For the longest time, the oh-so-delicious hazelnut spread Nutella was spouted to be “part of a nutritious breakfast,” which honestly, was music to all our ears. Made from a combination of roasted hazelnuts, skim milk and a touch of cocoa, Nutella sounded like the perfect (and yummy) way to start the day. Honestly, who doesn’t love some crusty, toasted bread generously slathered with essentially crack in a jar? Yet in recent years the beloved breakfast staple has been coming under fire for its true health benefits, or should we say, it’s lack thereof.
While people soon started to point out how ads failed to mention the copious amounts of sugar and fat also present, the most damning nail in the coffin for all Nutella lovers was a study released by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in May 2016. Researchers found that one of the main ingredients in Nutella, palm oil, releases potentially carcinogenic chemicals when refined at high temperatures. And as we know, carcinogenic chemicals can increase the risk of cancer, which definitely is no bueño. This, of course, led to a big uproar, including many food producers in Europe promising to do away with palm oil, with even Italy’s largest supermarket chain boycotting any product containing palm oil (which wasn’t great considering Nutella was invented in Italy).
But before you sadly bury your half-empty jar of Nutella in the backyard while shedding a few tears (which would be totally normal), let’s take a closer look at this. The key point of the study is that, if heated above 200 degrees Celsius, palm oil releases a contaminant known as glycidyl fatty esters (GE). Past studies have shown that GE can cause tumors in rats and mice, which is why the EFSA warned there was a potential health risk for both children and anyone who consumes it in high amounts. Yet an EFSA spokesperson also said that “at the moment, there is no scientific evidence” of a link between exposure to GE and cancer in humans, as their conclusions are all based “on available evidence on experimental animals.”
So to break this down, 1) humans are not rats, so while there may be a possibility our bodies would respond in the same way, it isn’t a guarantee, and 2) unless you’re very young or eating copious amounts of Nutella every day, the risk isn’t as high. It’s also important to note here that the EFSA did not call for a ban on palm oil, and that the action of food manufactures and stores alike were all voluntary. And for the hazelnut on top, the confectionery firm Ferrero, who produces the creamy and dreamy spread, told Reuters that they refine their palm oil under the 200 degrees Celsius threshold. While more studies would need to be done to prove this prevents or reduces the amount of GE released, it seems very plausible to believe it would.
In essence, while Nutella may not be the healthiest thing in the world (58% of it is pure sugar), it definitely shouldn’t be ranked among products like cigarettes and alcohol for drastically increasing your risk of cancer. As with most things in life, moderation is key, so a few tablespoons of Nutella here and there should be just fine. Just don’t, ya know, eat half the jar in one sitting.