Knowing What’s In Your Food

Presenter: Neal
Guest: Mira Dessy
Guest Bio: She’s a certified nutrition educator and whole foods advocate, and the author of her book, which is entitled, “The Pantry Principle: How to Read The Label and Understand What’s Really in Your Food.”


Health Professional Radio – The Pantry Principle

Neal Howard: You’re listening to Health Professional Radio. I’m your host, Neal Howard. Glad that you’re with us. Our guest is Mira Dessy. She’s a certified nutrition educator and whole foods advocate, and the author of her book, which is entitled, “The Pantry Principle: How to Read The Label and Understand What’s Really in Your Food.”

Welcome, Mira. How are you?

Mira Dessy: Hi, Neal.  Thank you for having me.

Neal: Good.  Glad to have you.  Your book, “The Pantry Principle”, what was your inspiration for writing this particular book?

Mira: The inspiration for writing it really was two-fold.  One was that I was able to correct my own health through implementing The Pantry Principle.  The other was that as I worked with people to help them make similar changes, I was giving the same talk and the same hand-outs and going through the same routines over and over again with every family that I worked with, but it was one family at a time.  I realised that if I put it all together, I could help a whole lot more people.

Neal: Great, great.  Now, “The Pantry Principle” – that’s very catchy and it sticks in the mind.  What exactly is The Pantry Principle?

Mira: The Pantry Principle is the concept of paying attention not only to what you eat, but to what’s in what you eat, and to be aware of the chemicals, the additives, and also some of the sources for our foods.  Many of our foods have lots of pesticides or are modified in some way that can be detrimental to our health.

Neal: Knowing how to read the labels, and knowing what’s really in our food … of course, your title indicates there are hidden substances, and you just claimed that there are hidden substances.  What are some of those substances, and how important is it that we know about them?

Mira: Some of them are very important because we are not taught to be aware of all the different things that manufacturers do to our food.  The one that always gets the most squeamish reaction is when I tell people that there is a substance called castoreum.  It’s found in foods that are flavoured vanilla, raspberry, and strawberry.  You will never, ever see the word castoreum on the label.

Neal: Because? I was just–

Mira: Because it hides under the term ‘natural flavour’.

Neal: So is it in just those three flavourings or is it in a number of flavourings?

Mira: Well, this particular ingredient is primarily used for those three flavours.

Neal: It again is called?

Mira: Castoreum, C-A-S-T-O-R-E-U-M, but what it really is – and as I said, it hides under the term ‘natural flavour’ – it’s the anal gland secretion of beavers.

Neal: Oh, really? [laughs]  Is that what it is?

Mira: [laughs] Yes.   I refer to it as ‘beaver butt’.

Neal: Beaver.  Oh, my goodness.  So castoreum … and I was looking at the word castor, I’m thinking, “Hmm, castor oil … regularity.”  It actually is the anal gland secretions of beavers?

Mira: Yes, it is.

Neal: I can see why they would not want to put that on a label, in any shape, form or fashion, because that would change everyone’s view of vanilla, strawberry, and what was the other one?

Mira: Raspberry.

Neal: Raspberry.

Mira: So for example, if you’re eating what you think is a vanilla yoghurt, and you read the label … you flip it around and you read the ingredients, and you see ‘natural flavouring’, that’s something you may want to reconsider.  I’m not saying that those words are a guarantee that that substance is in there, but there is definitely a probability, and it’s something you may want to think about.

Neal: Natural flavourings … not necessarily the red flag but a red flag, yeah?

Mira: Exactly.

Neal: You mentioned organic foods quite a bit in your book.  Why is it so important to choose organic foods, and are we supposed to eat them 100% of the time?  Can we eat them some of the time and still maintain a healthy status in our lives?

Mira: Sure.  Well, organic is a challenge, because to eat a hundred percent organic is very difficult and exceedingly costly.  Quite frankly, I don’t even do it.  I don’t have the budget for it.  What I believe is important is to learn where it makes the most sense to buy organic.

For example, when it comes to dairy products, if you buy organic, you then are able to avoid a number of substances that are really bad for your health.  For example, cows that are raised conventionally are given something called rBGH, Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone.  It makes the cows give more milk.  It doesn’t go away when they milk the cow.  So, if you drink conventional milk, you are drinking this product.

rBGH is believed to potentially be responsible for the decreasing age of menarche among young girls – why they get their periods so much earlier – and there is some research looking into that.  But what is proven is that it increases something called ‘insulin growth factor-1’, IGF-1, in the body, which is a warning flag for metabolic syndrome, diabetes and obesity.

Neal: What you’re saying is the cows that are raised with this growth hormone, rBGH, are contributing … that milk is contributing to a number of health factors, especially in young girls and, I assume boys as well, since boys will drink the milk, too.  There must be some health ramifications there as well.

Mira: Absolutely, absolutely.  By drinking organic milk, you avoid that, because organic – by its very nature – the label does not allow that dairy to contain that ingredient.  That’s all dairy.  It’s not just milk – cheese, ice cream, yoghurt, sour cream, cottage cheese – all of it.

Neal: A lot of people do associate dairy with just milk.  They don’t think of the other products that are derived from the cow.

Mira: Exactly, exactly.  Then the other thing that we look at as well is that cows that are raised organically are not given food that is contaminated with pesticides, and is not genetically modified.

Again, that’s another benefit, because what most people don’t realise is you are whatever you ate ate.  That’s a hard concept to understand.  But if your cow ate something and you then eat that cow, whatever that cow ingested, that’s part of that animal and part of that animal’s end-products.

Neal: When we hear, “You are what you eat,” we should take it a step further and say, “You are what you eat ate.” [laughs]  “You are what you eat ate.”

Mira: Yes, yes.  Exactly.

Neal: Is that regulated, what you just spoke on? Is that regulated by the government, as far as not being able to be given food with these certain pesticides along with not being able to use that growth hormone?  Are those two hand-in-hand, as far as regulation is concerned?

Mira: Yes, they are.  Organic is a label that is monitored and does have specific rules.

Now, that label is under assault by some of the larger agribusiness manufacturers, because they want to be able to use certain chemicals in production, and currently they can’t, in order to keep that organic certification.  But it is.  One of the challenges – and it’s a sideways lead – is a lot of people think that there is similar oversight for the term, ‘natural’ on a food label, and there actually isn’t.

Neal: ‘Natural’ could be basically anything that happens to come from nature – animal or plant.

Mira: Yes.  And believe it or not, some chemicals are considered “natural”.

Neal: Some man-made chemicals are considered natural as well?

Mira: Yes, because if they’re originally sourced from plants, and then have been manipulated or modified in some way, it’s still the base product, so it’s considered a natural product.

Neal: That’s fascinating.

Mira: ‘Natural’ is a label that really doesn’t mean much.  Unfortunately, a lot of times – with the exception of meat products – there are some regulations about what natural means for meat.  But for other products, they could be selling you conventional products with the ‘natural’ label.  Therefore, they bump up the price a little bit for the same product.

Neal: Some of these terms – natural, organic, light – they’re marketing tools in order to bolster price and increase sales?

Mira: Yes, they are.  Well, ‘organic’ means something. Organic means that it’s not genetically modified, it doesn’t have chemicals, it doesn’t have added hormones, there’s no pesticide.  There are a lot of certifications that go around that.  But the other labels … yes, many of them are used as marketing tools, and are used to manipulate what the consumer sees.

Neal: Some fascinating information. Our guest has been Mira Dessy, certified nutrition educator, and the author of “The Pantry Principle: How To Read the Label and Understand What’s Really in Your Food”.  Her website is  You can get more information about Mira Dessy’s research, and find out more about whole foods and eating healthier.

It’s been a pleasure talking with you today, Mira Dessy.  We’ll have a chance to speak again.

You’ve been listening to Health Professional Radio.  I’m your host, Neal Howard.  Transcripts of this show are available at

We’ll have much more health information on the way.  Thank you very much.

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