I’m not some crazy gangbusters fastidious dieter, but I’m a pretty healthy person. I like to cook my meals from scratch as much as possible. But like everyone I love a bit of junk and some convenience foods. They’re just so damn convenient!
Chocolate, ice cream, croissants, donuts, variations on those (cronuts, anyone?), milkshakes, pineapple juice (don’t mix those two), pot noodles, fries, pain au chocolate, Happy Hippos…
So it was Happy Hippos that gave me a well-deserved slap in the face. Let’s make this crystal clear: I love Happy Hippos. When I went hiking in Germany in March this year I discovered that they still sell my beloved snack. I hadn’t been so excited since the time I found Mars ice cream in London. Every day of that 18 day hike I looked out for Hippos and every time I found ’em in stock I stocked up. By the time we’d knocked out 300km of walking, my backpack had not only 12 kilos of camping gear but also 3×5 packs of Happy Hippos. I can’t imagine why I didn’t lose weight.
One day I was happily shovelling Hippos into my face at a rate of knots when I happened to glance at the list of ingredients. Don’t do this. Don’t ever do this. With any food that you like.
The first 3 listed ingredients are sugar, vegetable oil and fat.
Well, that’s a good start.
What followed was the usual array of milk powders, lecithin, proteins and raising agents. I know this isn’t a surprise to anyone, but I was suddenly faced by the fact: Happy Hippos aren’t food. They’re happy, and they’re hippos, but they are a tablespoon of lard, wrapped in sugar and liberally dosed in chemicals.
Last year I decided to go a whole month without eating sugar (beer was excluded from this experiment – I’m not a complete psycho). I was appalled at the things I had to cut out. Not just things you might expect like biscuits and cakes – but ALL breakfast cereals, pasta sauce, store-bought salads – in fact, just about everything in the supermarket. I recommend everyone give the no-sugar month a go just once, just so you can really understand what is in the food we buy. One afternoon, craving McDonald’s, I Googled their ingredients list. Every single thing on the menu contains sugar – burgers, salads, muffins, bacon – and I guess that’s not so surprising. The exceptions were chicken nuggets (pink slime, anyone?) and fries – which contain an appetising ingredient called anti-foam. I didn’t end up eating any Maccas that month.
One really simple approach to food that I like to follow is this: if you don’t think you could make it in your kitchen from basic ingredients, it’s not food and you shouldn’t eat it. No margarine, no marshmallows, no Froot Loops or pink slime, no hydrogenated anything… Until a time comes when they make highly nutritious, wholesome, super tablets, anything made in a lab is not food and is not going to be good for you or your body.
Evidently this is a lesson I need to learn again and again, because those hippos are calling out to me.
If you love something, if you really really love something, don’t read the list of ingredients.