Nutella Truck’s National Tour Hypes a Not-So-Healthy Breakfast

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Nutella for breakfast? What kind of nutty idea is that?

A pretty good one, Nutella’s Italy-based maker, Ferrero, thinks. A Nutella truck is crisscrossing the U.S. through Dec. 15, dishing out samples of the chocolate hazelnut spread as part of the company’s 12-city “breakfast tour.” Nutella USA says its spread contains no artificial flavors or preservatives, just a “wholesome” combination of hazelnuts, sugar, skim milk and “a hint of cocoa.”

Healthland finds the road trip surprising, especially after Ferrero settled a $3 million false advertising lawsuit in April; a California mom sued the company in February 2011 for spreading the claim, through TV ads and labeling, that Nutella was a balanced, nutritious option for breakfast. In her lawsuit, she said she “was shocked to learn” that Nutella “was the next best thing to a candy bar.”

Given that one serving (2 tablespoons) of the spread contains 200 calories, 11 g of fat — 3.5 g of which is saturated fat — and 21 g of sugar, it’s hard to believe anyone would be shocked to discover that Nutella’s not a health food. Nevertheless, as a result of the lawsuit, Ferrero agreed to change Nutella’s label, amend some marketing claims and revamp its TV ads and website.

(LIST: What’s the Healthiest Breakfast? Here’s What the Experts Say)

But the company still maintains that the sweet spread, “when used in moderation with complementary foods,” can be part of a balanced breakfast and a way to encourage kids to eat heart-healthy whole grains. A photo on the company’s Facebook page shows an English muffin with a smear of Nutella and strawberries on top, for example.

Then again, there is something to the idea of eating dessert for breakfast: in March, a study by Tel Aviv University researchers found that dieters who ate dessert — cake or cookies, for example — with their breakfast actually lost more weight than those who ate a low-cal, low-carb breakfast, because they were less hungry and had fewer cravings. Still, neither Healthland nor most nutritionists would recommend that the average person — who’s not taking part in a clinical trial — eat such high-fat, high-sugar items for breakfast every day.

Ferrero’s not the only corporation putting a healthy spin on its products. As more and more consumers demand natural, organic foods for their families, food makers are rushing in to satisfy the demand. But a lack of FDA guidelines for certain labeling claims — the use of the word “natural,” for instance — means that it’s easy for companies to stretch the truth. This summer, two California mothers sued General Mills for marketing its Nature Valley granola products as “100% natural,” even though the snacks contained some decidedly unnatural, highly processed ingredients: the sweeteners high fructose corn syrup and high maltose corn syrup, and the thickener maltodextrin, according to a July article in the New York Times.

(MORE: How to Choose a Healthy Breakfast Cereal)

Nutella, too, is one of the many foods that at first glance looks like it contains just a few simple ingredients, but that doesn’t mean it’s a health food. So, if the Nutella truck shows up near you this fall, treat the free sample as a dessert. But don’t call it breakfast.