If you already cook from Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon and have read Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Dr. Weston A. Price and if you follow the websites of The Healthy Home Economist, Dr. Mercola, and GreenMedInfo, you may not need The Pantry Principle. However, if you know you should eat healthier, more nutritious food but just don’t know where to start, The Pantry Principle, by Mira Dessy, NE, could be just the right book for you. The subtitle tells you what to expect: “How to read the label and understand what’s really in your food.” This book is aimed primarily at the grocery store shopper who buys packaged foods but doesn’t understand the ingredients labels.
The Pantry Principle is your guide to “building a healthy food source in your home.” The term pantry is inclusive to any place where you keep your food–a pantry/closet, shelf, cupboard, counter, refrigerator, or freezer. The book is cohesive and very well-written, plus it provides lots of detailed information about choosing foods wisely.
I agree with Mira’s statement that many people believe “all of the edible-appearing products on the shelves are food. The truth is that many of them are not! Many of these items contain ingredients that have the potential to be harmful.” Not only is “food” today often confusing, but their labels can be misleading, sometimes intentionally so. Mira wants to help you see through the vague wording and misdirection of labels to find the useful information. One example of a confusing labeling is the use of the terms “free range” or “organic” on egg cartons. Other examples of confusing labeling are the unpronounceable and unrecognizable “food” items in ingredients lists.
The Pantry Principle begins with Mira’s Story. She, like many of us in the Real Food movement, had serious health problems that were not being helped by conventional medicine. She did her own research and took charge of her own health to the extent that she went back to school to study holistic nutrition and become a Certified Nutrition Educator. She wanted to help others improve their health as she had improved hers through good nutrition. As a Nutrition Educator, she has been accompanying people to the grocery story to teach them how to read labels and select nutritious foods; however, she realized she couldn’t help those who needed her guidance but lived too far away. Thus The Pantry Principle was born.
For the beginning Real Foodie, Mira has seven simple but excellent rules for interpreting food labels. The first two rules are (1) “If you don’t know what it is, don’t eat it” and (2) “If it has a number, don’t eat it.” All seven rules are great to help eliminate the many non-foods often listed on “food” labels. Mira even has a handy pocket-sized chart that can be printed and taken to the grocery while shopping.
The Pantry Principle is full of detailed explanations and essential information for the grocery story shopper. Chapter Two, How to Read a Nutrition Label. is the perfect place to start. Here’s a tidbit in Chapter Two that I really hadn’t paid much attention to before–the difference between Fortified and Enriched. While either label should alert the buyer that the product is not a whole food, it’s good to understand the difference.
Fortified means nutrients have been added that are not
normally part of that food; such as calcium in orange juice.
Enriched means nutrients lost in processing have been put back
into the item; such as some of the B vitamins in wheat flour.
Chapter Three, Understanding Additives, begins with the top 3 non-food additives that should be avoided but are found in many processed “foods”–high fructose corn syrup (it’s even added to the tobacco in cigarettes!), monosodium glutamate (MSG), and artificial colors. References, examples, and explanations are given to support why these should be avoided.
Other additives (with examples) to be avoided include preservatives (e.g., BHA, BHT, EDTA), flavorings (e.g., diacetyl “butter” flavoring), stabilizers (e.g., alginic acid), emulsifiers (e.g., propylene glycol), and artificial colors (e.g., Red #40). The Pantry Principle covers all these and many more with their uses as well as the potentially harmful side effects of consuming them.
Later chapters talk about natural and artificial sweeteners, types of fats, and genetically engineered foods (GMOs). Chapter Seven addresses the cost of eating healthy food by providing recommendations to help maintain your budget. For example, there’s a discussion of when to buy organic or conventional foods.
For all these reasons, I can highly recommend The Pantry Principle to those who are beginning their journey to health through nutrition and need help finding the path.
To be fair to the reader, however, I need to mention a few areas where the information in The Pantry Principle is either incomplete or misleading. Most of these are of minimal concern for beginners interested in the basic food information, the primary focus of the book.
Chapter Six on fats and oils refers to “good” (HDL) and “bad” (LDL) cholesterol, a distinction that can be misleading. Both HDL and LDL are necessary and useful for body processes. The list of recommended fats and oils for cooking on p. 73 of The Pantry Principle includes a few oils that should not be heated according to Nourishing Traditions, p. 19.
The chapter on dairy is missing some information that I consider to be very important. There is no mention of the type of milk people have been drinking for thousands of years–real, unprocessed, “raw” milk. When I asked Mira about this omission, she said that she (and her editor) wanted to avoid a controversy which could “detract from the primary message of the book which was to educate people about the chemical garbage which is in their food.” I can understand the focus of the book and the wish to stay “on course,” but mentioning raw milk and including a link to more information (such as RealMilk.com) would not have been out of place in a book that has so much detailed nutrition information.
An omission that may be even more important for the Real Food beginner is that, while organic milk is recommended over conventional milk for several excellent reasons (including rBGH), there is no recommendation to avoid UHT (ultra high temperature pasteurized) organic milk. The UHT process is so deadly that UHT milk cannot be used to make yogurt.
Note: I’ve known Mira Dessy, a Houston-area resident (The Woodlands) and member of The Weston A. Price Foundation, for several years. She is dedicated to helping people to be healthier through making wise choices in the foods they eat. She has provided no compensation for my opinions in this post other than a PDF review copy of her book, The Pantry Principle.
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