Paavo Airola - Let's Live - October 1977Index

A Case For Freshness

The Health Hazards of Stale and Rancid Foods

THE READERS of my columns in Lets LIVE are aware of the fact that Optimum Nutrition is one of the most important positive factors affecting one's health. There are other vital factors, of course, such as proper and sufficient exercise, absence of severe emotional and physical stresses, rest and relaxation and a positive state of mind. We all know that lack of exercise, smoking, drinking, negative state of mind, unhappiness, depression, constant worries and tensions, and other emotional and mental stresses can break down one's health and contribute to the development of virtually any disease in the medical encyclopedia. But none of these can bring about such rapid and devastating deterioration of health as malnutrition can.

If faulty nutrition can destroy one's health, it would be logical to conclude that improved, or optimum nutrition would help in preventing disease and restoring one's health. "The father of medicine," Hippocrates, said 2,500 years ago that "our food should be our medicine - our medicine should be our food." The problem is, that although we all agree on the importance of good food and proper nutrition for good health, there is great disagreement among nutritionists when they attempt to determine What Is Proper Nutrition, or what constitutes an Optimum Diet for Optimum Health.

There are those who believe that our American supermarket-sold food is the best and the most nutritious food in the world, which will provide perfectly adequate nutrition - and there are those who claim that over-refined, denatured, supermarket foods are making us all sick. There are those who advocate a 100% vegetarian diet and claim that too much meat will put us into an early grave - and there are those who swear by a high-animal protein diet, with lots and lots of meat. There are those who advocate eating only raw, uncooked, "living" foods, and those who consider the discovery of fire the greatest boon to man's nutrition.

There are those who say that grains and seeds are for the birds, that they are acid- and mucus-forming and should be avoided like the plague and there are those who consider grains, seeds, and nuts to be the most important, complete and potent health building foods of all. There are those who consider tomatoes, garlic, and honey to be health-building and disease-preventing foods (actually, excellent examples of Hippocrates' designated foods as medicines) - and those who malign them and call them poisons. Then there are nutritionists and health writers who want to please everyone (just like the politicians do) and advise eating anything that you like, or "what agrees with you," as long as it is natural and unprocessed.

Who is right, and whom can you believe? Not an easy task to decide, indeed. Why is there so much confusion? Why are there so many contradictory claims on practically every issue of nutrition and health? If you become discouraged by the fact that so many experts disagree and contradict each other, you will be pleased to know that most nutritionists agree on several basic issues of optimum nutrition. For example, they agree that the diet with the greatest potential for optimum health, prevention of disease, and long life must be comprised from the foods that are:

Vital Factor Overlooked

After mentioning the issues of nutrition that nutritionists agree and disagree about, let's now look at one issue that most experts simply overlook. This is the issue of freshness of food. It is imperative, absolutely essential, that foods in the Optimum Diet are not only natural, whole, unrefined, unprocessed, and poison-free, but also FRESH. Now, this doesn't seem to be anything new. We all understand, read about, and talk about fresh foods. But, while we give lip service to freshness of foods, we do not seem to mind, or simply overlook, the fact that most foods we eat today are not fresh by any standard of nutritional quality. The tragic fact is that most of the foods eaten today are at best old and stale, devoid of much nutritional value, or at the worst, so rancid that the toxic, carcinogenic chemicals, that develop in the foods as a result of rancidity, pose a serious threat to ones health. This fact is not only overlooked by supermarket shoppers, but also by health advocates who spend much effort and money to provide themselves with so~called organic health foods.

The Common Denominator

There are two kinds of nutrition researchers or investigators, both of whom have their place: 1) those who conduct clinical and laboratory experiments on animals or in test tubes; and 2) those who use an empirical approach-traveling around the world and studying the eating and living habits of various native groups known for their exceptional health, absence of disease, and long life. I belong to the latter group. I am in good company. As did Dr. Weston A, Price, Dr. R. McCarrison, Dr. Paul Bragg, Dr. Alexander Leaf, Betty Lee Morales, John Tobe, and Dr. Bernard Jensen, I traveled in many countries and observed firsthand the nutritional factors that seem to be common to all groups that achieve superior health.

One of these factors, noted by me as well as all the above-mentioned investigators. is that healthy natives always eat their food fresh. By fresh, I mean right from the tree, from the garden, or from the field. Of course, the absence of sophisticated transportation and storage facilities such as refrigerated trucks and refrigerators, and the absence of such chemical wonders as food preservatives, antioxidants, and mold inhibitors, has necessitated a strict observance of this freshness factor. Natives have had to eat their food fresh, because the very next day food was spoiled and inedible. I have noticed that even when they cook their foods, they never save leftovers for the next day, but feed them to their animals or chickens. Vegetables and fruits are picked at the peak of their ripeness and eaten the same day, at the height of their nutritional value. Bread (or chapatis, piirakka, or tortillas) is baked every day and always eaten fresh. The flour is made at home or in a local village mill in small quantities to prevent rancidity and staleness. Even those who live in the cities shop for their food at the market every morning, buying only enough for one day, sometimes only for one meal. These natives are guided by their natural instincts as well as forced by necessity and prevailing conditions to eat only fresh foods.

Today, in highly civilized countries such as the US, you can buy supermarket produce that looks - thanks to man's ingenuity in the areas of harvesting, chemical preserving, spoilage inhibiting, refrigerated transportation, storage, and attractive displays - as if it was just picked from the garden. Yet, it can be weeks or months old. Fruit, which looks like it was just picked from the trees, can be one year old, as, for example, cold-storage apples frequently are. Much of the produce, such as tomatoes, strawberries, avocados, bananas, peaches, is picked green and unripe, since ripe fruit would spoil quickly and would be impossible to transport.

The Dangers Of Eating Non-Fresh Foods

Here are some important reasons for eating only fresh foods:
  1. leafy vegetables lose up to 50% of their Vitamin C in just one day after harvesting!
  2. frozen strawberries lose approximately 50% of their vitamin C after five months of storage, and 90% after 10 months.
  3. Apples from cold-storage - and any American apples sold out of season, like November to August, are cold-storage apples - have lost up to 90% of their vitamin C content. In
  4. In addition to the loss of vitamin C, blanched and frozen foods have also lost most of their vitamin B1 and B2 content.
  5. freshly ground wheat or wheat germ are good sources of vitamin E if eaten a short time after milling. But, wheat germ and whole wheat flour that is several months old not only has lost all of its vitamin E content through rancidity, but the toxic products that develop during the rancidity process - peroxides and aldehydes - can destroy vitamin E in the body that had been derived from other dietary sources, and, thus, contribute to serious nutritional deficiencies.
  6. Most vegetable oils turn rancid in a matter of weeks, acquiring an acrid taste and rancid smell. To prevent this, commercially produced vegetable oils are denatured by refining, deodorizing, bleaching, and adding toxic anti-oxidants.
The following true story illustrates how natives, guided by their instincts and taste, protect themselves from harmful rancid foods.

Almost half a century ago. I visited a small Eastern European town. At six o'clock in the morning, I was awakened by the organ-playing street vendor who was slowly moving through every street in his horse-drawn buggy, stopping at each corner. Housewives, awakened by his music, rushed to him with their small containers buying just a few ounces, a day's supply, of flaxseed oil. A fresh supply of flaxseed oil was pressed each night and sold the next morning. Experience had taught the housewives that flaxseed oil more than a day old is not suitable for eating. (By the way, flaxseed oil is the commonly used food all in Eastern Europe.)

Natural Food Is Perishable

Those of us who are convinced of the dangers of eating processed and refined foods often forget that natural unprocessed foods are extremely perishable. We regard food processors as diabolic monsters who deliberately remove important nutrients from the natural foods and sell us de-vitalized, inferior products. We forget, however, that the original purpose of at least some of the basic refining and processing methods was actually an attempt to protect foods from rapid deterioration and improve their storage property. Whole wheat flour, because of the high content of unsaturated fat in the wheat germ, spoils very fast and becomes rancid and bitter tasting within a few weeks. By refining the flour - removing the fat-containing germ and bran - it becomes safe to store for long periods of time. It is unfortunate that while processing prolongs shelf life and makes food safer as far as danger of rancidity is concerned, it also makes it less nutritious.

Why Rancid Foods Are Harmful

Rancidity is the chemical change in the fat or oil produced by the combination of oxygen from the air with the unsaturated fatty acids in the oil. Natural whole seeds, grains, and nuts are well protected by shells, hulls, or coverings against air reaching the oil. Whole seeds can be stored for an extended period of time without any signs of rancidity. But as soon as they are broken, cracked, or milled. the oxygen in the air comes in direct contact with the oil, and the oxidation process begins, often referred to as lipid peroxidation.

During oxidation, a variety of chemical substances is formed. Oxygen is readily absorbed by the oil, where it breaks the double bond and forms peroxides. It is the oil's double bond characteristic that gives certain fatty acids the properties known as vitamin F activity. The peroxides that are formed break down, especially in the presence of moisture, into chemical substances known as aldehydes, which are not only toxic, but also give rancid foods or oils their characteristic odor and flavor.

Rancidity Factor Overlooked

When I first brought the danger of rancidity into the open, my conclusions were challenged and questioned, especially by vegetable oil and wheat germ manufacturers. Unbelievable as it may now appear, neither the manufacturers nor the public were aware of the danger of eating stale or rancid foods. Wheat germ enjoyed its pinnacle of popularity as one of the miracle health foods, glamorized and extolled for its superb nutritional values by all nutrition authorities at the time.

They all described in glowing terms what a marvelous source of concentrated nutrition wheat germ is, with all its huge amount of B-complex vitamins, high quality proteins, richest natural source of Vitamin E, miraculous enzymes, trace elements, minerals, etc. What they failed to tell - not maliciously, I am sure, but because they were unaware - was that wheat germ is, a superior health food only when it is absolutely fresh, eaten right after, or within a few days after, it is made (i.e., separated from the wheat kernel). As soon as wheat germ is made, the oxidation process sets in and in a short time sufficient chemical changes occur to make it not only unhealthy, but also, actually very harmful. As rancidity (oxidation) progresses, peroxides and aldehydes are formed in increasing amounts. The vitamin E (the main reason for wheat germ's popularity) is destroyed by the rancidity, and so also are other vitamins, such as A, F, and carotene. Not only is rancid wheat germ void of these vitamins, but when it is consumed, it causes destruction of vitamins E, A, and F stored in the body, or supplied with other foods, thus causing nutritional deficiencies.

Danger Of Rancidity Is Scientifically Demonstrated

The danger of eating rancid foods has been demonstrated in many animal and human studies. A German scientist, Dr. H. Anemueller, was one of the first investigators on the subject of rancidity and perishability of natural foods. He says, "During the oxidation process, harmful chemical substances are produced in foods. These substances irritate the delicate linings of the stomach and intestines. Prolonged use of rancid oils and foods can, under some conditions, have a carcinogenic effect - in other words, they may cause cancer by the virtue of being strong chemical irritants."

Drs. Rowntree and Barrett, of the University of Pennsylvania, demonstrated the. carcinogenic effect of cereal oils in their rancid state. In animal studies conducted under their direction, every rat fed rancid wheat germ oil, developed malignant tumors.

Dr. Raymond Shamberger, of the famous Cleveland Clinic, one of the leading nutritional scientists in the world, reported recently that one of the reasons why the excessive consumption of beef was linked to the development of cancer of the colon in several recent studies, was the malonaldehydes that were developing in the unsaturated part of the meat fat as a part of the oxidation process. That oxidation process begins as soon as the animal is killed.

And, Dr. Nicolas Petrakis, of the University of California at San Francisco, found malonaldehydes and free radicals (the products of rancidity) in the breast fluids of women that were diagnosed as candidates for breast cancer.

In addition to being carcinogenic, rancid foods and oils can also:

"What Should I Do Now?"

If I have whetted your interest on this subject sufficiently that you are beginning to realize the danger of eating stale and rancid foods and see the importance of eating all foods as fresh as possible, your head must now be spinning with practical questions of the "what-should-I-do-now?" type. My decision to write this article was prompted by the huge amount of questions I received from Let's LIVE readers every week regarding issues related to rancidity and food storage.

Here are the most commonly asked questions and their answers:

Refrigeration And Freezing

Q. If I keep wheat germ and wheat flour in the refrigerator, will they be safe from rancidity?
A. No. Rancidity is caused by the contact of oxygen (air) with the oils in wheat germ or flour. Since oxygen is also present in the refrigerator and freezer, the rancidity will continue there. Heat and moisture speed up the rancidity process, and a dry, cool storage place slows it down somewhat, but does not prevent it completely.

Wheat Germ Oil

Q. Wheat germ oil contains lots of Vitamin E, Vitamin E is known to be a natural anti-oxidant. Wouldn't, then, wheat germ all be safe from rancidity, being protected by Vitamin E?
A. It is true that fresh wheat germ oil is a rich source of vitamin E. But, it is also true that it is hard to obtain fresh wheat germ oil. Perhaps, the reason for this is that wheat germ oil is extracted by the use of pressing methods that often generate high temperatures, or by the chemical solvent extraction, using hexane or benzine - both methods having a damaging effect on natural tocopherols, or vitamin E.

Raw Nuts

Q. Are shelled nuts and seeds safe to eat, or would they turn rancid fast?
A. Most nuts keep fresh in shells for as long as a year. Shelled nuts deteriorate gradually, some more rapidly than others. Almonds are the most durable of all nuts, and are safe even when shelled. Walnuts and cashews deteriorate faster. Never use shelled nuts that are not whole, but sold in pieces - the so-called diced or chopped nuts. The safest way to eat nuts is to buy them in shells and do your own cracking. Always keep nuts in the refrigerator.


Q. I am a busy working housewife. We love millet and buckwheat cereals that you so highly recommend, but I haven't the time to cook them every day. Can I make enough cereal for several days, keep it in the refrigerator, and warm it up when I need it?
A. As convenient as it may be, from the nutritional standpoint, this practice is unacceptable. After cereals are cooked, their nutritional value, especially in terms of vitamins, deteriorates by the hour. You must make cereals every day.

Seed And Nut "Meals"

Q. I buy sunflower seed meal in the store and use it to sprinkle on salads. How long will it keep fresh?
A. This is not the best way to eat seeds and nuts. Since most seeds and nuts are extremely rich in unsaturated fatty acids, they will turn rancid rapidly soon after they are crushed or milled. It is best to buy the whole seeds and grind them in your own seed grinder, only enough to be used at one meal. Inexpensive electric seed grinders (approximately $12.00) are I sold in most health food stores.

Nut And Seed Butters

Q. What about peanut butter, almond butter, or tahini?
A. Seed and nut butters are relatively safe, especially almond and sesame (tahini) butters. Sesame seeds contain their own natural antioxidant, which makes them safer than most other seeds.

Safe Vegetable Oils

Q. Which vegetable oils are safest to eat and least likely to be rancid?
A. The oils that are most likely to be cold-pressed (not heat or solvent extracted) and also most durable in terms of rancidity are olive oil and sesame seed oil. These are the two oils I recommend to use as a part of the daily diet, but always in natural, cold form - as dressing on salads and such. Never use vegetable oils for frying or, cooking as heating vegetable oils to extremely high temperatures, as/is the case in frying, makes them carcinogenic. If fat is needed for frying, butter is preferable to vegetable oils. Butter, being mostly saturated fat, is less vulnerable to damage by high temperatures.

Flour For Baking

Q. I like to bake my own whole wheat bread, but I don't have a flour mill. Can I use store-bought whole wheat flour?
A. Go to a health or natural food store that has a flour mill installed as a service to their customers. An increasing number of stores now do this. Buy whole wheat, grind it, bring it home, and bake your bread the same day. Those who do this, or have their own mill, can testify to the tremendous difference in the taste of the bread! Not to mention the superior nutritional value of such breads! By the way, many health food stores also sell inexpensive electric flour mills.

How To Detect Rancidity

Q. How do I know if my oils, seeds, and nuts are fresh?
A. Mostly by smell, taste, and appearance. I am sure most people are familiar with the peculiar acrid, rancid smell. Also, when rancid wheat germ, seeds, or. oils are chewed slowly and then swallowed, they leave a burning, stinging sensation in the throat. Nuts and seeds also turn yellow or brown when rancid.

Dried, Frozen, Preserved, Or Fermented Foods.

Q. You speak so highly of eating everything fresh. What about dried, fruits, frozen corn or berries, homemade preserves, and such fermented foods as sauerkraut, pickled vegetables, etc.?
A. From your list of foods, I would like to separate the fermented foods into a class by themselves, because, as I have stressed many times in my writings, of the tremendous health-promoting and therapeutic, value of lactic acid fermented foods. The lactic acid that develops during the natural fermentation process is extremely beneficial. It has healing, therapeutic and cleansing effects on the body. It would be wise to use as many naturally fermented lactic acid foods and juices as possible, as a part of the Optimum Diet. Health food stores carry many good brands of naturally fermented foods and fermented juices, such as Biotta. My books contain recipes for homemade sauerkraut, soured milks, and pickled vegetables.

Dried fruits, frozen foods, and homemade preserves can be used as a possible addition to the diet, especially out of season when fresh produce is not available, but never as a substitute for fresh, raw foods. The one acceptable situation I can see which could justify freezing, preserving, or drying (dehydrating) foods, would be when your own garden produces so much that it is impossible to use it all in fresh form. After sharing with all your friends, you can freeze, dehydrate, or can the rest and use it out of season. Always remember, however, that the longer you store the foods, the more nutritional value they will lose.


The issue of freshness of food has been dangerously overlooked by most nutritionists. They spell out in detail what kind of foods we should eat, failing to emphasize the importance of eating all foods in as fresh a state as possible. It is absolutely imperative that all foods we eat are not only natural, unprocessed, organically grown, and poison-free, but also 100% FRESH.

Fruits and vegetables that are days and weeks old, and oil-rich grains, seeds, and nuts that become stale and rancid have not only lost much of their nutritional value, but can be extremely harmful, even carcinogenic. As a nutrition consultant, I often see patients who suffer from various conditions of poor health and even terminal ailments, although they tell me that they have been eating good food for years. I often wonder if the years of eating stale and rancid foods, without realizing their health-destroying potential, is not responsible for many tragic consequences of ill health.

Let me conclude by emphasizing a few practical tips that will help even those who are not fortunate enough to live in the country and have their own gardens:

  1. The American sense of practicality was carried too far when housewives developed the habit of food shopping twice a month, buying enough food for two weeks and storing it in the refrigerator. As I mentioned before, the natives around the world, who are known for their exceptional health, shop for produce every morning. Go to your health store as often as possible and buy foods in small quantities - this applies to fresh fruits and vegetables as well as all other foods.
  2. Buy oils in small containers. Keep oil in the refrigerator.
  3. Buy your own flour mill and seed grinder - the best investment in your health you can make - and grind your own whole-grain seeds and nuts, and make your own flour for baking.
  4. Never save leftovers from cooked foods.
  5. Fresh vegetable and fruit juices lose their nutritional value through oxidation even faster than whole fruits and vegetables. They must be used immediately after they are made.

Remember, the FRESHNESS of the food is one of the most important - although often overlooked - factors in Optimum Health, prevention of disease, and long life!