Episode 96 Transcript – Can You Cook With Olive Oil?

Aidan:

Hello and welcome to The Ideal Nutrition Podcast. My name is Aidan Muir and I’m here with my co-host Leah Higl. And this is episode 96 where we are going to be talking about whether you can cook with olive oil or whether you should cook with olive oil. This is another nuance topic, just like the last podcasts that we have been doing on omega-3 and everything like that. It’s a deep topic, but the question is moreso can you cook with olive oil at higher temperatures is really what the question is about. And we’ll go through it, but we’re going to start off with some general background and everything like that and then we’ll get more nuance nuanced as we go.

Leah:

Doing a little bit of an overview, so looking at the general benefits of olive oil. We know that olive oil is linked with a bunch of health benefits and that is pretty clear, particularly in relation to reducing cardiovascular disease risk and overall heart health. And we know higher olive oil intake has also been linked with lower all cause mortality, which is great. So that would tell us the overall breadth of research is saying olive oil is a good thing to have in your diet regardless. And I think the Mediterranean diet is a great example of this.

The Mediterranean diet, I mean it’s beneficial for a number of reasons in terms of what it encompasses, but a high intake of olive oil is a huge part of the Mediterranean diet. And when we look at research on the Mediterranean diet, which we actually have done a podcast episode specifically on, but when we look at that research, we see again really positive health benefits coming from that style of eating. And whilst it’s not all attributed to the olive oil, I still think that is playing a factor in all of it.

Aidan:

Yeah, some of the higher intake of olive oil that we see in studies that are up around the 60 mil mark. And that’s almost daily. Yeah. Daily. That’s almost 500 calories daily coming from olive oil.

And even though you could pin down a lot of the health benefits from the Mediterranean diet to a lot of other variables, it’s also hard to ignore that up to around 500 calories coming from olive oil is a component of that.

It’s huge. Right? I’m going to talk about extra virgin olive oil versus regular olive oil just to add a touch of context that we’ll need for the next few things we’ll go through. Extra virgin olive oil is an unrefined oil that is made by cold pressing olives without any additional heat or chemicals. This is why it’s a little bit more expensive as well because it’s a more time/resource intensive process to produce. But due to that process and the lower levels of refinement and everything like that, it is a significantly higher polyphenol kind of oil. And polyphenols are a form of antioxidant. And this could largely explain some of the health benefits associated with olive oil.

Regular olive oil, there’s a definition of it, but it’s basically anything that doesn’t fit that criteria. It’s either completely refined olive oil or it is a bit of a blend of both. I usually just recommend extra virgin olive oil. I see most dieticians, that’s pretty much all they recommend. Pretty much whenever I’m talking about olive oil, I’m talking about extra virgin olive oil, but I just wanted to put that context out there for everything we’re about to talk about.

Leah:

Moving on to the big part of this podcast, and that’s really looking at why would anybody think you couldn’t cook with olive oil? Where did this notion come from? The biggest argument is specifically around the smoke point of olive oil. Claims like when you heat olive oil to its smoke point, the beneficial compounds in the oil start to degrade and potentially health harming compounds form. That’s a very typical argument, along with if an oil is heated beyond its smoke point, it gives off toxic smoke. The smoke point of olive oil is around 200 degrees Celsius, so it is relatively high. Although looking at the research, there is a bit of a range depending on the olive oil specifically and the mix of extra virgin versus something a little more refined.

Some refined oils such as palm oil, peanut, safflower, soybean oils can have a smoke point around that 230 degrees Celsius mark and even up to 260 degrees Celsius or maybe even a little bit higher than that. There are oils that do have a higher smoke point. But even just thinking about logistics, it is pretty rare that we’re going to cook over 200 degrees Celsius. If we’re talking about maybe in a fry pan potentially, but if we’re talking baking, usually we’re sitting around that 160, 180 mark anyway. But generally unrefined oils have smoke points in the lower range and even up to the low 100s, where a bit more refined can tend to have those higher smoke points. So looking at maybe more of your seed oils.

Cooking at high temperatures is considered to cause the release of harmful toxins, which could be carcinogenic. That’s where this overall argument against cooking with olive oil comes from. But how true that is I think is murky just because the fact that we know that that link between consuming olive oil and the health benefits seems to be pretty clear. And in the research that’s not all uncooked olive oil. We know a lot of that is olive oil people are cooking with.

Aidan:

Yeah, I think that’s a huge summary of a lot of things. I’ll go through individually some stuff. So I’ll go through smoke points, I’ll start with there. Smoke point is not the be all and end all, but it’s often an argument that is used against it. But touching on what you covered, being the temperatures that we’re cooking at often do not overlap with the smoke point. Smoke point, as you said is around 200 degrees, but different sources and different types of olive oil and everything that will have a slightly different smoke point. I’ve seen one source claim that it can be as low as 160 degrees, which would therefore mean that we should be starting to be getting worried about even just baking at 180 degrees Celsius, but almost every other source is higher than that.

And we’ll talk about some research in a bit about higher temperature cooking for long durations, and what actually happens. Let’s not just look at what people are saying, let’s actually look at the outcomes. But the smoke point thing, basically, usually we’re cooking at a temperature that’s lower than the smoke point to start off with, although there could be exceptions where we will go above that.

But why is it not just about the smoke point? The polyphenol and antioxidant, because polyphenols are a form of antioxidant. The polyphenol content of olive oil is protective against the oxidation that can occur. It’s another argument for extra virgin olive oil over regular olive oil as well. One study looked at olive oil stability under deep-frying conditions and compared regular olive to extra virgin olive oil to vegetable oils over a 27-hour period. A lot of these studies are taking this to an extreme.

Leah:

Yeah, no one’s cooking for 27 hours at such a high, big temperature. But anyway.

Aidan:

No. No, exactly. 27 hours and deep-frying obviously, so oxidation levels were higher in vegetable oil than all forms of olive oil. And the antioxidants were more protective in extra virgin olive oil than regular olive oil. Which makes a bit of an argument that with oils with say similar smoke points, at a minimum extra virgin olive oil is likely to be better for cooking than other ones with a similar smoke point.

Leah:

And another thing to mention is the type of fat does matter when it comes to smoke point. This is why people do often pitch coconut oil because coconut oil is higher in saturated fat and we know saturated fat is less likely to create harmful compounds than say, polyunsaturated fats. But then looking at monounsaturated fat, that is also less likely to do this than polyunsaturated. Bringing that back to olive oil, olive oil is 72% monounsaturated fat. So it is mostly that monounsaturated fat anyway, with the rest of it being evenly split between saturated and polyunsaturated. Realistically, the amount of polyunsaturated fat in olive oil is low in comparison to the other fats anyway.

Aidan:

Touching on some other research. There’s research involving super long cooking times at around 36 hours at temperatures of 180 degrees Celsius or higher, which has found some level of degradation, but it’s not overly relevant for the average situation. This is why I say it is a nuance topic because it would be a lie to say extra virgin olive oil has no issues ever with cooking at any temperature or any duration. We can see that cooking at above 180 degrees Celsius for a very, very long time. We can see some downsides. It’s just about how relevant that is for the average situation.

I think the next obvious step before going even more nuanced than that is looking at it from a general perspective. As you said, research involving cooking with olive oil has been consistently linked with positive health outcomes. One of the clearest examples of this is the [inaudible 00:09:44] trial, where they were frying in a fry pan with a large amount of olive oil every day, and they had huge health outcomes. They had huge improvements in overall health in this trial while cooking in olive oil regularly in a fry pan. I think that is an important thing, being we have a wealth of evidence on extra virgin olive oil having health benefits and a lot of that evidence is using cooking. So as a general look before we go any niche, any super high temperature cooking or anything like that, we know that cooking with olive oil, not only is it fine, it is better than most oils.

Leah:

Yeah. And in terms of when we’re talking about this research, we are linking that all in this show notes if you do want to go have a better look at that. But summarizing this episode, extra virgin olive oil is likely a better option for cooking than majority of other oils. We wouldn’t take that to the extreme though and cook at really, really high temperatures for a really, really long time. But honestly, most people are not taking it to that extreme anyway. And one clear thing in this process was that we didn’t see any studies that showed negative health outcomes from humans cooking in olive oil. And I think that’s a big one. If there was such a strong link between poor health outcomes and cooking with olive oil, then we would be seeing that in the research, but we are seeing the opposite.

Aidan:

Yeah, I like that summary. This has been episode 96 of The Ideal Nutrition Podcast. As always, if you have not already, if you could please leave a rating and review, that would be greatly appreciated.