One of my students showed up to class the other day with a jar of Nutella. “It’s healthy!” she exclaimed. Right, I thought. Minus the palm oil and excessive amounts of sugar. Should I mention the animal crackers she was using to dip into the jar? But what the heck, I’ve never had Nutella and I’ve always been curious—I’ll try it. Is it really that bad for you? It’s sold in the healthy aisle at my grocery store, and there’s that fit-looking mom in the commercial who gives it to her kids for breakfast in the morning—it’s definitely marketed as the healthy “alternative”—but the alternative to what, exactly? So I take the animal cracker and dip—no, dunk—it into the Nutella jar. I throw the whole thing in my mouth and chow down. Oh. My. Effing. God. I immediately email my boyfriend who A) teaches right down the hall from me and B) whom I have always gone to for nutritional advice: Have you ever had Nutella? It seriously might be my new favorite thing. Ever. Short email because I want to get back to the jar. Now this should be the clue that stops me and says, “Bad sign Steph. Step away from the Nutella.” But of course I don’t. I grab a whole handful of animal crackers and head towards the open jar. I literally whisk it right out of the hands of another student and I dunk—no, submerge—cracker after cracker after cracker. After maybe 10, I exclaim, “OMG, get this stuff away from me,” and grab one more cracker to go. I head back to my desk and check my email. The boyfriend has responded: Do NOT eat that stuff! It’s so bad for you—it’s fed to Iditarod athletes who burn over 10,000+ calories a day! In the background I hear my student talking to my Indian exchange teacher saying, “try this! It’s better for you than regular chocolate! Isn’t it great?” Back to the boyfriend: did you know that in a dietary study, scientists found that Nutella worked at a faster fat-storing rate than LARD?!
Well that’s what did it for me. I decided to dig around a little to see if I could back up his claim, and while my internet search didn’t lead me to exactly the same info, I did find a couple interesting facts: Jennifer LaRue Huget reported in an article called “Shocked” written for The Washington Post, that one serving of Nutella (2 TBS) has 200 calories and over half of those calories are from fat. It’s also full of sugar—21g per serving. Australian health and fitness educator/coach Craig Harper reported that 92 percent of the calories in Nutella come from fat and sugar. More accurately, he said, “Calories from fat and sugar: 184 (OMFG!!!)” Now I know that one handful of submerged, gooey, chocolaty, animal crackers I ate that day aren’t going to kill me, and it’s not going to kill you either if you stick to moderation. If you love it as much as I did on my first bite, save it for a special occasion. I bet it would taste pretty darn awesome over a strawberry (especially a strawberry served with a glass of red and a hottie by your side) or served in the center of a fruit tray. Save the Nutella for your party. But what exactly can you do for the rest of the time?
Since your naughty, I mean nutty, chocolate fetish has been officially busted, let’s explore the real healthy alternative: natural nut butters. I’ll be honest, as a kid, I never really liked peanut butter. I know, so un-American or something. But as I got older and realized my mac-n-cheese youth was starting to show its ugly face on my thighs, I knew I had to start exploring some better-for-me foods. I decided to try an organic, all-natural peanut butter. I didn’t have an OMG moment, but I remember thinking that if the peanut butter my mom bought growing up tasted this good, I might have actually liked those pb and banana sandwiches she was so crazy about. All natural peanut butter is a great food find. It might be higher in fat than Nutella, but the good news is that it’s filled with good-for-you fat. Yes, that does exist. Sharon Stajda writes in her article titled “Oh Nuts!” that natural peanut butter has zero cholesterol and even contains vitamin E, zinc, niacin (B3), and folic acid. A serving size of natural peanut butter (2 TBS) is 200 calories—the same as Nutella—but contains 8 grams of protein. Nutella? Only 2. Stajda also writes that peanuts are high in the same bioflavonoid (resveratrol) that’s found in red wine—and the same ones that help prevent arterial plaques. So peanuts reduce your bad cholesterol and are great for your heart! They even have more resveratrol than the wine grapes and as much antioxidant power (the fighters of cancer-causing cells) found in a bottle of red. I say have a glass of your favorite pinot noir with a handful of nuts and call it a double win.
But wait, can it get even better than this? In my opinion, yes. Recently, almond butter has made its way into the market and it is a hot little item. If almonds were fashion models, Tyra Banks would be making them fierce. Almond butter just might be one of my favorite foods. Kristie Leong, MD, reports that almond butter, like peanut butter, is good for the heart. She says it’s an excellent source of monounsaturated fats—those good fats I referenced earlier—that lower cholesterol and reduce heart-disease risks, and it even contains those same flavonoids and antioxidants that give us our daily heart protection. Almond butter is also a great source of calcium, potassium, and magnesium—all of which help to lower blood pressure and keep it under control. And speaking of keeping things under control, almond butter will also keep blood sugar levels in check—especially great for diabetics. And last? People who eat nuts like almonds are less likely to be overweight than those who avoid nuts—mostly because of the high protein and fiber content which usually leads to a sense of satiety. I’m officially sold.
Moral of the story? Don’t believe something is healthy just because someone else—store, person, commercial—tells you so. The company is trying to make a buck and well, most people just don’t know crap about nutrition. Do your research. Hell, just read the ingredients. When it comes to Nutella, sugar and palm oil never spell “good for you.” And if you don’t like that? Well, I guess there’s always a “bucket-o-lard” you can dunk your animal crackers into. Apparently it’s better for you than Nutella.