Does Nutella Actually Cause Cancer?

Josh Kim
January 14, 2017

The company that makes Nutella is responding to claims that the hazelnut spread can cause cancer.

"Ferrero wants to assure its consumers that Nutella and other Ferrero products that contain palm oil are safe", Ferrero, the Italian company behind Nutella, told ABC News in a statement Thursday.

Ferrero launched a major ad campaign on Italian TV and in newspapers previous year to defend Nutella, after sales in Italy dipped through the first part of 2016. Why, you ask? Because Nutella contains palm oil, a controversial refined vegetable oil that has been getting a lot of attention lately-and not in a good way.

Should you worry? "The risk of potential health complications due to contaminants found in palm oil is extremely low", says Taylor Wallace, Ph.D., professor in the department of nutrition and food studies at George Mason University.

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The current research on a possible connection between palm oil and cancer has been conducted only on animals, according to Besser. While no consumers typically eat the spread heated at that temperature, some companies do cook palm oil at high temperatures to burn off its natural red coloring and to neutralize its odor.

Ferrero, the Italian maker of Nutella, has denied reports that the confectionery spread has been pulled from some supermarket shelves, following the European Food Safety Authority's (EFSA) suggestions that palm oil could be carcinogenic, Just-Food has reported. The spokesman for Health and Food Safety, Enrico Brivio, said guidance would be issued by the end of this year. "Overconsumption, not exercising, and resulting obesity have a much stronger and proven link to adverse health outcomes than palm oil", says Wallace. When refined at around 200 degrees Celsius, the study says, palm oil releases a contaminant known as glycidyl fatty esters (GE) in higher levels than other vegetable oils. The manufacturer attributes some of that dip to the fact that competitors have begun labeling their products as palm oil-free, Reuters reports. GE, along with other substances that the report deems as potentially harmful, are produced during the oil refining process because of exposure to extreme heat. But the spokesperson said that the presence of contaminants would presumably increase at higher temperatures, and that it could therefore decrease at lower temperatures.

Ferrero has worked to burnish Nutella's reputation in the U.S., as well.

EFSA's 284-page study comes on top of environmental concerns that have dogged the palm oil industry for several years. Palm oil plantations have been linked to deforestation, air pollution, and illegal labor practices.

Other reports by MyHealthBowl

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