Can You Cook With Olive Oil?
Can you cook with olive oil? Contrary to what you may have been told about cooking with oil, extra virgin olive oil is my first recommendation for use in cooking, dressings, marinades, etc.
In this post you’ll learn more about:
- The health benefits of olive oil
- Why extra virgin olive oil is safe and healthy to cook with
Originally published August 24, 2020 at gathernourishgrow.com.
Olive oil’s heart health benefits come mainly from it’s higher monounsaturated fat content. Avocados and macadamia nuts are also good sources of monounsaturated fats. This type of fat that has been shown to increase HDL cholesterol, decrease LDL cholesterol, and decrease total cholesterol.
What are HDL and LDL?
Generally speaking, they are proteins that carry fats (lipo = fat). HDL stands for high density lipoprotein, while LDL stands for low density lipoprotein. Basically, HDL carries cholesterol to the liver where it’s removed from the body and LDL carries cholesterol to the arteries.
While cholesterol is very important to our overall health as it is a part of the cell membrane and is imperative for aiding hormone production, including vitamin D, we do not want too much cholesterol. High cholesterol levels contribute towards build up of fat deposits in blood vessels, increasing the risk of heart disease.
Saturated fats, found mainly in meat, dairy products, and tropical oils (coconut, palm) increase HDL, but also increase LDL and total cholesterol.
Current research, however, suggests actual dietary cholesterol, found commonly in meat and egg yolks does not affect blood cholesterol. Our bodies are pretty smart and because cholesterol is so important, we actually make it! The less dietary cholesterol we consume, the more our bodies make, and the more we dietary cholesterol we consume, the less our bodies make. Pretty cool, right?
Antioxidants & Polyphenols
Typically, I don’t love the idea of consuming a ton of oil in general as they’re made by taking a whole food (i.e. olives, avocados, nuts, etc.) with fiber, antioxidants, and a host of vitamins and minerals and extracting just the fat. Now, as you read above, the fats can be very healthy! But, we are then missing out on the other nutrients those foods originally contained, so I don’t think of oil as being particularly nutrient dense compared to whole food fats. Extra virgin olive oil, however, at least has some redeeming qualities as it retains it’s polyphenols as well as the antioxidant vitamin E!
Polyphenols are compounds with antioxidant properties. Antioxidants act against free radicals (or oxidation) in our cells, which promote inflammation – the source of many chronic ailments and diseases. Antioxidants are anti-inflammatory and prevent cellular damage and improve cellular health, which can positively affect nearly every system in the body (1)!
According to Dr. Sarah Ballantyne, polyphenols:
- Boost the immune system
- Protect against chronic and acute disease
- Regulate enzyme function
- Stimulate cell receptors
- Modulate functions of inflammatory cells
- Alter adhesion molecule expression
- Affect nerve cells and cardiac muscle cells
- Exert antiviral effects (1)
Moreover, polyphenols are excellent for the bacteria in the gut microbiome! Why is this important? The bacteria that make up our gut microbiome are essential to optimal health, and issues with the gut are responsible for many of the modern diseases that plague us today. Our gut microbiome plays a role in weight, brain function, cravings, heart health, skin health, immune system, blood sugar, and so much more. Building a healthy gut microbiome is vital and extra virgin olive oil can aid in that.
Can you cook with olive oil?
Years ago I used to avoid cooking with olive oil as I was taught that oils are more likely to go rancid as a result of heat, light, time, and oxygen exposure. But then I learned that when olive oil was actually put to the test and heated over a number of hours, which most of us are likely not doing at home, it took quite a long time (24-27 hours of deep frying to be exact) for olive oil to undergo any significant oxidation (2).
Additionally, there is research to show that olive oil’s (specifically extra virgin olive oil, which retains more of it’s phenolic compounds) antioxidants are protective against oxidation in high heat (2, 3). I mean, it makes sense. They aren’t called anti-oxidants for nothing!
The antioxidants extra virgin olive oil contains prevents olive oil from oxidizing (going rancid) from high temperatures.
So, which olive oil is best to use?
In general, I recommend looking for few different qualifications when choosing an olive oil:
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Dark container, ideally glass or metal – minimizes oxidation from light exposure.
- An expiration date – oxidation (the oil going rancid or bad) can result from time. So, if olive oil sits on the shelf for awhile, it may have started to oxidize, but if it has an expiration date, then you don’t need to worry about not knowing when the product will go bad!
- A PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) or PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) symbol – something I did not discuss is that sometimes oils are cut with other, cheaper oils. This symbol basically recognizes the product as more authentic and coming from the place that it says it does.
Besides being healthy, I personally love the taste of olive oil! It’s one of the few oils that actually has a flavor. Plus, it’s so versatile: cooking, baking, popcorn making, dressing, marinades, dips, etc.! You can relax knowing it’s okay to cook with olive oil, in fact, it’s healthy for us!
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- Ballantyne, Sarah. Polyphenols: Magic Bullet of Health Hype? The Paleo Mom. Nov. 5, 2015. https://www.thepaleomom.com/polyphenols-magic-bullet-or-health-hype/.
- Kinney, Kelsey. Is It Safe to Cook with Olive Oil? Chris Kresser. June 28, 2019. https://chriskresser.com/is-it-safe-to-cook-with-olive-oil/.
- Ballantyne, Sarah. Olive Oil Redemption: Yes, It’s a Great Cooking Oil!. October 17, 2015. https://www.thepaleomom.com/olive-oil-redemption-yes-its-a-great-cooking-oil/.