Hands up if you’ve ever heard of the student delicacy Nutella Fingers? All is required are a couple of fingers (index and middle are generally a winning combination) and one tub of Nutella. For me, evenings spent with this suppertime treat were reserved for severe emotional turmoil during my teenage years, and even more so when heartbreak struck at University. The creamy, oozy, chocolatey paste would coat my tongue and decorate my gums. A quarter of a tub later I’d feel pretty sick but I always felt content, satisfied and – dare I say it – happy.
According to certain news outlets this week however, one must now approach a jar of Nutella with serious caution. When a poorly photoshopped image depicting the ingredients in a Nutella jar popped up in a Reddit forum, it was as if someone had spotted traces of heroin. Half the jar is made up of… sugar, you say?! Not to mention the other perfectly harmless (and, let’s be honest – totally delicious) components. Palm oil! Skim milk…powder!? Well, I never. All I can say is thank GOD for the ground-breaking investigative journalists who were able to uncover such information by READING THE LABEL. Tweeters were up in arms – how could they possibly think about eating even a teaspoon of their favourite childhood spread now that they knew what was in it? Oh, and palm oil gives you cancer, apparently.
Well, I hate to do a Trump and cry, “fake news”, but, palm oil is actually just a saturated fat and similar to butter, ghee and that other famous “health” food, coconut oil. The British Dietetic Association advise we eat no more than 20g of it per day (women), 30g per day (men) – and as part of a healthy, balanced diet of course. As for skimmed milk powder, NHS literature advocates using the stuff as an easy way of getting extra nutrients for athletes and the elderly. And sugar – well, given that the recommended sugar allowance for adults is 30g per day, and since most people don’t scoop Nutella, à la Ice cream, (I’m the exception), a slick of the sugary spread is not worth worrying about.
This latest debacle is just another example of fearmongering headlines targeted at our beloved ingredients. First it was bread, then milk and now it’s Nutella’s turn for a media beating. As an experienced fact-checking journalist – and daughter of a health writer – it’s something I find particularly irritating. Hence, a colleague and I set up Not Plant Based, a website dedicated to commissioning dietetic experts (rather than self-professed wellness “gurus”) and dispelling the latest dietary fads.
There’s also another reason for my anger. Two years ago I suffered from an eating disorder and was hypersensitive to food-related information that emerged in my periphery
There’s also another reason for my anger. Two years ago I suffered from an eating disorder. As a functioning anorexic, I was hypersensitive to food-related information that emerged in my periphery and even before some dude on Reddit enlightened me as to its “ingredients” there was no way I would have gone within an inch of Nutella. In just over a year, I went from carefree food lover and Nutella finger connoisseur to anxious, starving invalid who was confined to the four walls of a psychiatric hospital and the menu of flavourless hospital food. All, might I add, in a bid to heed the advice of online health “experts” and – in my own words – “make healthier choices”. Not only did my body take a ferocious beating, my mind didn’t fair so well either.
Anorexia provided a fear so encompassing that the thought of having to eat a Twix bar gave me a panic attack. Until, that is, I ate one and was reminded of the unadulterated pleasure of experiencing a mouthful of food, a sensation I had neglected in favour of perceived control. In this moment I realised that the ability to experience pleasure from food is just as crucial to my livelihood as physical “health”. Of course, it took a hell of a lot more than just one bar of chocolate to aid my recovery from anorexia, but the principle is poignant – especially in this current climate where, almost daily, there are reports of new foods to be frightened of.
Food and fear should never exist in the same continuum. Not only are our daily diets fundamental to every single one of our bodily functions, they are key to our happiness, too. So, I for one will continue to partake in Nutella Fingers and I encourage you to follow my lead. After all, “a little bit of what you fancy does you good” – you can ask my doctor if you don’t believe me.