Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Is Nutella the root of all evil?

Judging by the comments on this post, some people obviously think so. It was written after Nutella held a bloggers' event last summer and when they invited me to a more northerly version of the same thing at Stockley Farm Park in Cheshire, I decided to go along.

As I have previously discussed before on this blog, eating any breakfast is better for children than none at all - and that's probably true for adults. Some people think that giving your child Nutella at breakfast time automatically puts you in the "bad parent" category. I realise that some people will think that whatever information you present them. But is it necessarily the case?

A standard portion of Nutella is 15g. That's actually a generous portion. I did some experiments at home and even spreading it on thickly on a standard piece of toast came to 10g. Yes, I am that sad, before you ask. I also looked at some of the comparisons on the Nutella site and weighed my own versions out. So let's compare a few things you typically put on toast for breakfast:

Nutella (standard 15g portion)               80 calories, 8.3g sugar, 4.7g fat (1.5g saturated)
Nutella (my 10g portion)                        53 calories, 5.5g sugar, 3.1g, (1g saturated)
Jam and butter (standard 15g/10g)       114 calories, 7.2g sugar, 8.2g fat (5.2g saturated)
Jam (15g) and butter (my 15g/7g)         92 calories, 7.2g sugar, 5.5g fat (3.5g saturated)
Peanut butter (15g)                                90 calories, 1.5g sugar, 7.5g fat (1.7g saturated)

Out of those options, Nutella is not bad. It's not brilliant either but it's not the worsy and my option has the lowest calories and least fat. It does have a lot of sugar added (and vegetable oil), but it actually has a low GI of 33, lower in fact than the bread it's likely to be spread on.

A few years ago, the ASA upheld a complaint against one of Nutella's adverts which claimed it could be considered part of a balanced breakfast. Nutella are no longer able to claim that and the phraseology used now is that it could be part of a "tasty breakfast". The issue is of course with the amounts of sugar and fat in it, but anything sweet is going to have sugar in it and no sugar is particularly good for you. Just ask the parents of children whose teeth have decayed because they ate lots of fruit or raisins. The sugar is there to make eating the toast more enjoyable but that's also true of jam (and some peanut butters have lots more added sugar than listed here).

I don't ban foods from my children's diet. I don't ban them from my own so how can I? One of the speakers at the event was Professor Karen Pine who said that the mother's diet was the single biggest influencing factor over whether a child was a good eater or not. (I suspect it would be the diet of the main carer if they had a bigger role in the child's care than the mother, if for example, she worked full time or she was absent for some reason). Mothers set their children an example by what they eat and what their children see them eating. If you've ever wondered why you cook your children lovely healthy meals and all they want is the chocolate biscuit or crisps you're eating, that's why!

I don't ban things because I learnt about something called the reticular activating system a few years ago. You know how you think about red cars and there suddenly seems to be red cars everywhere? That's your reticular activating system in your brain kicking into gear. If you ban things, it doesn't understand the "no" bit, it just thinks about the thing you've banned and you crave it even more! In other words, banning things is futile, it just makes an issue out of it - whether you're a child or an adult. Banning it makes you want it more. Lots of adults who had sweets and junk food banned by their parents during childhood grow up and faced with freedom of choice, opt for the banned food - and go totally the other way, having a worse diet overall. I want Monkey and Missy Woo to learn about moderation which they don't learn if certain foods are denied them. Instead, I try to control the frequency they have less healthy foods and just make sure that their overall diet is healthy.

We're all living reality. Mornings can be fraught in any household, let alone one with children in it. There may be time to make or prepare the perfect breakfast, but that's unlikely if you have a nursery or school run to do. If your children are reticent eaters, why not give them something like Nutella on toast? And even if they're not, what's wrong with that? I don't mean every day - when we have some in, the children will have some every few days and I don't rush to replace an empty jar. I wonder if we overthink this in the UK - French children seem to have Nutella for breakfast quite a lot and no-one seems to mind, nor does it seem to do the children much harm.

If the judicious use of Nutella makes me a bad parent, then I am guilty as charged. Just as often as they eat sweets, crisps or other things like Nutella, my children choose healthier options as well. At the Nutella event, Missy Woo (who had come along for the ride) was offered some breakfast. She said no thanks because she wasn't hungry and had eaten at home. One of the options was Nutella on toast, one of her favourite breakfasts.

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Missy Woo with friend (Amy's 5yo) "helping" to make a smoothie
We had a great time at the briefing, which ended with bloggers and children doing a cookalong of some Nutella recipes with Alan Coxon, the TV chef. It was a lot of fun although Missy Woo called Nutella "chocolate spread" loudly, which caused a few eyebrows to raise. (It's actually about 7% cocoa and technically more a hazelnut spread. Oops.) After the briefing, we had a lovely trip around the farm and even had a tractor ride - hence my  Silent Sunday picture this week.

You might think this obliges me to write good things about Nutella. They haven't asked me to write anything about them. I probably wouldn't go to an event for a brand I really don't like. I went with an open mind. I still don't think that Nutella is a perfectly healthy and nutritional food - after all, it contains a lot of sugar and fat. But if the worst thing you do is allow your children to eat Nutella as part of their breakfast, I don't think you'll have much to worry about. I certainly won't be after you.

(I have not been paid to write this post. I attended this event with my daughter. Nutella gave us a goody bag to take away containing promotional items and samples, and sent some homemade bread and Nutella to my home beforehand. I have not received any further payment and the opinions stated here are my own.)

Thanks to Amy from And 1 more means four.... and 1 more for giving permission for me to publish the photograph of her daughter with Missy Woo. 
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