The world’s favorite, and perhaps only hazelnut chocolate spread that has taken the world by a storm is now being framed for being carcinogenic.
With almost every popular food item being blamed for being a contributor to cancer, how truthful is this claim in itself?
Can Nutella really cause cancer?
To find out the truth behind this claim, we have to understand what it means for something to be cancer causing, and how a food in itself can cause cancer.
What does it mean for something to cause cancer?
In its actual form, cancer is a disease of cells, and as we all know, cells are the building blocks of our body that make up every organ and organ system and allow us to function and survive.
Cancers can exist for different cells in different parts of the body- that is why when we hear of cancer, it is usually reserved to a particular part of the body where the cancer originated.
Cancers start from one abnormal cell, damaging and altering the way that the normal cells multiply and divide- a crucial process for survival.
Sometimes, cancers develop without any apparent reason. Unfortunately, there are many risk factors that can contribute to the development of cancer cells.
In a way, these risk factors don’t actually or directly cause cancer- they increase the risk for cancer, aid in cancerous growth, and make it more likely.
What actually causes cancer?
There are many risk factors of things that contribute to the growth of a cancer. Some of these risk factors include chemical carcinogens, age, lifestyle factors, radiation, infection, the immune system, and a person’s unique genetic makeup. Most cancers originate from a combination of these factors rather than just one.
Age and Immune system
Of course, the majority of these risk factors are quite obvious. The older you become, the more at risk a person becomes for any sort of disease due to the slowing down of the immune system.
The immune system defends our body from anything abnormal- and a weakened immune system makes it easier for someone to develop certain kinds of cancer.
Someone’s genetic makeup might be more leaning towards a cancerous future, if they are born with abnormal genes that can become cancerous, or that they are less resistant to carcinogens
Lifestyle factors play a big role, as earing fatty foods can increase the risk of certain kids of cancers- as obesity, lack of exercise, and alcohol abuse. Most cancers originate from these unavoidable lifestyle factors.
Radiation, infection, and chemical carcinogens are what push all the other factors over the edge, if one is less resistant to cancer-causing factors. Exposure to sunburns, UV rays, radioactive materials, and nuclear fallout increase the risk of cancer. The larger the dose, the larger the risk.
Some germs and viruses are also linked to causing cancer in different parts of the body- and most of the time; these diseases and infections are completely preventable and curable before they reach the cancerous stage.
The most dangerous and powerful causer of cancer is the exposure to carcinogens. These are usually certain chemicals, even certain ingredients that are put in foods we eat, where the larger the exposure the higher the risk. These include tobacco and exposure to other workplace chemicals.
Is Nutella really cancerous?
From all the cancer-causing agents, which one is in Nutella that apparently causes cancer? Of course, Nutella has to contain something that is linked to cancers and can support the growth of cancers.
But in all reality, there is no actual cancerous cells placed in Nutella. Ferraro is not an evil mastermind company trying to poison its massive consumer following.
Rather, the simple fact is that Nutella is made using palm oil and the contaminants within them, which across the board raises health concerns. When palm oil is heated and refined to 393 degrees Fahrenheit as it is in the production of Nutella, the major concern is that palm oil is heated with glycidyl fatty acid esters- also known as GE.
Helle Knusten, the Chair of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) warned that there is enough evidence to suggest that glycidol is carcinogenic.This means that with GE in processed in Nutella with palm oil at such high temperatures, it proves a factor contributing towards cancer development.
In its own way, the ingredients and processing of Nutella has been scientifically found to be carcinogenic. Consumption of Nutella is not directly a cause or link to cancer, but it contains ingredients that are indeed something to watch out for.
Is there any way around it?
There is really no way around the fact that there are hundreds of things we are exposed to on a daily basis that are said to be cancer causing, including GE and palm oil. Almost everything we eat that is processed or containing vegetable oils has links to such risks,
However, we cannot simply stop living our lives to prevent cancer- because the smallest exposures do not directly cause any cancer.
Rather, the higher the exposure, the higher the chance for something to be cancer causing. And it is always a combination of the mentioned factors. If you feel that you are facing many other carcinogenic factors, then staying away from large quantities of anything that is or contains a carcinogen, including Nutella, is probably your safest bet.
We cannot just throw out every food option out altogether. We can be careful, we can be aware, and we can understand what things contribute to cancer and how it can be avoided. And we can learn to discriminate from actual risk factors and their amount of riskiness, rather than blindly following behind news headlines.
What does Ferraro have to say?
The truth is, Nutella is not the only product out there to contain the carcinogen palm oil, so it is interesting to see Nutella being singled out so blatantly.
Although many retailers have removed Nutella from their stocks, it is interesting to note that Ferraro as a company has not taken any decision to either change their ingredients or defend their stance other than to fight the claim that it Nutella is directly linked to cancer.
Sure, a key ingredient is linked to the development of cancer, but they state that it is still safe to eat. The company itself would obviously say such a thing to keep buyers, but they have more than lack of willingness to comply to demands.
With palm oil being a key ingredient, it would make Nutella as a product inferior and would be a step backward if created without it, according to Ferraro’s purchasing manager Vincenzo Tapella. It would be a completely different product, and would lose its popularity immediately, even more so than these cancer-linked claims.
In addition to its key role in Nutella’s taste, it is key in its price as well. Nutella is affordable and accessible in large part to its usage of the cheapest vegetable oil on the market. According to Reuters, this makes them hesitant to pull it off their ingredient list as well.
In the end, it is everyone’s individual choice whether they choose to stick with Nutella or to boycott it. Before taking that step however, it is important to understand the commonality of the use of palm oil and other carcinogenic ingredients that are taking over the food industry today.