Ask Food: Is chocolate spread a healthy breakfast food?

Q: Can a chocolate spread actually be a healthy breakfast food?

A: Clever marketing has attempted to convince consumers that chocolate-hazelnut spreads, such as Nutella, make a nutritious breakfast. Can this chocolaty delight be a healthy part of any meal?

Yes?

Manufacturers tout that this creamy spread contains wholesome ingredients like hazelnuts and skim milk, and it does. There's actually not much else to it -- only a few other ingredients make up the recipe, but that's where things start to get messy.

No?

The first two ingredients listed on the label of chocolate-hazelnut spreads are sugar, followed by palm oil, which means these ingredients outweigh all others. When you break down the numbers you'll find it contains 100 calories per tablespoon, and more than 50 percent of that comes from fat. While there are some heart-healthy fats from nuts, one-third is the artery-clogging saturated kind. As for the sugar, it's not looking much better -- nearly 5 teaspoons per serving!

Most brands also include thickeners such as soy lecithin. While this food additive is considered safe, folks with soy allergies should be aware.

The Verdict

Just a smidge is all you need! While magically delicious, this choco-nutty spread isn't to be confused with straight-up health food. Use this product sparingly and preferably along with nutrient-dense foods like fresh fruit and whole grains.

Furthermore, don't believe everything you see on food advertisements. They'll always push the limits to make food look as nutritious as possible. Read ingredient labels carefully to get the real facts.

Courtesy Dana Angelo White on foodnetwork.com

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