Last week in my “Natural with Nutella” post, I was so giddy. I made three different homemade dairy-free versions of Nutella! I was convinced, even before embarking on the project, that no matter what, my version would be healthier than the purchased jar. Why? Well, because I was making it in my home. Isn’t that automatically healthier?
Don’t laugh. For someone like me, who’s still very much fumbling around the kitchen like Frankenstein, knowing some of the ingredients in a recipe has been enough to claim something “nutritious.”
Later that morning, I was sitting in the Blogher Writer’s Conference, zoned out and still basking in my Nutella mania – bananas with Nutella,..challah and Nutella…crepes with Nutella…waffles with Nutella. It soon came to a screeching halt when Eve, a loyal MyJudytheFoodie reader, and an even more brilliant author whom I admire very much, politely suggested (with quantitative evidence supporting her opinion) that perhaps my version wasn’t any better than the store bought after all.
I broke out in a sweat and felt like I was gut punched.
Sure, the recipe I used at home only contains three ingredients.
Sure, I measured, stirred, baked, and scooped all of the ingredients with my own hands.
But, is that reason enough to believe that my Nutella is healthier?
I never bothered to check the sugar content for the syrup and for the raw honey.
I felt foolish for being so naive and immediately had a slew of bottle-necked questions that needed answers from an expert.
I was desperate.
I reached out to my lifeline, Lauren Slayton, MS RD. Lauren is a nationally-renowned nutritionist and owner of Foodtrainers Inc. here in New York City. In addition to juggling her private practice, Lauren lectures around the country, has had myriad television appearances and magazine articles written (too many to list) AND, she’s also a mother-of-two. Lauren was more than willing to shed some light.
Here are some of Lauren’s answers to my frenzied questions on the topic of homemade versus store bought:
From experience, have you found that people fall into the trap of automatically thinking food that’s cooked at home is healthier than food purchased in the store?
In some ways homemade is better in that preservatives and food dyes used in packaged foods are generally absent in home cooked food. However, just because something is made in a home kitchen doesn’t make it healthy. Paula Dean and Ina Garten I’m talking to you .
Any quick tips for people to use when they’re cooking at home? Any constant ingredient traps (olive oil, white sugar, etc) that can significantly alter the nutritional value of your meals when you’re not paying attention?
I think in cooking and in life we tend to think if something is healthy it’s unlimited. We’ve seen this with olive oil and agave nectar. A fat is a fat and has double the calories of carbs or protein and sweet is sweet. It can be lower glycemic or organic and it’ll still rot your teeth and make you gain weight if it’s not monitored. Having said this, I would take extra olive oil or agave nectar over trans fats and HFCS (that’s high fructose corn syrup) any day.
With my Nutella experiment, is my homemade dairy-free version actually worse off for me than the processed version from the stores because of the sugar content? (Doesn’t the raw honey have a higher glycemic impact per tablespoon than the sugar that Nutella uses or corn syrup).
I loved your Nutella post (she said that I swear). We did a lot of research recently on personal care products and just because something is from Europe or pricey doesn’t mean it’s good for us. This is certainly true of the original Nutella. My first step was to go to the Nutella website where I read the spread was made from “hazelnuts, skim milk and cocoa”. That sounds good but a big red flag was that a true list of ingredients was impossible to find. I found out sugar is the first ingredient and palm oil second, so much for hazelnuts. Two tablespoons of this has 21 grams of sugar and not much else in the nutrition department.
In contrast I calculated the nutritionals for your new Nutella (almond butter, cocoa and maple syrup) and the sugar content was reduced to 4.0 grams of sugar per serving. The calories went from 200 to 151 per 2 Tbs. In terms of GI or glycemic index- both versions sport a low GI thanks to the fat content of the nuts or oil (as do potato chips so this isn’t a good litmus test on its own). The reason I would choose the homemade version is that you can choose better ingredients and you can control proportion. Your nutrition label would have almond butter as the most prominent ingredient and only 3 ingredients.
Do you make your own sauces and spreads for your food? If so, what do you usually make?
I’m more salty than sweet and love making a big pot of tomato sauce. I love dips made with tahini (sesame paste) and nut butters (artisana is my brand of choice). I look forward to experimenting with pumpkin and butternut squash spreads this season.
Any favorite brands of sweeteners you use when home cooking?
Well, I am very relieved that Lauren endorsed my homemade Nutella. Now I can save face with my last post.
But, I never bothered to tell Lauren that I sampled each and every Nutella mixture at least a couple of times with a causal, cat-that-ate-the-canary swipe of my index finger. A serious pitfall to cooking at home- sampling along the way.
So, while my version was deemed healthier, I’m sure that was nine finger swipes earlier.
Readers: When you cook at home, do you pay attention to labels and sugar content, etc? Or, are you just so happy you’re actually cooking, you think your dish has got to be healthier than store bought?