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Nuts About Nutella

Early this summer my daughter and I spent some time in France, where we were introduced to the joys of Nutella.

Nutella is a delectable hazelnut/chocolate spread that we ate spread on crepes bought from sidewalk vendors, as an ingredient in Nutella gelato, and, yes, I'll admit, straight out of the little packets supplied at our hotel breakfasts.

You can buy Nutella here in the U.S.; in most grocery stores, it's shelved right with the peanut butter. We have bought many jars of the stuff since we got home, and my daughter's been spreading it on whole-grain toast for breakfast.

I got to wondering how Nutella stacks up against peanut butter, nutrition-wise. (As far as taste goes, Nutella wins, hands-down.) So I talked with Dawn Jackson Blatner, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.

I learned some very useful tips about how to read a package label from Blatner -- who, by the way, made no bones about the fact that she favors natural peanut butter over the more-processed peanut spreads that I gravitate toward (more on that later). She skipped right past the Nutrition Facts panel for her first assessment, and zeroed in on the ingredient list. Peanut butter won here: the jar of Peter Pan Creamy that we analyzed named "peanuts" as its first, and thus biggest, ingredient. Nutella's main ingredient? Sugar.

But wait! While Nutella's recently been reformulated to replace trans fats (under fire for their potential to clog arteries) with somewhat healthier palm oil, my jar of peanut butter still lists "partially hydrogenated vegetable oils" -- read: trans fats -- as its third ingredient, right after sugar. (Jif and Skippy contain trans fats, too, though the Web sites for all three peanut butters note that the quantities are so small that the FDA considers these products to have zero trans fats.)

So far, Blatner called it an even race.

But when we moved to the Nutrition Facts, peanut butter came out on top. Blatner says she starts with the calorie count as a pretty good indicator of a food's nutritional value. Both Nutella and peanut butter have 190 calories per 2-tablespoon serving. Beyond that, though, Nutella has SEVEN TIMES as much sugar per serving as peanut butter -- 21 grams versus 3 grams, while peanut butter offers 7 grams of protein, much better than Nutella's 3 grams.

Blatner pointed out that my choice of things to spread stuff on is a major part of the equation. Peanut butter or Nutella smeared on a banana or slice of whole-wheat bread makes an acceptable breakfast treat, she told me. "You could do a lot worse. You could be eating Cheetos or doughnuts for breakfast," she said.

In the end, though, Blatner calls Nutella a "delicious decadence."

As for that natural peanut butter, which I have to say my own family turns up its nose at, it's clearly a better choice than either Nutella or processed peanut butter. According to the facts on my editor's current jar, natural peanut butter contains 16 grams of fat compared to Nutella's 11; 2.5 grams of saturated fat (3.5 for Nutella); 120 grams of sodium (just 15 for Nutella); a mere 6 grams of carbs (22 for Nutella), and 2 grams of fiber (twice as much as Nutella). Natural p.b. has just a single gram of sugar and 8 grams of protein. But don't count Nutella out altogether: it offers 4 percent of the daily recommended intake of iron -- natural p.b. offers 2 percent -- and 4 percent of the calcium we need daily; natural peanut butter offers none.

That same editor points out, though, that while Nutella is generally smeared solo, many p.b. fans up the sugar and calorie contents of their peanut-butter snack by adding jelly or honey to the mix.

If you do go the natural route, take this tip from former Post nutrition writer Sally Squires: To cut calories and fat, pour off the oil that collects on top of the peanut butter. (Which is one of the aspects of natural peanut butter that turns my family's stomach!)

What do you spread on your toast in the morning? Do you and your family like natural peanut butter?

And do you ever eat peanut butter or Nutella -- or both together! -- by the spoonful, right out of the jar?

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  August 18, 2008; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Nutrition and Fitness  
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Once a year, usually as a birthday or Christmas present, I get a jar of Nutella from my girlfriend. I wait a few weeks to open the jar and then I treat myself to a tablespoon per day, right out of the jar. It's my jar and no one else eats it. When it's gone it's gone.

I was introduced to Nutella 30 years ago as a foreign exchange student in Turkey. Back then it came in a tube. Talk about convenience. Yum....

Posted by: cab91 | August 18, 2008 7:57 AM | Report abuse

The oil in natural peanut butter should be mixed in because it seperated during storage. When I buy natural peanut butter, I put it in the pantry upside down for a week. Then the oil rises to the "bottom" (which is now on top). It makes it much easier to mix once I open it.

And while you can pour off the oil to save some fat, (a) a little fat is acutally good for you (b) its not bad for you fat and (c) the peanut butter is terribly dry and crumbly if you don't. Nothing is worse than peanut butter than can't spread.

Posted by: RT | August 18, 2008 9:38 AM | Report abuse

I'm not a fan of processed peanut butter. Why add hydrogenated fats and sugar into your diet if you don't absolutely need to? Then again, I don't eat too much PB except as a sauce for soba noodles or stirred into oatmeal. I'm also not in grade school and don't have a very fussy palate.

If your family just can't stand the oil in natural PB, blend the oil into the jar and then store it in the refrigerator. That keeps the PB firm enough to keep the oil incorporated, but still spreadable.

Posted by: BxNY | August 18, 2008 9:40 AM | Report abuse

forgot to add - I haven't had Nutella in ages. It was a staple of dorm room life, but I can't recall eating it in the 15+ years since I left the dorms. You have me craving it.

Posted by: RT | August 18, 2008 9:40 AM | Report abuse

I've stopped keeping sweetened/processed PB in the house, as we mainly use PB on toast, in asian recipes, and as a blend-in for pancakes. If it's on toast, the jelly offsets the sweetness, and in other recipes the sweetness is undesirable. So we end up going through it pretty fast, and it's only necessary to blend in the oil a couple times through the duration of the jar. I do agree that the oil must be blended back in, or the bottom of the jar is just gross.

Posted by: Pru | August 18, 2008 9:47 AM | Report abuse

Thanks for the idea of storing PB upside down before opening so it's easier to mix. Will try that next time.

One time I didn't mix well enough and the bottom of the jar ended up oil-free, i.e. dry and non-spreadable and basically pointless. I can't see pouring off the oil as a good idea.

(And Nutella is delicious.)

Posted by: KR | August 18, 2008 10:28 AM | Report abuse

This morning I used butter on my whole wheat bagel.

I do have a jar of nutella in the cupboard and I like to use it to make a grilled Nutella and Raspberry preserve sandwich every once in a while. mmm mmm good!

As for peanut butter, I'm a big fan of Crazy Richard's. Reading from the label now - Ingredients: Peanuts. Good stuff.

Posted by: Stephen | August 18, 2008 11:15 AM | Report abuse

Nutella was a college-era pantry staple that I admit to by-passing now. I still look longingly, however. I also follow the upside-down storage of the natural PB. My palate much prefers it to the too-sweet Jif/Skippy/Peter Pan brands. However, if you are going to make cookies, the natural PB doesn't work as well for some reason -- usually the cookies turn out too crumbly and won't hold together. In fact, many recipes warn you off the naturals.

Posted by: Kim | August 18, 2008 11:47 AM | Report abuse

Almond butter is a much healthier and protein packed option instead of peanut butter (it also tastes better). Every now and then i make a nutella and almond butter sandwich ... it's great, especially with bananas.

Posted by: r | August 18, 2008 12:35 PM | Report abuse

I much prefer natural peanut butter over the fake stuff. And as others have stated, you just need to stir the oil back into the spread and this makes it easily spreadable and taste delicious.

And yes, Nutella, is the food of the gods. LOVE IT!

Posted by: Little Red | August 18, 2008 12:40 PM | Report abuse

I switched to natural peanut butter a few years ago to try to cut excess sugar from my diet. At first, the oil seemed to be a pain, but after a bit I got used to it, and now "regular" peanut butter tastes like plastic to me. Too processed and fake seeming. I also recommend storing the jar upside down before use, and in the fridge after opening. Pouring out the oil makes it unusable as a spread, though it's still good by the spoonful!

I'm pregnant now and trying to keep peanuts to no more than once every couple of weeks (to prevent allergies in the little one), and I miss my natural peanut butter! I might need to switch to Nutella for the duration!

Posted by: mr | August 18, 2008 12:44 PM | Report abuse

I use natural peanut butter for protein on homemade quickbreads for breakfast, since I usually go to the gym afterwards and don't eat much meat. The bread (usually with raisins) adds just the right amount of sweetness, and, with coffee, it's the right amount of energy for an hour and half workout.

I have nutella in the house, too, but I use to to make hamantaschen (filled cookies for the Jewish Holiday of Purim), along with strawberry or apricot jam. I'm feeling the urge to eat it on bread now, though!

Posted by: Susie | August 18, 2008 12:53 PM | Report abuse

I love Nutella. However, I sense that there might be a slight difference between the ones made in U.S. and Germany. The American Nutella tastes like it has more sugar in it while the one from Germany has a stronger hazelnut flavor. I don't know if my tongue is deceiving me. Have you noticed any difference?

Posted by: trh | August 18, 2008 1:10 PM | Report abuse

if you want to try another sweet spread, try Kaya, a coconut custard, kinda like lemon curd only made with coconut. It's a weird green/tan color, but so tasy! You can usually find it in a big Asian market, it's from Singapore where they have toast cafes, they usually lightly butter the toast then top that with a thin layer of kaya, too rich for me. I just skip the butter.

Posted by: DeenaJR | August 18, 2008 1:10 PM | Report abuse

Nutella is available in most supermarkets in the US. You don't have to go to Eurpoe for it. I have to leave the room when my kids eat it. Makes me gag.

Posted by: independent21 | August 18, 2008 1:18 PM | Report abuse

Had Nutella when studying in Italy 20+ years ago - missed it when I returned home to the US.

Yes, I admit to eating out of the jar (not often); love it on bananas, pretzels, even as a filling between 2 small choc chip cookies.

But really, it is a dessert treat, not to be confused with peanut butter, which is much higher in protein.

So, about the PB - we get the natural honey roasted from Whole Foods - you crank it yourself and it is TO DIE FOR. Anything is better than the jarred garbage. Crazy Richard's was a favorite natural jarred spread before I found my current PB.

Posted by: Love Nutella | August 18, 2008 1:28 PM | Report abuse

Adding sugar to peanut butter is crazy. Adding sugar to chocolate already made with sugar may be worse.

But, go ahead and bulk up.

Posted by: Bartolo | August 18, 2008 1:59 PM | Report abuse

The reason that oil doesn't separate out of processed peanut butter it's because it's hydrogenated, and therefore solid at room temperature. Part of the processing of PB is to separate the peanut oil (which can be sold separately at a premium) and replace it with the cheaper hydrogenated oils. So basically, your Jif or Skippy or whatever is pureed peanuts, sugar... and Crisco. Now THAT is gross.

Natural PB is just fine if you stir it up when you use it. And it actually tastes like peanuts.

Posted by: Tiffany | August 18, 2008 2:15 PM | Report abuse

*shudders* Natural peanut butter is suitable only for repairing small nicks & scratches in wood furniture. Regular peanut butter, however, is nectar of the gods...I like to cut an apple in half, remove the core, & put like a teaspoon of peanut butter in the cavity. Delicious!!

Nutella is yummy but it's basically just a candy bar you can spread with a knife, right? I'd no sooner eat it for breakfast every day than a Twix bar...

Posted by: LittleMissMuskrat | August 18, 2008 2:16 PM | Report abuse

Your family's disgust with the oil atop the natural peanut butter is highly illogical, Captain. That oil is in the fake junk they eat, too, they just can't see it. Not only that, but the oil in the fake peanut butter is some artery-clogging substance created by food scientists rather than a naturally occurring substance. So which would you rather eat? To me, the choice is pretty clear.

Posted by: Mike | August 18, 2008 2:35 PM | Report abuse

I pour some of the oil out of natural PB before mixing it up otherwise it's too oily for me.

After eating the natural stuff, the Skippy's, etc. tastes just horrible - it's also sweet. Yuck.

Posted by: charlie | August 18, 2008 2:56 PM | Report abuse

Nutella is so good it's addictive. I can't bring it into my house because I will gain 20 lbs. using it!

Posted by: gkdavis | August 18, 2008 4:03 PM | Report abuse

One evening while in Sydney, Australia when the liquor stores were closed (after 5 or 6!), my wife and I wanted a liqueur. We like Frangelica, the hazlenut liqueur.

So we cast about the kitchen. Aha -- vodka mixed with Nutella -- it works. But haven't been desparate enough to have it since then. We refer to it as "mella Nutella".

Posted by: Jim | August 18, 2008 4:21 PM | Report abuse

Nutella is AWESOME. Try topping a fresh baked pan of brownies with a layer of nutella and you will understand. As for nutrition (or lack thereof), I'll save that for another meal. Some snacks are just meant to be enjoyed. Live a little.

Posted by: eric wexler | August 18, 2008 4:31 PM | Report abuse

The key to the PB v. Nutella war is a marriage of both. I smear natural peanut butter & nutella on my toast. Sometimes, it is what nudges me out of bed in the morning.

Posted by: Nutella Nut | August 18, 2008 4:32 PM | Report abuse

I am surprised that the writer's family finds the layer of oil such a barrier to enjoying natural PB. I mean, it only takes a second to stir it back into the PB.

To me, there's not much that tops a PB and banana sandwich.

I grew up on Skippy/Jif and recently switched to natural. It took me a while to adjust to the taste (stronger peanut taste without the sugery undertone). Now I like both, but prefer the natural, due to the better nutritional value. Also since I can get sweetness via a spread or a bread.

Haven't tried Nutella in a while. I think it would be especially nice with natural PB.

Posted by: NW DC | August 18, 2008 4:34 PM | Report abuse

When traveling and the hotel has a breakfast bar, I usually spread PB on half a bagel. Perhaps not the healthiest breakfast, but the other offerings simply look too nasty.

RT - thanks for the simple natural peanut butter tip. I actually prefer the nuttiness of natural PB the rare times I eat it, but those first few times it's always a pill to mix. That tip is so easy I feel as if I need to slam my head against my desk as to why I didn't think of it before.

As for Nutella - I can't remember a time when it wasn't a favorite treat in our house, and I'm nearing 40.

For the most part, though, we would spread it on Nilla wafers or the thinnest pieces of white bread as a snack. Because, yes, it's a hazelnut spread...but it's a CHOCOLATE Hazelnut spread. As much as I love it on Nillas, warmed a little and drizzled over the top of a Bundt cake, or straight out of the jar in a spoon, I've always considered it a dessert, not a daily spread.

Posted by: Chasmosaur | August 18, 2008 5:36 PM | Report abuse

I loathe peanut butter. Even the smell makes me gag. But I grew up eating Nutella in Germany and yes, I've eaten it straight out of the jar when a teaspoonful of that chocolatey goodness was just the thing to brighten my day.

Posted by: Kristina | August 18, 2008 5:55 PM | Report abuse

Great to see so many other Nutella fans out there! In the harsh light of day, I know it's a treat, not a staple. But still....

Thanks for the tips re natural peanut butter, too. Over the weekend we took a baby step in that direction: I bought a jar of Skippy Natural Creamy peanut butter. "No Need to Stir!" -- because it's still got some palm oil (but no trans fats) to keep it smooth, I suppose. First ingredient: roasted peanuts. Second: sugar.

Maybe we'll make the move to all-natural next.

Posted by: Jennifer Huget | August 18, 2008 5:57 PM | Report abuse

Trader Joe's sells a house-brand chocolate/hazelnut spread that tastes like slightly more grown-up Nutella: less sweet, stronger chocolate flavor. Plus, it was trans-fat free long before Nutella was!

Posted by: grosver | August 18, 2008 6:12 PM | Report abuse

Last time I asked (months ago) Trader Joe's had discontinued their chocolate hazelnut spread-- however whole foods makes one, too, not as sweet as Nutella. It's a staple at our house.

Posted by: Stephanie | August 18, 2008 7:00 PM | Report abuse

The US version of Nutella lists the number one ingredient as sugar. In the European version, the number one ingredient is hazelnuts. I'd be curious to see the nutrition comparison on that version. Yum!

Posted by: publichealth | August 18, 2008 7:29 PM | Report abuse

I've made the switch to natural pb also. At first my kids hated it, then the one who eats more pb has realized that you really can't tell the difference in pb&j, which is her main pb item. I will put it in oatmeal sometimes, but I will also put in some brown sugar for sweetness.

I had Nutella while in Germany 10 years ago and loved it, but I've never bought it here. Like others, I think of it as desserty, not breakfasty.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 18, 2008 7:45 PM | Report abuse

I was exposed to Nutella when I lived in the UK and I think that it tastes awful.

Posted by: Andrew | August 18, 2008 8:26 PM | Report abuse

This is going to shock many of you, because for some reason, this is not popular knowledge except among scientists who study atherosclerosis in animal models: peanuts are extremely potent inducers of atherosclerosis, far more than any other nut or legume (peanuts are really legumes, not nuts)! In fact, the typical way in which laboratory scientists induce atherosclerosis in animal subjects is by feeding them peanut oil! And they've known about this since the 1960s.

This defies conventional wisdom because, after all, peanut oil is an unsaturated fat and so it should be healthy. However, after years of research specifically on peanut oil, the scientists have discovered that peanut oil contains high amounts of a protein called peanut lectin which binds to arterial smooth muscle cells and quickly leads to atherosclerosis.

There isn't a practical way to remove peanut lectin from peanut oil or from whole ground peanuts, so it's there to stay unless, of course, someone figures out how to genetically engineer peanuts so that they don't contain that lectin.

Just in case you don't believe me, there are more than 100 research articles and a scattering of reviews on PubMed focusing on peanut oil's atherogenicity. Check, for example: Kritchevsky D, Tepper SA, Klurfeld DM. Lectin may contribute to the atherogenicity of peanut oil. Lipids. 1998 Aug;33(8):821-3. For a review: Kritchevsky D. Cholesterol vehicle in experimental atherosclerosis. A brief review with special reference to peanut oil. Arch Pathol Lab Med. 1988 Oct;112(10):1041-4.

So why isn't this common knowledge? This truly baffles me. I have never seen a word of this information breathed in any newspaper, even though the evidence is clear and it's all over the scientific literature.

My recommendation is to just skip peanuts altogether and eat nuts (or legumes) and nut butter of any other kind - soy, almond, macademia, whatever makes you happy. In theory, walnut butter should be the healthiest due to its proportion of omega fatty acids, but walnut butter is hard to find and I don't know how good it tastes. Personally, I use almond butter. It doesn't have quite the flavor of peanut butter but it grew on me quickly.

Posted by: A scientist | August 18, 2008 9:30 PM | Report abuse

My family is Sicilian, so I know & love Nutella. I was raised in America in the 1970s, so I also know & love all varieties of peanut butter.

Note that most home-cooking recipes are formulated to work with conventional PB rather than the natural variety.

I second the almond butter suggestion - it features better nutritional value & also tastes good, though different.

No matter what spreads you prefer, the old adage is still good advice: strive for moderation in all things. A little Nutella will not kill you, and a serving of conventional peanut butter is not worse than a serving of cream-filled doughnuts.

Apples are healthier delivery devices than cookies, but we knew that. Happy eating....

Posted by: Can't beat the spread | August 18, 2008 10:04 PM | Report abuse

Sorry, Public Health, that is not correct. I'm sitting in Berlin, Germany as we speak and looking at my German jar of Nutella. The first ingredient is "Zucker" (sugar), then pflanzliches oel (plant oil), THEN haselnuesse (hazelnuts).

So it appears that sugar is first in both, although perhaps that changed in recent years or something.

Posted by: Mary | August 19, 2008 7:43 AM | Report abuse

First, what's wrong with cheerios?

second, if you've ever had cashew butter, you'll never eat any other type again. You can make your own quite easily in a food processor wiht one of those 10 dollar mega jars you see at the big stores. Given the scientist's revelations about peanut oil, it might be 10 dollars spent well.

Posted by: S L, Nashville | August 19, 2008 11:05 AM | Report abuse

I just ate a peanut butter and nutella sandwich! I have loved nutella since I was a kid in Germany. My daughter discovered it last year but only likes it on bananas.

Posted by: 21117 | August 19, 2008 12:27 PM | Report abuse

Nutella is too sweet for my taste.

Posted by: GSG | August 19, 2008 1:38 PM | Report abuse

I grew up eating natural peanut butter so I was always excited to have Jiff or Skippy or the like when I went to friends' houses. But now, ugh, can't stand the sweet stuff. I have to admit my mom was totally right about peanut butter not needing sugar. Also, she made some fabulous cookies and other desserts with it.

And Nutella is heaven.

Posted by: mimsi | August 19, 2008 1:50 PM | Report abuse

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