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Nutella pays out to consumers fooled into believing it was healthy

Don't be fooled: Nutella isn't as healthy as the company wants you to think. (Francis Vachon/Canadian Press)

If you were swayed by advertising suggesting that slathering Nutella on toast and feeding it to your children for breakfast was a healthy option — you might soon be a little richer. But only if you live in the U.S.

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Nutella is paying out $3 million in two class-action suit settlements to people who bought jars of Nutella over the last few years — consumers can claim up to $20 each.

One of the lawsuits was launched by an angry parent who claimed Nutella ads (like this one) tricked her into thinking the chocolate-hazelnut spread was good for her child.

Toronto-based dietitian, Anar Allidina thinks food companies need to be a lot more responsible in how they market their products. But as advertising is often misleading, she feels the public also needs to learn what to look out for.

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"Consumers need to be aware that the food industry is a business," she says. "They need to take responsibility for the products they purchase and not believe everything they read and see on the ads."

When it comes to Nutella, a quick glance at the ingredients would have sufficed.

"If you look at the ingredient list, the first thing is sugar, and then it's modified palm oil, and then it's hazelnut," Allidina says. "There really isn't anything healthy about it."

She argues we need to be wary of anything that comes in a box, and she points out the worst fare is often breakfast food. Things like cereal, bread, granola bars and fruit juices are often packed with sugar or sodium.

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It's important to look beyond all of the fanciful claims on the packaging. There is little regulation over health claims like "healthy" or "reduced in calories" on labels. And even the Heart and Stroke Foundation's Health Check Program has been criticized for being overly lenient.

Then, there are claims that may look good, but just aren't relevant. Allidina has seen fruit juices marketed as having no cholesterol.

"Anything that comes from a plant is not going to have any cholesterol," she says. "So they're just confusing people."

While it's important to read the ingredient lists, it's easy to get lost in those rambling inventories. The best strategy is to focus on the first three ingredients. If things like sugar or sodium is listed at the top, and no natural ingredients are up there, you aren't looking at a healthy option.

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Take granola bars. You might think of them as healthy, and the box might try to convince you of that. But if you look closely, Allidina says, "it's just like having a candy bar."

Or a Nutella sandwich.

And if you're now stuck on what to eat for breakfast, Allidina suggests yogurt -- high-protein Greek yogurt being her preference. But again, be sure to check where the sugar falls in that ingredient list.

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