitute parents in these poverty-stricken lands sell their children to traffickers believing that they will find honest work in Ivory Coast and send some of their earnings home. The terrible reality is that these children, 11-to-16-years-old but sometimes younger, are forced to do hard manual labor 80 to 100 hours a week. They are paid nothing, receive no education, are under fed, and are often viciously beaten if they try to escape. Most will never see their families again. (source)
All health pros and cons aside, I refused to buy or consume any product that came from the work of children forced into slavery and inhumane conditions. An estimated 1.8 million children work in the cocoa fields in Ghana and the Ivory Coast and while the chocolate industry is a 70 Billion dollar industry, this problem hasn’t been corrected.
Bottom line: chocolate is great, but choose ethical and fair trade varieties.
It would be easy to glance over this ingredient and assume it was just a technical name for real vanilla… it isn’t. Real vanilla is essentially a tincture made from vanilla beans (here’s how to make it at home). It has wonderful flavor and even contains some B-vitamins!
Vanillin isn’t so wholesome. It is artificial vanilla flavor combined with sugar or corn syrup. In stores, it is sometimes called “Imitation Vanilla.” The artificial vanilla flavor is sometimes derived from things like wood pulp- hardly what I want in my food!
A 2012 lawsuit convicted Nutella’s parent company Fererro USA of making misleading health claims in its advertising and packaging. The 3 million dollar settlement reimbursed consumers who had bought Nutella thinking it was healthy. The settlement also required Fererro USA to change their packaging, website and marketing to reflect the high sugar content.
The Good News: A Better Alternative
I have put off publishing this post for a long time, because I knew the comments it would get…
The “Oh my gosh, so everything is bad for you and we should just live on water,” and the “Can’t we just enjoy things in moderation?”
And normally, I’d say yes… we can enjoy things in moderation, but when it comes to a blend of refined, highly processed ingredients that are also harming the environment, I just can’t get on board with that. But, thanks to the good folks at Thrive Market, I recently found a much better alternative and have been letting my kids enjoy this nostalgic treat in moderation (see, I told you I could get on board with things in moderation 😉 ).
An Organic Hazelnut Spread
I recently found an organic, non-GMO verified, dairy-free, gluten-free hazelnut spread from Nutiva and it has all the deliciousness of Nutella without the harmful junk!
Our family loves Nutiva Organic Hazelnut Spread because it is:
- Much lower in sugar: It contains 40% less sugar than other options. In fact, the name brand contains 21 grams of sugar per 2 TBSP serving size, while Nutiva has only 12 grams.
- Ethically Sourced: Most hazelnut spreads contain palm oil, which can be problematic if not ethically sourced. All of the ingredients in the Nutiva brand, including the Palm Oil and Cocoa, are ethically sourced (rainforest and animal friendly).
- More Nutritious: Unlike other brands, this one contains 450 mg of Omega-3s per serving! (That’s more than Sardines and Tuna contain per serving and my kids certainly prefer the chocolate option!)
- Organic, Non-GMO Verified and Certified Gluten Free: Other brands are not organic, or contain ingredients that may be genetically modified.
- Dairy Free: We aren’t worried about finding vegan alternatives to foods, but when the dairy source is commercial dairy, I’d much prefer a dairy-free alternative.
Want A Free Jar?
Thrive Market, a company I love and order from often, is offering a free jar of Nutiva Organic Hazelnut Spread to Wellness Mama readers! What’s better than chocolate? Free chocolate! Click here to grab it now.
I love Thrive Market because they carry many of the natural products I can’t find locally and often at 25-50% off retail price. Their membership model is similar to Costco, but due to their ability to direct buy at wholesale prices, you don’t have to buy a whole case of everything (and they carry a LOT more organic foods!)
Delicious Ways to Eat Hazelnut Spread
Whether you make your own imitation Nutella or save the time and money and buy the organic pre-made Nutiva, there are so many delicious ways to eat hazelnut spread:
- On Banana Chips: My kids love dipping banana chips into it.
- In a Smoothie: They’ve also found some creative ways to use hazelnut spread in smoothies. Their current favorites are hazelnut butter and jelly smoothie and Chocolate Hazelnut Banana Smoothie
- Pancake Topping: My oldest likes to make pancakes for the family on Saturday, and drizzle them with hazelnut spread and sliced strawberries.
- Mocha Coffee: Try blending a teaspoon of chocolate hazelnut spread into coffee for a natural creamer.
- Peanut Butter Substitute: Can’t have or don’t love peanut butter? Use delicious chocolate hazelnut spread in any recipe that calls for peanut butter.
- Hot Chocolate: Combine 1 cup of milk of choice (almond, coconut or pecan all work too) with 2 Tablespoons of this chocolate hazelnut spread in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer, whisking constantly and serve immediately.
Are you a Nutella fan? Will you switch to a better alternative?