Cooking on High Heat With Olive Oil?

When it comes to optimizing your health, the health and wellness space has a lot of advice to give you. But, is that advice always true or are there some of the common “facts” we hear on social media, and even from our well intended providers, causing us more confusion? Not only can some of these myths have limited supporting evidence but,most importantly, I have unfortunately seen these myths cause more harm than good and lead to a variety of unnecessary restrictive diets and disordered eating. So today, let’s chat about cooking oils.The type and form of cooking oils have been of particular interest to the health and wellness space and have provided a variety of confusion in terms of which oils are actually most healthful and which to use based on the temperature of your cooking techniques.

Over the past few years, it was theorized that it was better to use high smoke point oils, like coconut and avocado oils, when cooking at high temperatures, as they were thought to be more stable based on their smoke point. In comparsent, it was often suggested to save extra virgin olive oil for low heat and cold cooking, including using them on salads versus for pan frying. The idea was good in theory and was the reason physicians and wellness experts alike would often promote this recommendation both to their communities and patients. But, is this really true? Does higher smoke points make an oil more stable? Researchers were curious to put this theory to the test and I’m so glad they did!

As sales of avocado and coconut oil have been at an all time high, researchers were specifically interested in understanding if cooking with certain oils really did have better health benefits and stability than the traditional favorite, extra virgin olive oil. Extra virgin olive oil has been long documented as a key component of the Mediterranean diet, one of the most studied and well documented healthful diets of all times. Extra virgin olive oil, as part of the Mediterranean diet, has been well validated by researchers in trials such as the PREDIMED trial for cardiovascular disease and later the SMILES trial for depression. So could this new theory of the benefits of high smoke point oils be hindering the use of a well documented oil like, extra virgin olive oil, without proper evidence to truly prove it’s superior benefit?

In 2018, researchers decided to compare the stability and smoke point of a variety of the most popular cooking oils including: 

  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Virgin Olive Oil 
  • Olive Oil 
  • Avocado Oil
  • Grapeseed Oil
  • Sunflower Oil
  • Rice Oil
  • Peanut Oil 
  • Canola Oil 
  • Coconut Oil

They evaluated the trans fat content before and after heating  each of the oils and found that even after being heated, although extra virgin olive oil did not have the highest “smoke point”, it was the most stable oil. This was one of the first trials that provided evidence that the smoke point of an oil was unrelated to the stability of the oil. The study also found that grapeseed oil appeared to have the highest level of trans-fats when heated and should be ideally avoided, whenever possible.

So, according to researchers in a variety of studies completed not only on the stability of oils but on the health benefits of omega-3 rich oils, they found that, hands down, the best oil to incorporate in your diet is most likely extra virgin olive oil. So, whether you are using extra virgin olive oil to drizzle on a salad or adding it to a heated pan for cooking, rest assured your oil is stable and can continue to provide you with a variety of health benefits!

How to Shop for Extra Virgin Olive Oil 

Whether you are using extra virgin olive oil raw, to pan fry, saute or even bake, finding high quality sources is a must in order to get the most health benefits. Extra virgin olive oil has been used in a variety of health related studies and has been an important part of Mediterranean eating and lifestyle patterns.

Extra virgin means the olives have been pressed very close to harvest without the exposure to excess heat and, as a result, the oil is seen to contain higher nutritional value. To be sure you’re purchasing extra virgin olive oil, look for the following on the label: 

  • The label clearly says Extra Virgin Olive Oil 
  • It’s stored in a dark glass bottle (this helps protect the oil from light and prevent degradation)
  • The harvest date should be listed directly on the bottle and listed within the past 18-24 months. Olive oil is generally harvested in the late fall, so if you’re purchasing in 2023, you’d want a harvest date from Nov/Dec 2022 for optimal nutritional value. 

For additional quality standards look for one of the following seals: 

  • California: COOC seal 
  • Europe: Protected Origin of Destination 
  • International: International Olive Council (IOC) or Extra Virgin Alliance (EVA) 

Unlike wine, olive oil does not get better with age. Once it’s opened, exposed to light, heat and oxygen it will begin to oxidize. So once you open a bottle of extra virgin olive oil, it is best to use the oil within 3-6 months. Make sure to store your oil in a cool, dark cabinet or pantry. 

About the Author: Meet Dr. ZenAlissia Zenhausern- Pfeiffer, NMD, FABNE, (commonly known by her patients as Dr. Zen), is a licensed naturopathic doctor board certified in naturopathic endocrinology and the founder of NMD Wellness of Scottsdale, a premier naturopathic medical practice that focuses on helping women to take a proactive approach to their hormone and fertility health. Dr. Zen has been featured as a lead expert in Forbes, Shape Magazine, and Instyle and is deeply passionate about bridging the gap between traditional and natural medicine in the world of fertility. She works with a variety of hormone related issues including PCOS, endometriosis and unexplained infertility. Her goal is to help more women get back into the driver’s seat of their own health to make lasting transformational changes to their health to bring more cute and adorable babies into this world. Read More About Dr. Zen...