Are some nut spreads better than others?
If you have seen the latest Nutella infographic, you may have been shocked by its composition. Chocolate spreads have long been cushioned from health scrutiny because they contain nuts, but are they worthy of their health halo or are they working against your health? And are some brands better than others? We set out to help by comparing three leading brands for nutrition, cost and taste.
Chocolate spreads are little more than flavoured sugar and oil (usually palm) – these two ingredients alone account for 88-89 per cent of the ingredients meaning nutritionally, they get a BIG thumbs down. There is little difference between the three brands we tested, with the only healthy ingredients (nuts and cocoa) in miniscule quantities and completely overshadowed by the unhealthy slurry of sugar and palm oil that contains them. Given their use primarily on white bread (often on top of butter or margarine), frequent users are on course to become frequent fliers of diabetes and weight loss programmes.
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Homebrand Choc Hazelnut Spread
The oil in this brand is a mixture of rapeseed and palm, which due to the healthier fatty acid profile of rapeseed oil, is a slightly better combo than palm oil alone. Otherwise, it is very similar nutritionally to the other two brands, that is, harmful not helpful for health. For taste it was second, though tasters reported there was very little difference in taste across brands. It was the cheapest however at $4.00 for 400g.
Overall rating: Least bad (just) – a slight edge for using a mix of oils and cheapest.
Nutino Hazelnut Spread
This product of Italy uses "vegetable oil". This term is commonly used to disguise palm oil, as vegetable oils, as a category, are seen by many in a healthy light, whereas palm oil is not (for health and environmental reasons). If not palm oil, manufacturers generally take care to let you know. Nutritionally, like the others, it has no redeeming features and because all three are very similar nutritionally, there is little point pitting one brand higher than the others. For taste this was the winner, but since there was little taste difference across brands, it is not considered significant. The cost was $5.00 per 400g jar - in the middle for cost.
Overall rating: Second least bad – second for cost.
At least there is no pretence about the oil used in this product – unashamedly palm! Like the other 2 brands, this product has no nutritional merit. It was third for taste, but for reasons explained previously this is not considered significant. The price is however; at $6.69 per 400g it is the most expensive
Overall rating: Last – most expensive!
Nut spread lovers may scream as they read this, but no one should kid themselves that these spreads are healthy or good in lunchbox sandwiches. Any good from the tiny quantity of hazelnuts is grossly offset by the huge quantity of sugar and unhealthy oil that comes with it. Regard this as a very occasional food only and if you must buy it, be guided by price!
* Products are tested by NZ Registered nutritionist Bronwen King and a diverse, randomly selected group.
- Sunday Star Times