The Bible talks about the refining process whereby God prepares His people for everlasting life. (See Malachi 3.) This refining process is necessary and good because it removes impurities from the character just as impurities must be removed from gold or silver by a refining process. However, not all refining is necessarily good. Ecclesiastes 3:14 says that when God does something, nothing can be added to it and nothing can be taken from it; in other words, when we try to add something to it or take something from it we end up getting ourselves into trouble, and this trouble becomes worse the more that we attempt to add or the more that we attempt to take away from what God has made. In no other area is this fact more evident than in the food that we eat. God made certain foods for His children to eat (Genesis 1:29), and when we attempt to add to these foods or take away from them by refining, we can get ourselves into trouble when this becomes a significant part of our diet.
This does not mean that refining of our food is wrong—just that we need to understand exactly what we are doing and not allow this refined food to become a major part of our diet. The fact that refined food is all right in moderation is shown by the communion supper. At the communion supper we do not eat grapes or raisins but a refined product of the grape, the juice of the grape which, of course, is a refined product of the grape. However, this was never intended to become a major part of our diet (See I Corinthians 11:21, 22). Not only do we drink a refined product at the communion supper, but we also eat a refined product—the unleavened bread used at the Passover season was made with oil, which is also a refined product from the olive (or sesame seed in ancient times).
Just as there is nothing wrong with using grape syrup or sugar, in the same way there is nothing wrong with using oil from the olive, even though both are refined products, but we should understand exactly what we are doing and not allow these refined foods to become a major part of our diet.
There has been a great amount of confusion about fat intake and the relation of this fat intake to serious diseases such as heart disease and cancer. A most revealing observation is made by Dr. T. Colin Campbell in The China Study, pages 82 and 83, about this confusion: “The unanswered questions on fat remain unanswered, as they have for the past forty years. … The details that underlie these questions, when considered in isolation, are very misleading. … The correlation between fat intake and animal protein intake is more than 90%. This means that fat intake increases in parallel with animal protein intake; in other words, dietary fat is an indicator of how much animal-based food is in the diet. It is almost a perfect match.”
As Christians we should know what we are eating. With this in mind, we are now going to explain to you briefly how refined oils are processed so that you will have information to evaluate what you are seeing on food labels in the grocery store.
There are three methods of extracting oils from nuts or grains or beans or seeds or fruits such as the olive. Probably the most ancient method is by the use of a press. Today we use hydraulic presses to do this. This method yields a good quality of oil. It can be used only on sesame seeds and olives. These are the only two oils that can truthfully be called “cold-pressed.”
A second method of extracting oils is with a screw or press that has a constantly rotating worm shaft (called an expeller). Cooked material goes into one end and at the other end is discharged with the oil squeezed out. Although this oil is sometimes referred to as cold-pressed, normal temperatures for this process are from 200 to 250 degrees.
The third method of extracting oil from these same plant sources is called solvent extraction. The products containing the oils are ground up and then cooked and then mixed with a petroleum-based solvent which dissolves out of the oils, leaving a dry residue. The solvent is separated from the oils. Naptha solvents are used such as pentane, heptane, hexane or octane, the one most commonly used in the past has been hexane. (Synthetic Trichlorethylene has also been used.) These oils are not processed by a press, but are extracted by the solvent.
Sodium hydroxide and temperatures over 400 degrees are commonly used, but the oil generally undergoes further processing to make it more palatable. These processes include filtration, deodorization and bleaching. Even after considerable refining, it has been acknowledged that traces of solvent (usually hexane) remain in the oil.
Natural oils from plant products contain many nutrients, including pro-Vitamin A, Vitamin E, and a variety of fatty acids. Some of the natural nutrients are either altered, removed or destroyed by the refining processes.
Our ancestors did not eat these oils because they were not available to them, they only had access to what we call cold-pressed oils. Refining of corn began in about 1844, and the first commercial production of corn oil was in 1889.
In the 1950s as a result of conclusions made from the Framingham study (on heart disease), polyunsaturated fat was promoted to the American consumer. The idea was that if we increased our intake of polyunsaturated fat, we would decrease our risk of heart disease. (Study carefully the quotation from Dr. Campbell above in this regard.) Intake of polyunsaturated fat has increased a great deal since the 1950s and many are now asking the question, “Is there any danger in this high intake of polyunsaturated fat?” The answer to this question is sobering. We know now that large amounts of polyunsaturated fats are associated with numerous health problems, including cancer. Excessive use of vegetable oils are damaging to the lungs and the reproductive organs and huge increases in cancer at these sites have occurred during the last few decades.
A new controversial question about oil has emerged in the last 20 years. A hybridized rapeseed oil (given the commercial name “canola,” the actual name is “Low Erucic Acid Rapeseed” or LEAR oil) was developed and was given GRAS status (generally recognized as safe) by the US FDA in 1985. Use of this oil has soared all over the world. It is commonly used in spreads such as margarines, baked goods, snack foods, and use of hydrogenated canola oil for frying is increasing in restaurants.
There are no research studies that would give strong proof that this oil is harmful to humans, but the problem with this statement is that no long-term studies on humans have been done—it has not been used long enough to do a long-term study. We are in unknown territory. We are using a food that has only been in existence for a few years, and we simply do not know what the long-term consequences might be. Some have stated that this oil has been used for thousands of years in China, but remember that it was not the new hybridized rapeseed, and also, just as importantly, it was crude oil processed by stone presses that pressed out the oil at low temperatures, whereas today it is solvent-extracted at high temperatures and with chemicals as explained in the explanations earlier. The standard deodorization process removes a large portion of the omega-3 fatty acids and turns them into trans fatty acids. The University of Florida found trans fatty acids as high as 4.6 percent in the commercial liquid oil. (If the oil is then hydrogenated, the level of trans fatty acids could be as high as over 40%.) You should always read the labels of the products you are buying to see if the oil or fat is hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated.
There are scientific studies using canola oil that point in the direction that this oil may not be healthy for the cardiovascular system. One of the apparent problems with the use of canola oil is lack of saturated fat that can occur if other fats containing saturated fatty acids, such as butter, lard, tallow, palm oil or coconut oil are not part of the diet. It now appears that high levels of omega-3 fatty acids and low levels of saturated fats could be dangerous. In other words, eating some coconut might not be at all as dangerous as you have read in the past.
In our technologically advanced age we might still profitably ponder and choose to adopt some of the dietary practices of our ancestors who chose mainly traditional whole foods which had been grown with biological rather than chemical methods and were processed only minimally, and did not have their fat content altered by chemical means or removed by processing.
Pastor John Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Church in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by e-mail at: email@example.com, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.