It’s no secret that Nutella, the popular hazelnut and chocolate spread, has a massive cult following. Instagram is flooded with people posting Nutella recipes, photos of themselves with the signature jars, and even artwork dedicated to the spread. Now, the brand is fighting back against claims that a major ingredient in its product causes cancer.Ferrero, the company that makes Nutella, has launched an advertising campaign to reassure customers that the spread is safe, despite claims that palm oil, an ingredient in Nutella, may cause cancer. And, the company says, they plan to keep using palm oil, which gives their product a smooth texture that they can’t get with other oils. “Making Nutella without palm oil would produce an inferior substitute for the real product, it would be a step backward,” Ferrero’s purchasing manager Vincenzo Tapella told Reuters.The advertising is in response to a warning issued by the European Food Standards Authority in May that said that contaminants found in palm oil’s edible form may cause cancer. The organization also warned that even eating a “moderate” amount of palm oil was risky for children and, in the absence of definitive data, no amount of palm oil should be considered safe. However, according to Reuters, the European Food Standards Authority didn’t go as far as actually recommending people stop eating Nutella or other palm oil-containing products.The report particularly focused on compounds known as glycidyl fatty acid esters, which are formed when palm oil is heated above 200 degrees Celsius (392 degrees Fahrenheit), which can happen during the food-making process. According to the European Food Safety Authority, there is “sufficient evidence” that these fatty acid esters are carcinogenic, meaning they may cause cancer. These compounds can occur in other vegetable oils and margarines, but the organization says they’re produced in higher amount in palm oil.
However, Ferrero claims that they do not heat the palm oil found in Nutella above 200 degrees Celsius, the number required to create glycidyl fatty acid esters, in processing.Palm oil is typically used in foods to create a smooth, creamy, shiny texture, Beth Warren, R.D.N., founder of Beth Warren Nutrition and author of Living a Real Life with Real Food, tells SELF. It also helps with shelf stability and prevents products from melting, she says. A lot of packaged foods contain palm oil, such as chocolate (like Hershey’s and Cadbury), ice cream (like Ben & Jerry’s), cookies, margarine, pizza doughs, breads, and instant noodles, Warren says.As for health concerns, palm oil is very high in saturated fat and has been linked to an increase in bad cholesterol levels, Jessica Cording, a New York-based R.D., tells SELF. “That’s something that you want to be cautious of,” she says. “You want to use it sparingly in your diet.”But the Nutella and cancer claims are overblown, experts say. Steve Vasilev, M.D., a gynecologic oncologist and medical director of Integrative Gynecologic Oncology at Providence Saint John’s Health Center and professor at John Wayne Cancer Institute in Santa Monica, California, tells SELF that 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,” he says. “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.”Vasilev says that the concern is in the high temperatures that can be reached during processing, and if Ferrero is correct in that the palm oil in Nutella isn’t heated about 200 degrees Celsius during processing, it’s a non-issue. “I don’t eat Nutella, don’t own stock in them, or support them in any way, but this seems like a cheap shot,” he says.Overall healthy eating habits matter when it comes to your cancer risk, Vasilev says, and that includes trying to avoid eating a lot of packaged foods in general. Warren 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,” she says. However, she adds, if you eat small amounts of Nutella and other palm oil-containing products here and there, you’re probably fine.Related:Apparently You Can Color Your Hair With Nutella—Or You Could Just Eat It