A few weeks ago I was surfing through Pinterest (<-someone’s living the dream) when I came across a Pin that said “You shouldn’t cook with olive oil”. Or something like that.
I clicked on that pin out of curiosity and I read a bunch of reasons why you shouldn’t cook with olive oil and that basically cooking with olive oil is deadlier than getting bitten by a viper snake.
For me, someone who grew up back when super inflammatory sunflower oil was used for cooking everything and when coconut oil wasn’t more famous than Beyoncé and didn’t have the status of a Saint, I knew in my heart and in my mind: olive oil is not bad for you.
It’s good for you, that’s what they told us. It just happened that olive oil was 3-4 times more expensive than sunflower oil and that’s why we didn’t use it. Back in the day the bad spotlight was on saturated fats and nobody knew that some unsaturated fats (as the ones found in sunflower oil) could ever be bad for you.
So this was not the first time I read an article about how dangerous cooking with olive oil was. There are many of them out there and I’m sure you’ve read at least one of them as well. Some people even care enough to film themselves hating on poor olive oil and to then put those videos on Youtube.
Since I often cook with olive oil, I needed to finally research that information for myself. Is cooking with olive oil really dangerous?
There was some mysterious study that showed olive oil was bad, but there was never actually a valid source for that information. It was only blogs citing each other, not actually published studies.
Boyyyy, it took a long time to find a little dirt on that guy olive oil once I started searching through the scientific literature.
Almost every article out there had a positive opinion of olive oil – good for cardiovascular health, might even protect from some types of cancer (even if you fry with it), reduces inflammation, is high in antioxidants and god-sent…
The list is endless.
Studies even found out that when used for frying olive oil is still stable and doesn’t oxidize as much as other vegetable oils.
But then, everything was ruined because of one tiny study.
Here’s what I’ve found.
Olive oil is healthy, just don’t fry at high temperatures for a long time with it. Frying with olive oil is “kinda ok” for shorter periods of time.
The one “bad” study that I found showed that when you fry with olive oil at 180°C/360°F or above, toxic molecules like acrolein (an aldehyde) are produced. The longer you fry, the more acrolein will be built.
Now this acrolein is a bad guy. It’s a volatile molecule that is also found in the smoke of cigarettes and is highly poisonous.
But it’s not just olive oil.
These toxic mini monsters are found in any oil, when that oil is used for frying.
Whether it’s the holy coconut oil or safflower oil, toxic aldehydes (and over 16 of them) are built when the oils are exposed to higher temperatures. The only thing that varies is the amount of toxins in the frying oil, not whether or not they’re there.
They’re always there when oils are heated, even before the smoking point (temperature when an oil starts smoking) of a certain oil is reached.
The levels of these chemicals were found to be lower in coconut oil probably due to its structure (mainly saturated fats) and in olive oil (mainly because of its high content in monounsaturated fats and antioxidants). But they’re still there.
Whether it’s with olive oil or any other oil, frying is pretty evil.
Frying is not a healthy cooking method at all.
Aside from toxic aldehydes, frying (no matter what oil you use) also increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and obesity and produces a number of unhealthy and actually dangerous chemicals other than acrolein – like acrylamide (from French fries) and HCA’s (found in fried and grilled meats and fish).
Now these molecules are also among the (usual) suspects to cause cancer.
But this isn’t something that depends so much on the oil that is used (although it also makes a big difference health-wise), as it is on the temperature, duration and method of cooking that we use.
A Groundbreaking Idea
So, let’s do this from now on:
Instead of pointing fingers and wondering which oils are better or worse for frying, let’s just fry less often!
Or not at all.
Unlike other cooking methods that might actually increase the amount of healthy carotenoids from foods, frying has no real health benefit.
Asking which oil is better for frying is like asking which cigarettes cause less cancer.
They all do. What’s the one thing you should do when you smoke and want to live a longer and healthier life?
Eat more fruits and vegetables and still smoke? Smoke 5 times a day instead of 20?
While these might be better options, the fact is you need to stop smoking altogether if you want to be healthy. And of course eat more fruits and vegetables.
But now back to olive oil.
But before you say bye to olive oil – it does have its benefits
Olive oil is shown to be an antioxidant, to have anti-inflammatory properties and to prevent many diseases.
Another reason to not give up on olive oil is that it’s a healthy fat that can improve the absorption of other nutrients, like carotenoids from green, red and orange fruits and vegetables. This is important as we need these nutrients to build active vitamin A. Vitamin A has many roles in the body – among others it’s important for the renewal of skin cells and thus for the maintenance of healthy skin.
As I mentioned in this article absorbing carotenoids and raising their levels in blood plasma not only prevents diseases, but also makes you more optimistic (which is super important for good immune system) and it gives you a healthy complexion.
Is it better to use olive oil cold?
Of course. However, it’s not just because olive oil will turn into “poison” once you cook with it. The reason why it’s better to use olive oil cold is simply that extra virgin olive oil contains polyphenols and other antioxidants that make it so awesome. The levels of these antioxidants drop when olive oil is exposed to heat, so you don’t get as many health benefits when the oil is heated as you would when it’s not processed at all.
Is using a lot of olive oil still healthy?
My taste buds say “yes”, my common sense says “no way”. There’s nothing better than fragrant fruity olive oil with a piece of a warm freshly baked bread and some antipasti (drooling right now). But there is such thing as too much olive oil.
Even when it’s cold, olive oil is essentially an isolated fat. While it is healthy, it is not a whole food (so are all oils) – it’s high in calories and doesn’t contain any fiber, protein and other macronutrients – thus it is not a balanced food. Eating isolated nutrients of any kind – protein, fats, carbs or just fiber is not the best way to eat for health or beauty. Natural foods are made in a way where nutrients are balanced, which means – you won’t really overdo one nutrient, while not getting any of the others.
Still, olive oil is great for refining dishes and I usually use it just for seasoning my salads (about 1 TBSP) or add it at the end of cooking to my meals (although I must admit, sometimes I stir fry with it as well).
What if you now hate oils?
If you decide to leave out olive oil (and other oils) completely, try avocado or seeds and nuts instead for salads – they’re whole foods and are without a doubt healthy.
For cooking – cook more with tomato sauce or with water. The last one sounds weird, but it’s actually better than you think. Add some spices and it won’t be bland. After the cooking add your healthy fats – avocados, nuts and seeds to absorb more of the lycopene from tomato sauce or from the other carotenoid rich foods like carrots, red peppers or spinach.