If you have been on the social media since yesterday, the odds are you have already seen videos, articles and news pieces pushing our favorite breakfast spread, Nutella into the ever growing list of things that supposedly cause cancer, like alcohol, red meat, and even coffee. But before you jump on the bandwagon, there’s just one thing; the report that everyone is referring to NEVER really said that Nutella causes cancer!
This is not to say that there aren’t any food safety problems related to these foods and Nutella in particular, but the matter is a lot more complex than just putting a “This may cause cancer” label on the jar and be done with it. This past May, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) did announce that there were carcinogenic contaminants in palm oil, which is an important Nutella ingredient. Palm oil is also very high in saturated fat and is linked to increasing bad cholesterol levels. Jessica Cording, who is a New York-based R.D., spoke on this,
“That’s something that you want to be cautious of. You want to use it sparingly in your diet.”
Why only Nutella?
Here’s the thing with carcinogens, they are literally found in hundreds of things you enjoy daily, and the only thing that is of importance is the amount of these elements consumed.
The fact is, palm oil in Nutella is just not enough to cause any harm. And we’ll tell you why while you can enjoy the chocolate-hazelnut frosting from heaven without any fears!
The furor began when Reuters released their report stating that Nutella’s Italian producer Ferrero, has refused to substitute palm oil for any other kind, as it would lead to an inferior product. This could also be for the fact that palm oil costs $800 a ton, while its possible substitutes sunflower oil cost $845 and rapeseed oil $920. The EFSA has been contemplating a ban on palm oil, while a popular Italian supermarket also stopped stocking palm oil-containing products. Yey many things still contain palm oil, as it is essentially tree-grown margarine, such as our beloved Oreos
Palm oil has earned its notoriety as it contains high levels of “free and esterified 3-monochloropropane-1,2-diols” (MCPD) chemicals, along with “glycidyl esters (GE).” On average, Europeans consume around 0.2 and 1.5 micrograms pf 3-MCPD per kilogram of their weight each day while 0.1 to 0.9 of GE, according to an EFSA report issued last May. The 3-MCPD has been seen to cause kidney problems in rats, and GE has been related to result in tumors in rats and mice.
The EFSA report established consumption of 0.8 micrograms per kilogram per day as safe 3-MCPD level. Here’s the point that most of the media is missing: this 0.8 value way lower than the 77 micrograms per kilogram per day consumption which the scientists say would lead to a 10 % increase in the probability of getting cancer.
As for glycidol, the scientists say that 10.2 milligrams per kilogram per day of it can lead to a 25 percent tumor risk increase in rats. Infants on formula drink around 1/5,500th of the amount, while adults generally consume 1/25,000th of this harmful amount, which means it too doesn’t pose any health risks!
Palm oil is the real culprit!
So the claims of Nutella causing cancer are completely overblown, and the experts concur. Steve Vasilev, Providence Saint John’s Health Center’s M.D., professor at John Wayne Cancer Institute in Santa Monica, California and a gynecologic oncologist and medical director of Integrative Gynecologic Oncology talked on the issue,
“Yes, different oils—including palm oil—can produce carcinogens when they’re cooked at high temperatures. But as far as attacking palm oil itself, it’s false hysteria. We’re exposed to thousands of chemicals a year, many of which are carcinogenic. To try to point the finger at one thing is just crazy.”
Palm oil is used in foods like Hershey’s and Cadbury chocolates, ice creams like Ben & Jerry’s, cookies, bread, margarine, pizza doughs and instant noodles, as it creates shiny and smooth texture. It also helps in increasing the shelf life and prevents melting of the products, meaning a lot packaged foods contains palm oil.
So can you really avoid palm oil consumption? Not really, and at the end, only overall healthy eating habits matter when it comes to managing your cancer risk. This includes avoiding all kinds of packaged foods while making educated and modest eating choices. Beth Warren, R.D.N., who is the founder of Beth Warren Nutrition and the author of Living a Real Life with Real Food agrees,
“Since it’s increasingly becoming a sign that the consumption of palm oil means you are eating a highly processed food in today’s market, it’s best to consume them moderately. However if you eat small amounts of Nutella and other palm oil-containing products here and there, you’re probably fine.”
There are many other reasons to limit the palm oil intake. The first one being the industry acting as a major greenhouse gas emitter, and cutting down biodiversity-rich rainforests in Southeast Asia, as reported by Scientific American. But twisted headlines like “Does Nutella Cause Cancer?” and “Study Claims Nutella Causes Cancer” should NOT be the reason you stop enjoying the gooey goodness of the snack, where the fact is that the study in question doesn’t even contain the word “Nutella.”
How much Nutella is safe?
If you weigh around 152 pounds or 69 kilograms, you can have 55 micrograms of 3-MCPD per day (69 times the scientist-recommended dose of 0.8). For GE, you should not consume more than 28 micrograms of it. The paper doesn’t recommend its maximum amount as it does for 3-MCPD, so let’s assume it is 10.2 milligrams (the dangerous amount) and multiply it by the 69 kilograms weight. Divide it by 25,000, which is concerned boundary mentioned above.
The report states that palm oil contains 2,912 micrograms of 3-MCPD per kilogram and 3,955 micrograms of glycidol per kilogram. 20% of Nutella is palm oil, which means 35 grams of Nutella would consist of 7 grams of palm oil and 28 micrograms of glycidol, which appears to lie within the safe limit. So, 35 grams, a little more than an ounce, is the magic number! (A calculation by Gizmodo’s Ryan F. Mandelbaum)
Below is the response of Ferrero USA as reported by Gizmodo:
“Ferrero wants to assure its consumers that Nutella and other Ferrero products that contain palm oil are safe. When palm oil, produced and processed to minimalize the presence of these contaminants, is refined correctly, it contains a lower level of contaminants than other vegetable oils that have been treated at excessive temperatures.
This case applies to the palm oil used by Ferrero, who for years has been able to significantly reduce the levels of contaminants in its palm oil compared to conventional palm oils available on the market, similar to the levels found in other vegetable oils that have been processed properly, in line with EFSA’s parameters. This is due to careful harvesting, from the squeezing in the quickest possible time to the processes and manufacturing at the lowest possible temperatures.
We manage all technological-productive factors with the aim to reduce the duration and the temperatures of the processes, thus minimizing the risks of possibly developing or increasing 2MCPD, 3MCPD or GE. Furthermore, our Quality Assurance and Process Control Systems allow us to constantly monitor such factors and guarantee the food safety of our products to the consumer.
So no need to throw that jar away folks! Just keep your chocolate intake in check, avoid adding it to every freaking thing you eat (a bummer, I know), and you are good to go!