Nutella: The good, the bad, the lawsuit

If ever a food existed for which I would compose a sonnet, it would be Nutella.

That’s right. I would write poetry to a chocolate hazelnut spread. It’s fantastic on toast, great with bananas and peanut butter and even a great topping for my frozen waffles. And when it’s used as a crepe filling? Well, it’s probably better to not attempt conversation with me. Because I won’t be listening. I’ll be lost in yummy, gooey, goodness.

It may be the flavor and the consistency that I love. It may be the fact that I first tried it while cycling in Italy and consuming the product brings back good memories. It may be that I feel part of a secret cycling and endurance athlete community populated by people who need sugar and calories in timely, and unique, fashion.

But never did I confuse my love of Nutella with health food.

In fact, Nutella is my special treat. It’s my reward food which I consume after big workouts or big races. And even then, I try to practice moderation. (Because if left to my own devices, I would eat Nutella directly from the jar while watching a Law & Order marathon. This sounds like a good idea, until about the third or fourth hour.)

Which is why I found it interesting that a mother is suing Nutella for deceptive advertising. The ad campaign featured the good qualities of Nutella, noting that it’s made with skim milk! And hazelnuts! And a hint of chocolate! It could be part of a healthy breakfast for your kids.

Armed with this advertising information, a mom was shocked to find out that she was feeding her 4-year old a spread that had 21 grams of sugar and 200 calories in two tablespoons.

Not knowing the particulars of the claim, I wonder how long she was using Nutella before she realized this was not a health food. I wonder if she looked to see what a serving size was and if the nutrition information on the label registered with her. Seriously, just because Cookie Crisp is made with whole grain doesn’t mean it’s my best choice for breakfast.

But just because that’s a “well, duh” aspect for me, doesn’t mean everyone has the same nutritional literacy. Heck, there are people with a great deal more nutritional literacy than myself. And just because I have the information doesn’t mean I avoid “junk food.” It does, however, mean I can make informed decisions.

It’s extraordinarily easy to dismiss the mother in this case as being ignorant. But I don’t think it’s that simple. Education is the key to making powerful personal choices, but how good are we as a society at educating people of all ilk on health issues?

The public policy debate often devolves into people lamenting that “the government is trying to tell us what to eat.” (see critics of Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign) but it’s difficult to make choices when you don’t understand the information presented to you, or its implications.

Oh, Nutella will still be in my shopping cart from time to time and I’ll consider penning odes to the wonderfully delicious treat. But it’s an addendum to my diet, not the building block. How do we (who love health, wellness and fitness) convey this to our friends (via public policy) without sounding preachy?

Perhaps an answer will develop during my next long cycling session.

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