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Sunday, August 24, 2008

But isn’t it natural?

I mentioned last week that I don’t reach for chips, granola bars, snack mixes, or pretzels when I need a snack.  One of the reasons is that the oil in these products is highly processed.


You may ask, though, “Isn’t is natural?  It’s vegetable oil, or it comes from corn, or soybeans, or sunflower seeds, those are natural things?  What can be wrong with that?”


Well, I’m glad you asked!  Read on.


The oil used in packaged food DOES come from natural things, like corn, soybeans, sunflower seeds, safflower seeds, and rape seeds (canola), to name a few; the problem comes in HOW the oil is extracted.  If you tried to press corn you wouldn’t get much oil.  The same goes for soybeans.  The oil we get from these plants is a modern product, a product of the industrial age.  The ancient presses people used thousands of years ago to extract oil from olives would not give the same results with corn or soybeans.


You may be thinking, “God has given men creative minds and those men have come up with some fabulous inventions!”  So what could be wrong with this invention that allows us to extract oil from corn and soybeans?


Well, simply the motivation.  If the motive were to help mankind, they would do the proper research and see what effect this new invention had on the oil and on our health.  Unfortunately, the motive was selfish, a way to increase the bottom line.  With this new ability to use these vegetable oils, cakes and cookies had a much longer shelf life, thus opening up a whole market for packaged foods that didn’t exist before.  These items made with the traditional fats like butter, didn’t last nearly as long and therefore could not be mass marketed.


When you eat an olive, you know that it’s oily, you don’t think of corn as an oily food.  I heard of a fun experiment for kids once, to take a nut and rub it on paper to see the oil coming from it.  I doubt you could do the same experiment with corn or soybeans.  I know that corn and soybeans aren’t fatty, but I didn’t know for sure how much or little fat they had, so I did a little searching on the Internet and this is what I found.  Corn oil is taken from the germ, one bushel yields 1.55 pounds oil (2.8% by weight).  Soybeans are 90% water, 3% protein, 6% carbohydrate and ONLY .0018% fat!  So you have to grow a LOT of soybeans to produce soybean oil!  (Also known as vegetable oil.)  The yield from olives will vary from year to year depending on many factors (as I’m sure it does from corn and soybeans, as well), but the range is from 10 to 30%!  Also, my package of almonds says that the oil content is 50% (by weight), not sure how much comes out by pressing.  So it seems I was right in saying corn and soybeans are not oily.


So how do processors extract oil from things like corn and soybeans and what is the BIG deal?


Dr. Don Colbert writes in What Would Jesus Eat?

“Seeds are heated to high temperatures of approximately 250 degrees Fahrenheit, and then the seed is pressed to expel the oil.  The oil in this process is unavoidably subjected to heat and pressure, which increase the rancidity of the oil.


Then, solvents—similar to gasoline—are added to the oil to dissolve the oil out of the grain.  The oil is then heated to more than 300 degrees to evaporate the solvent.


In the next step, the oil is degummed, a process that removes most of the nutrients—including minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron, and copper, as well as chlorophyll, phospholipids, and lecithin.


By this time the oil has a yellowish tinge, so it is bleached at high temperatures, which cause more rancidity and more lipid peroxides to form.  The damaged oil is then deodorized at temperatures of more than 500 degrees for thirty minutes to an hour.


The end result is an odorless, clear oil that appears sterile and pure, but is in fact full of toxic lipid peroxides that can cause significant free-radical reactions leading to cardiovascular disease and cancer.”  (Emphasis mine.)


So we see that the big issue here is that in this process the oil becomes damaged and when we ingest it, it causes havoc.


Here is a prime example of something that WAS natural, but was destroyed by man and therefore isn’t healthy for us.  Vegetable oils are in most packaged foods, especially frozen meals, chips, cookies, crackers, and snack cakes, which is one of the reasons why I have placed them near the bottom of The Ladder of Healthy Eating.


It is much better for your health to stick with traditional fats, things people have been eating for thousands of years, things that Jesus even ate, things like butter, olive oil, coconut oil, and animal fats.  These fats are very stable and there is plenty of research showing many healthy benefits.  This is why you can make many of the things that you would find in a store, at home, from scratch and they will be healthier.  Things like cookies and cakes.  We obviously don’t want to eat these foods all the time, but if they are made at home with traditional fats, they will be healthier for you.


Remember the motto – If God created it, it is healthy; if man has adulterated it, it is unhealthy.  Enjoy whole food and enjoy health!


  1. Aaaack! Thank you for writing this. I am guilty of thinking that since chips were "natural" they were at the better end of the junk-food spectrum (I suppose they still are if you compare them to Cheetos--yikes!) Thanks for explaining why they are still horrible. That is fascinating stuff about the oil content. There must be tremendous money in processed foods if it is worth it to grow that much corn and soybeans and to process it that much. Greed at work.


  2. I don't think all shelf-life increasing schemes are created equal. Canned, while not as good as the real thing, was created because the French wanted to feed an army over longer period of time. In that sense, I'd think the motivation consisted in part the idea of maintaining nutrition. The main thing, though, is that canning kills all the beneficial bacteria and enzymes.

    But...I've discovered there is another technique coming up that I'd like to hear your perspective on. I'm sure you have seen the advent of so-called "green bags" that aim to prolong the ripening process of food in order to make it stay fresh longer. Similarly, there is a company, named Landec, that sells special plastic material that is supposed to help regulate the air inside the packaging. The packaging is air tight except for specially sized BreatheWay patch of plastic that allows carbon dioxide out, oxygen in, but doesn't allow oxygen out. Where green bag is great for food that we bought, then want to preserve for a bit longer, Landec's packaging is better suited for bulk packaging. The idea is to research how the fruit (say banana) breathes when it is connected to the tree, and duplicate that. The reason why I like this idea is because I think it is better than picking the banana way before it is ripe (like when it is still green). Problem with early picking is that it eliminates lot of the nutrition which doesn't develop until in the later stage of the fruit's lifecycle while on the plant. This is why almost none of our food tastes quite the same as if we grew it at home ourselves -- the best nutrients come in later. However, with packaging that increases the life of the fruit after it is picked, it might actually be possible for us to have food that comes from many miles away that are still almost as fresh as food that comes locally -- all without chemical treatment.

  3. Justine,

    As with all food there are varying degrees of bad. I would say that Cheetos are the worst, being the most processed, then Doritos, having all manner of artificial flavorings, then plain chips. But they are all made with vegetable oils. :(

  4. Tim,

    I agree, not all packaged food has been motivated by greed, but was canning necessary even for the soldiers? What did soldiers do before the invention of canning? I have read histories of Roman armies that subsisted on a whole grain gruel, sauerkraut and (I think) some fish products. They instictively knew these foods would keep their soldiers healthy and strong and it did.

    As far as the green bags and these new-fangled packaging techniques, I tend to be a purist. If it was thought up by man, it will not be as good as what God created. But then, in our modern world we can't always get all our produce from the backyard. So for practical purposes, that packaging may improve our produce, I just don't think we can rely on it as the healthiest option. The healthiest is still going to be something grown locally in chemical-free, rich soil.

    It seems with all plastics that there is a chemical issue, I wouldn't doubt if we find out at some point that these green bags have some form of toxic chemical in them, too.

    It may interest you to read up on how ancient/primitive people preserved their food. Canned food is not a new concept, but the modern equivalent is dead. You can read Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon and Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz for insight into this topic.

    This traditional preservation method is a way to bring produce from far away and keep its nutrient quality intact. Captain James Cook forced his crew to eat sauerkraut because he knew it would keep them alive and healthy. He ended up making some of the longest voyages for his time with his crew, all over the Pacific.