Olive oil is extremely healthy.
It’s healthy fat “by default” … loaded with beneficial fatty acids and powerful antioxidants.
Olive oil has also been a staple food for some of the healthiest populations in the world.
That said, there may be a problem with cooking in olive oil …
Many people think it is unsuitable for cooking due to unsaturated fats.
At first glance, you might think so, but research shows the opposite.
Today we are going to explain why olive oil is a excellent choice for cooking, even for high heat methods such as frying.
Why the stability of cooking oils is important
When fats and oils are exposed to high heat, they can be damaged.
This is especially true for oils that are high in polyunsaturated fats, including most vegetable oils like soybean and canola oil.
If you want to reduce your exposure to these harmful and carcinogenic compounds (which is always a good idea), it is essential cook only with fats that are stable at high heat.
There are two properties of cooking oils that are most important:
- Smoke point:The temperature at which fat begins to break down and turn to smoke.
- Oxidative stability:How resistant fats are to reacting with oxygen.
As we will describe below, olive oil meets these two conditions fairly well.
Conclusion: It is very important to choose cooking fats that are heat stable, as some oils can form carcinogens during cooking.
Olive Oil is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, which are heat stable
Each fat molecule (triglycerides) is made up of a glycerol molecule linked to three fatty acids.
All the glycerol molecules are the same … but there are hundreds of different fatty acids in nature and the health effects vary depending on the fatty acid.
The fatty acids can be saturated, monounsaturated or polyunsaturated.
Saturated fatty acids do not have double bonds, monounsaturated fatty acids have one (mono = one) and polyunsaturated fatty acids have many double bonds (poly = many).
Here is the important part… double bonds are unstable when heated and tend to react with oxygen.
Therefore, the more double a fatty acid molecule has, the more unstable it will be when used for cooking. These are saturated fats (due to their content no in double bonds) like coconut oil which are very heat resistant (5).
Although most vegetable oils contain polyunsaturated fatty acids with many double bonds, olive oil mainly contains monosaturated fatty acids with only one double bond.
It turns out that … having a double bond in the fatty acid molecule is not a bad thing. Only the polyunsaturated fatty acids (like those in soybean and canola oils) are harmful (6).
Of course … Oils are usually a mixture of different types of fatty acids. Olive oil, for example, is made up of 73% monounsaturated fatty acids, 11% polyunsaturated and 14% saturated (7).
In other words, saturated and monounsaturated fats, which are heat resistant, make up 87% of the fats in olive oil.
Conclusion: Olive oil mainly contains monounsaturated fatty acids, which are actually quite heat resistant. The polyunsaturated fats that cause damage make up only about 11% of the fats in olive oil.
Extra virgin olive oil is rich in antioxidants and vitamin E, which help fight oxidation
The only olive oil we recommend is extra virgin olive oil.
The main purpose of Vitamin E is to function as an antioxidant in the body. There, it helps fight free radicals that can cause chain reactions that damage our cell membranes (10).
Because olive oil is rich in antioxidants and vitamin E, it provides some natural protection against oxidative damage (11).
Conclusion: Olive oil contains vitamin E and many powerful antioxidants. These substances protect the oil from damage during high heat cooking.
Olive oil is resistant to oxidation damage
When an oil oxidizes, it reacts with oxygen and forms various harmful compounds.
This can happen at room temperature and this is one of the ways oils get rancid, but this process is greatly accelerated when the oils are heated.
The sensitivity of an oil to oxidative damage depends mainly on two things:
Some interesting readings:
- Its concentration in polyunsaturated fatty acids, which tend to oxidize (react with oxygen).
- The presence ofantioxidants, which neutralize oxidative damage (the reason why they are called antioxidants).
As indicated above, olive oil has a low content of polyunsaturated fatty acids (around 11%) and is rich in antioxidants.
Many studies have put olive oil on high heat for long periods of time and measured how it affects the quality and nutritional properties of the oil.
Many of these studies have used high temperature for a very long time. But even under these extreme conditions, olive oil has proven itself.
A deep study fried different types of olive oil for 24 hours and noted that it was very resistant to oxidation. Extra virgin olive oil, which is richer in antioxidants, has given the best result (12).
Other studies confirm this … olive oil does not oxidize much when used for cooking, while vegetable oils like sunflower oil oxidize and form harmful compounds (13).
However … one study found that eating a meal with heated olive oil increased the markers of oxidation in the blood compared to a meal with unheated olive oil (14).
In this study, the olive oil was not extra virgin and was cooked for 8 hours… suddenly, this cannot be applicable in a real situation, especially if you cook with a real extra olive oil Virgin.
It is also a myth that heating olive oil leads to the formation of trans fatty acids. In one study, frying olive oil 8 times in a row only increased the trans fatty acid content from 0.045% to 0.082%, an amount that is still negligible (15).
Overall … it seems that olive oil is very stable, even under extreme conditions like deep frying for extended periods of time.
Conclusion: Many studies have exposed olive oil to high heat for long periods of time. Even under such extreme conditions, olive oil does not form significant amounts of harmful compounds.
Olive Oil has a moderately high smoke point
The smoke point of an oil is the temperature at which it begins to degrade in heat and produce visible smoke.
When this happens, the fat molecules are cleaved into fatty acids and glycerol, while turning into various harmful and potentially toxic compounds.
But the other trace elements in the oil, like vitamins and antioxidants, can also start to burn and give off smoke, sometimes at temperatures lower than those of the oil itself.
Usually some of the fatty acids in an oil are free and not attached to glycerol. These are called free fatty acids. The more free fatty acids there are in an oil, the lower its smoke point.
Because refined oils are lower in trace elements (a bad thing) and lower in free fatty acids, they usually have a high smoke point.
Also, when the oil is heated, more free fatty acids form in the oil, so the more you cook the more the smoke point will drop.
It is difficult to determine the smoke point exact of an oil, because it doesn’t always happen the same way. There is a range in which a higher temperature gradually forms more smoke.
Many of the numbers for the smoke points you find on the internet are just estimates. Figures vary between different lots.
Many sources have clarified that the smoke point for extra virgin olive oil is somewhere around 375-420 ° F (190-215 ° C). Refined olive oil is often placed at around 468 ° F (242 ° C).
This makes it a safe choice for most cooking methods, including frying.
Conclusion: The smoke point for extra virgin olive oil is somewhere around 375-420 ° F (190-215 ° C). This makes it a good choice for most cooking methods.
Cooking can destroy certain antioxidants in olive oil
Normal cooking is unlikely to oxidize or significantly damage the oil.
However, it can degrade some of the antioxidants and vitamin E, which are sensitive to heat.
In one study, heating olive oil to 356 ° F / 180 ° C for 36 hours led to a decrease in antioxidants and vitamin E, but most of the trace compounds were intact (16).
One of the main active compounds in extra virgin olive oil is called oleocanthal. This substance is responsible for the anti-inflammatory effects of olive oil and the burning sensation in the throat that quality olive oil brings (17).
Heating olive oil at 464 ° F / 240 ° C for 90 minutes reduces the amount of oleocanthal by 19% according to a chemical test, and 31% according to a taste test (18).
In another study, simulating frying for 24 hours reduced some beneficial compounds, but cooking for 10 minutes in a microwave or boiling in water had only minor effects (19).
The trace compounds in olive oil are also somewhat responsible for its flavor. Therefore, overheating olive oil can take away part of the taste.
Keep in mind that studies showing that heat degrades the antioxidants and vitamins in olive oil use rather extreme conditions.
Do you have to cook in olive oil?
The quality of extra virgin olive oil is that it is an ultra healthy fat which retains its beneficial qualities during cooking.
The main reason you may not want to use it is that overheating can have a detrimental effect on its flavor.
To say that olive oil oxidizes and goes rancid during cooking is a dangerous myth that scares people about using this incredibly healthy fat. You can cook in olive oil, taking care when choosing your olive oil.
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