The answer is YES…and NO!
Olive oil has been the recipient of much acclaim—loaded with antioxidants like vitamin E it protects the heart and lowers your risk for cancer—and much bad press—cook with olive oil and you’re exposing your body to toxic carcinogens. It’s time to dispel the myths…you can cook with olive oil (and without consequence) as long as you are cognizant of smoke point.
Oils and Oxidation
Vegetable oils are prone to oxidation with age, and especially when exposed to air and light. Heat accelerates the oxidation process. When vegetable oils, like olive oil, oxidize, their molecular structure degrades, fat molecules are damaged, and harmful trans fats are formed. The nutrient profile of vegetable oil is further depleted as antioxidants are destroyed through the oxidation process.
Polyunsaturated fats like corn oil and sunflower oil are the most susceptible to oxidation, while saturated fats like coconut oil and butter are least likely to oxidize, and hold up well when exposed to high heat. Olive oil, a monounsaturated fat, falls somewhere in the middle.
Olive oil’s high concentration of monounsaturated oleic acid helps keep the heart healthy and may even protect against certain cancers. When heated beyond its smoke point, however, olive oil oxidizes into cancer-causing oxygen radicals like ketones, peroxides, aldehydes, and hydroperoxides.
Extra-virgin olive oil is the least refined olive oil and is created from the first pressing of the olives. It imparts the most delicate flavor and is the most nutrient dense of the olive oils. It also has a significantly lower smoke point than refined olive oil, which is extracted with the use of chemicals and has a lower nutrient profile overall. The smoke point of extra-virgin olive oil is approximately 375°F ( or 191°C) whereas the smoke point of refined olive oil is around 460°F. In fact, any refined oil has a higher smoke point than its virgin relative, and is a better option for cooking…especially at higher heats.
As long as you heat olive oil within the confines of its smoke point, you’re safe. For instance, vegetables are typically sautéed at 300°F, well within olive oil’s smoke point. Should you wish to cook at higher heats, then trade in the olive oil for the coconut oil, which imparts a plethora of health benefits of its own!