Nutella is a famous chocolate spread that people consider the best thing in the food industry. It is more than a bread spread and is one of those foods almost impossible to dislike for some. Nutella is the undisputed king of chocolate spreads, incredibly marketed all over the world and, for many people, it’s a part of daily breakfast. It’s creamy and wonderful, with cocoa and hazelnuts. But, there’s still a lot you don’t know about it, even if you’re one of the millions cultishly devoted to it. For example, the number one ingredient in Nutella is not chocolate or even hazelnuts. Around 56% of a Nutella jar is sugar. But the most controversial element in this delicious treat is palm oil. Furthermore, palm oil in Nutella is frequently a hidden yet substantial component in modern consumers’ lives.

The Origin of Nutella

Nutella is a sweetened hazelnut cocoa spread created by Ferrero, an Italian company founded in the 1940s by Pietro Ferrero and today the world’s third-largest chocolate maker. Cocoa was in scarce supply due to war rationing in the 1940s, and chocolate was considered a true delicacy. So, Pietro Ferrero combined cocoa with roasted hazelnuts, cocoa butter, and vegetable oils to produce “pasta gianduja,” a low-cost chocolate spread. It was an instant hit.

Ferrero introduced a “Super crema gianduja” in 1949 that was creamier and more spreadable. This product became so popular that Italian grocery stores began offering “The Smearing” service. Super crema gianduja was called Nutella in 1964. On April 20, 1964, the first Nutella jar rolled off the production line in Alba. Now, people worldwide eat Nutella, and its popularity is still growing.

Nutritional Facts of Nutella

As per USDA, 100g of Nutella contains the following nutrients.

  • Energy: 541 Kcal
  • Carbohydrate: 62.16 g
  • Protein: 5.41 g
  • Fats: 32.43 g
  • Fibre: 2.7 g
  • Calcium: 108 mg
  • Sodium: 41 mg
  • Iron: 1.95 mg

Ingredients of Nutella

Sugar is the primary and most crucial ingredient in Nutella, followed by vegetable oil, hazelnuts, cocoa solids, non-fat milk solids, soy lecithin, and vanilla flavour.

Sugar

It is the first and, by weight, the most important of all the Nutella ingredients. Nutella is about 56% sugar! 

Vegetable Oil

Palm oil is the vegetable oil, a semi-solid fat that gives Nutella its spreadable texture. The company used hydrogenated oil until a few years ago but converted to palm oil in 2006 to reduce trans-fat. Palm oil is free of trans fat but high in saturated fat, making it unhealthy. It gets extracted from the palm fruit. The food label lists palm oil as Nutella’s second ingredient in order of quantity. 

Cocoa

Nutella’s chocolate flavour comes from cocoa solids (or powder).

Emulsifier: Soy Lecithin

A typical emulsifier keeps the sugar, oil, nuts, and chocolate together and prevents them from separating during storage. There’s nothing strange about it. Unless you’re allergic to soy, it’s one of the safe ingredients.

Flavour: Vanillin

It isn’t vanilla or extracts, as you’d find in your kitchen. Instead, an essential flavour component of the vanilla bean is vanillin, which is most likely a synthetic form identical to natural vanillin but far less expensive.

Hazelnuts

Nutella contains more sugar and fat than hazelnuts, and its genuine hazelnut content is only 13%. So don’t let the advertisements fool you.

The Controversy Behind Palm Oil in Nutella

Instagram feed is a plethora of Nutella recipes, photos of people holding the iconic jars, and even artwork dedicated to the spread. However, some claim that palm oil, one of Nutella’s second primary components, causes cancer.

Palm oil rules the world among vegetable fats because it makes foods spreadable. It has a neutral odour and flavour, is semi-solid at room temperature, and adds a creamy, smooth texture to products. You get palm oil from the fruits and kernels of palm trees. You can use it as vegetable oil, shortening, margarine addition in baked products, convenience meals (chips, snacks, frozen foods), and confectionery worldwide.

According to a study, palm oil contains roughly 50% saturated fatty acids, including 44% palmitic acid, 5% stearic acid, and trace levels of myristic acid. In addition, 40% of the unsaturated fatty acids in palm oil are oleic acids. The results also show 10% polyunsaturated linoleic acid and linolenic acid.

Now when this palm oil gets processed at roughly 200 degrees Celsius, it produces a contaminant known as glycidyl fatty esters (GE) in higher amounts than other vegetable oils, as proven in one of the studies. There is enough evidence that these fatty acid esters are carcinogenic, meaning they might cause cancer. According to the European food safety authority assessment, no level of glycidol is considered safe. Thus it was easy to conclude that palm oil consumption in goods like Nutella is harmful.

Nutella and Palm Oil

Nutella responded by launching an ad campaign and adding a new part on their website dedicated to palm oil, covering its origins and how Nutella uses it. Palm fruit oil also helps to keep Nutella’s distinct flavour throughout its shelf life. However, Italian maker Ferrero claims that Nutella’s palm oil gets processed below 200 degrees Celsius, the temperature required to create glycidyl fatty acid esters with external pressure to reduce any potential impurities. Despite accusations that palm oil is dangerous, the company launched an advertising effort to convince customers that the spread is safe. Making Nutella without palm oil would be a step backwards, as it would yield an inferior substitute for the original product.

Since Nutella’s recipe is a secret, it’s difficult to know how much of this “contaminant” gets created and how much each person consumes. According to the manufacturer’s website, fat accounts for just over 40 calories of the 80 calories in a one-tablespoon (15 gramme) portion, with saturated fat accounting for roughly 14 calories. But palm oil’s fat isn’t the only source of fat.

If Nutella is a treat food for you, there’s no scientific reason to avoid it because of the palm oil if you eat it once in a while. However, keep in mind that the primary element is sugar, which implies you should restrict your intake in general. While there is no solid research that palm oil causes cancer in people, plenty of research links added sugar consumption to obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, fatty liver disease, and even some cancers. Moreover, scientists claim that palm oil is not a direct cause of cancer. Instead, it might spread existing cancer in your body. 

Other Palm Oil Products

Nutella isn’t the only product that got tarnished because of palm oil. It’s in almost everything. Palm oil is present in most packaged products, pizza, doughnuts, Vanaspati, margarine, frying fats, cookies, crackers, cake mixes, icing, instant noodles, non-dairy creamer, and biscuits. In addition, it is also an element in deodorants, shampoo, and lipsticks.

India’s food labelling laws do not require prepackaged foods to list palm oil as an ingredient. Furthermore, in many non-food products such as cosmetics, personal care products, and detergents, you rarely see palm oil listed as an ingredient. Glycerin, stearic acid, and vegetable oil are commonly used synonyms for palm oil. And some of which can cause an allergic reaction or toxicity. As a result, these products require labelling with the necessary warning. While palm oil is a common source for these components, it can also be obtained from other sources, most commonly other tropical oils.

Potential Benefits of Palm Oil

Offers Vitamin A and Healthy for Better Vision

Beta-carotene is essential for vision improvement. In addition, palm oil has many antioxidants, which help the body’s defence processes. They are helpful by-products of cellular metabolism that can protect the organism from free radical damage. According to an analysis of nine high-quality research, supplementation with red palm oil could raise vitamin A levels in both children and adults. In addition, palm oil can help prevent macular degeneration and cataracts by replacing other forms of fat.

Palm Oil improves Cardiovascular Health

Palm oil helps reduce the risk of heart disease. Because tocotrienols, a kind of vitamin E that acts as an antioxidant, are abundant in palm oil. In addition, the antioxidant benefits of palm oil’s vitamin E and carotenoids help prevent atherosclerosis or blood vessel narrowing.

Some research findings are conflicting as they state that palm oil offers both favourable and unfavourable changes in cardiovascular health. For instance, this oil appears to positively impact heart disease risk factors, such as lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol and boosting HDL (good) cholesterol. Therefore, you can achieve a healthier cardiovascular system by keeping a healthy cholesterol balance necessary for your body.

Palm Oil Can Improve Brain Health

Palm oil, like heart health, may have mental health advantages. For example, tocotrienols, a kind of vitamin E found in red palm oil, might be able to slow or stop the advancement of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease caused by brain lesions. It is because vitamin E protects the brain from free radicals, which, according to research, can harm your neurons and deteriorate brain power. 

Palm oil is Antioxidant-Rich

Palm oil delivers excellent anti-ageing properties thanks to its high levels of Vitamin E, uncommon tocotrienols, and antioxidants. In addition, it prevents wrinkles and fine lines from forming and gives protection from damaging UV rays and other toxins, making it suitable for the skin.

Risk Factors of Palm Oil

Palm oil has had a bad name in recent decades as it contains 50% saturated fatty acids. It also contains 40% monounsaturated and 10% polyunsaturated fatty acids. A scientific study is full of claims of a relationship between saturated fats, blood cholesterol, obesity, and cardiovascular disease. 

In fresh and old palm oil, the amounts of tocotrienol, a vitamin E nutrient, differ slightly. For example, reheated palm oil has significantly fewer benefits than fresh palm oil. As a result, heated palm oil will lose its benefits, but it might also increase your risk of heart disease, such as atherosclerosis.

Beyond Health Issues

The argument over palm oil extends beyond health concerns. There is a general tendency for deforestation where palm oil is currently grown. As a result, the growing demand for palm oil has contributed to expanding palm oil plantations, leading to the destruction of tropical forests to accommodate new plantations. Establishing palm oil trees while removing existing flora harms the soil quality. The soil surrounding the present flora is frequently damaged when removed for growing new plants. It has also impacted the livelihoods of local villagers who live near the palm oil plants. In addition, it has resulted in the extinction of species and the destruction of natural environments.

Increased erosion, increased fire risk, and pollution are the effects of changing land use from forest to palm oil farming, all of which endanger the existence of both plant and animal species. Soil subsidence is also more likely as a result of fires and drainage. As a result, natural carbon sinks are diminishing, resulting in an increase in net carbon on the earth. Carbon emissions increase the risk of global warming and climate change.

However, boycotting palm trees isn’t the answer. Instead, consumers may play an essential role by putting pressure on corporations to switch to a palm oil production technology that does not affect some of the world’s most valuable ecosystems.

Conclusion

Nutella’s palm oil is unlikely to contain carcinogens. When it comes to cancer and food, it’s arguably more necessary to look at the larger picture. Overall healthy eating habits matter and that includes avoiding processed foods in general. It’s ideal to consume palm oil in moderation because it’s gradually becoming an indicator that you’re eating a highly processed item in today’s market. However, if you eat little amounts of Nutella and other palm oil-containing products now and then, you’ll probably be alright.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q. Is palm oil harmful?

A. Palm oil contains 50% triglycerides, linked to an increased risk of stroke and heart disease. In addition, excessive palm oil use increases the risk of heart disease by hardening and thickening the arteries. However, palm oil also shows some heart-healthy benefits. If you have an underlying cancerous growth, then palm oil might cause its spread.  

Q. What is so special about palm oil?

A. Palm oil is a versatile oil with various qualities and uses that may be used in several goods (from soaps to chocolate). In addition, it can be liquid or solid. Its smooth, creamy texture and lack of odour make it a popular component in many recipes, including baked products (like biscuits). It can be semi-solid at room temperature, necessary to maintain butter and margarine spreadability. In addition, palm oil has a natural preservation action that increases the shelf life of foods, distinguishing it from other oils.

Q. Is palm oil the same as coconut oil?

A. Coconut oil is extracted from the kernel or meat of matured and harvested coconuts, whereas palm oil is from the pulp of palm fruit. Both are high-calorie oils mostly of fats, although coconut oil has a few more calories and palm oil has fewer fats. Both are deficient in protein and carbs, as well as micronutrients. Coconut oil, on the other hand, is higher in minerals, while palm oil is higher in vitamin E and vitamin K. As a result, one must pick intelligently between the two options. 

Q. Which is healthier, palm oil or vegetable oil?

A. Palm oil contains substantially more saturated fats than vegetable oil. Vitamin K content is three times higher in vegetable oil. Vegetable oil can be the healthier option as it is higher in polyunsaturated fatty acids.

Q. Is palm oil cancerous?

A. Palm oil’s natural red colour and odour are removed using high temperatures above 200 degrees Celsius. However, this procedure produces glycidyl fatty acid esters (or GE) pollutants. When eaten, GE tends to break down and release glycidol, a chemical linked to tumour formation.

Q. What is wrong with palm oil in food?

A. Palm oil contains a significant amount of saturated fat, related to poor cardiovascular health when eaten regularly. Saturated fat in excess can cause heart attacks, strokes, heart disease, and other health problems.

Q. What is the smell of palm oil?

A. Palm oil has a light, fresh, or neutral odour. It can pass as an odourless oil. The aroma of palm kernel is herbaceous, eucalyptus-like, spicy, and fruity-sweet. Refined palm oil has no strong smell. 

Q. Is palm oil good for the skin?

A. Palm oil is present in a wide range of skincare products, from supermarket soaps and shower gels to high-end luxury moisturisers. It contains an antioxidant that is beneficial to the skin by reducing the activities of free radicals and reducing the indications of ageing.

Q. Is palm oil good for kidney patients?

A. The current study found that palm oil consumption causes a higher incidence of chronic kidney disease. This discovery is consistent with previous research, which found that people who eat a lot of saturated fat had a higher risk of kidney disease. In contrast, people who eat a lot of HDL cholesterol have a lower risk. As a result, lowering palm oil consumption can aid in illness prevention.

Q. Can I use palm oil on my hair?

A. You can use palm oil for hair, body and skincare. Because of its emollient qualities, it can moisturise hair. In addition, it’s a well-known and influential leave-in conditioner and hair cleaner. It can also help to prevent hair damage.

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