Episode 96 – Can You Cook With Olive Oil?

General Benefits of Olive Oil

  • Olive oil is linked with a bunch of health benefits – particularly in relation to reducing CVD risk. 
  • Higher olive oil intake has also been linked with lower all cause mortality. 
  • The Mediterranean diet is a great example of this, it is super high in olive oil & has consistently been linked with health benefits (of course it is not just the olive oil, but it is likely playing a role) 

EVOO vs regular olive oil

  • Extra virgin is an unrefined oil that is made by cold pressing olives without any additional heat or chemicals. 
  • It is more expensive because it is more time/resource intensive to produce 
  • Due to this process though, it has a significantly higher polyphenol content. Polyphenols are a form of antioxidant. 
  • Regular olive oil is either completely refined olive oil, or is a blend.  

Why would anybody think you couldn’t cook with olive oil?

  • The biggest argument is around smoke point
    • claims like- “When you heat olive oil to its smoke point, the beneficial compounds in oil start to degrade, and potentially health-harming compounds form.”  
    • AND “If an oil is heated beyond its smoke point, it gives off toxic smoke.  
    • The smoke point of olive oil is around 200°C. Some refined oils, such as palm, peanut, safflower and soybean oils can have smoke points around 230°C to 260°C, but unrefined oils can have smoke points in the low hundreds.” 
  • Cooking at high temperatures is considered to cause the release of harmful toxins – which could be carcinogenic. 
  • So this is where the overall argument against cooking with olive oil comes from  

Evidence indicating it is safe

  1. Smoke point 
  • The smoke point isn’t the be all and end all. The smoke point of extra virgin olive oil is between 180 degrees and 220 degrees depending on the type. Although sources differ on this, with some suggesting slightly lower. 
  • For context, coconut oil has a relatively similar smoke point. 
  • Some oils like avocado oil go up to the 260+ range. 
  1. Type of fat 
  • The type of fat matters when it comes to smoke point  
  • This is why people often pitch coconut oil. Because it is high in saturated fat which is less likely to create these harmful compounds than polyunsaturated fat.  
  • But monounsaturated fat is also less likely to do this than polyunsaturated fat.  
  • And olive oil is 72% mono-unsaturated fat, with the rest evenly split between saturated and polyunsaturated. 
  1. Polyphenols 
  • The polyphenols in olive oil are also protective again the oxidation that can occur. 
  • This is another argument for EVOO over regular olive oil 
  • A study titled – “Olive oil stability under deep-frying conditions” compared olive oil to EVOO to vegetable oils over as long as a 27 hour period. Oxidation levels were higher in vegetable oil than all forms of olive oil. The antioxidants were more protective in EVOO than regular olive oil. 
  1. Other Relevant Research 
  • Research involving super long cooking times (e.g. 36 hours) at temperatures of 180°C or higher has found some level of degradation. But that is not overly relevant for the average situation. 
  • Research specifically involving cooking with olive oil has consistently been linked with positive health outcomes – e.g. the PREDIMED Trial. 


  • EVOO is likely a better option for cooking than the majority of oils. 
  • But I wouldn’t take that to an extreme and cook at super high temperatures. 
  • One clear thing in this process though was that I didn’t see any studies showing negative health outcomes in humans of cooking with olive oil.

Relevant Links/Resources

Blog Posts

Studies Mentioned

Olive oil and health 

Mediterranean Diet and Health 

Olive oil stability under deep frying conditions 

Olive oil and cooking over 36 hours