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Stop Cooking with Olive Oil

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by Mila McManus, MD

When you use a good quality olive oil for cooking, it’s not doing for you nutritionally what you expected it to do. While it has been determined that olive oil is more stable with heat than originally thought, the fact remains that the longer it’s exposed to heat, and the higher the heat, it will be damaged and make the oil toxic to your body.

So, when roasting your olive oil coated vegetables in a 350°+ oven, the olive oil will be molecularly damaged. You thought it was healthy, but really it’s not. Rather, you have made an unusable anti-nutrient for your body.  Your body will respond with inflammation and congestion. The same is likely true for avocado oil.

Keep in mind that the higher the heat, and the more prolonged the heating, the faster the degradation of the molecular structure. It may be alright to gently, patiently, slowly sauté something on low to medium low on the stovetop for less than 15 minutes, and successfully avoid damaging the oil. Patient and slow are not common methods for most of us in the kitchen these days.  Besides, why cook in olive oil when there are so many better options that also enhance the flavor of our food?

Here are some tips: First, it’s fine to apply olive oil after cooking is complete where this makes sense. Olive oil is good when used for cold preparation in salad dressings and hummus, for example.  Second, in terms of roasting vegetables, try putting the roasting pan with butter in the oven while preheating and cleaning your vegetables. Then remove it from the oven, put your vegetables in the hot melted butter and toss them until coated.  This works well with any saturated fat (e.g. coconut oil, ghee, lard) and is just as fast as olive oil when you consider the wait time for the oven to preheat anyway. 

There are many heat stable saturated fats with which to cook. Normally, at room temperature, these will be more solid, though that may fluctuate with the temperature in your house. Examples include pasture raised butter or ghee, duck, beef, pork fat, and coconut oil. Check out epicprovisions.com for good options. Reserve bacon fat from uncured bacon for cooking. When using the highest heats such as broiling or on the grill, consider ghee to be the most stable. One excellent brand is 4th & Heart (fourthandheart.com) and they offer various flavors. Ghee is normally found on the olive oil aisle of the grocery store, not in the diary section. It is normally soft enough to use a silicone brush to coat a pan, or spread on vegetables or fish, for example.

Take caution when you purchase olive oil.  Most olive oils are tarnished and impure, as well as counterfeit, having other added oils such as soybean, grapeseed, or canola oil. Many have been discovered to have toxic chemicals too. Here are tips for purchasing quality olive oil:

  • The more information provided on the label, the better.
  • A harvest date no more than one year old.
  • Know that there is no regulatory significance of terms like “first cold pressed, or “extra virgin”, so don’t let that lead you.
  • Look for third party certifications that promise higher standards such as “COOC Certified Extra Virgin”( California Olive Oil Council) or EVA (the Extra Virgin Alliance) and “100% Qualita Italiana”, by UNAPROL, the association of actual Italian olive growers. Interestingly, little stock is put in a USDA organic certification!
  • Chile, Australia, followed by the US, have better practices and stricter standards in general according to the U.S. International Trade Commission report on the quality of extra-virgin olive oil.  These may be the best “go to” sources of origin when in doubt.
  • Newer oils are always better. Be sure to buy small quantities (a six week supply) as it is highly perishable. It should not be exposed to heat or light and is best stored in a cool, dark cabinet. Tins do the best job of blocking the light, followed by an opaque glass bottle. Oxygen is also an enemy of olive oil so once opened, the oil quality is going downhill quickly.

Reduce inflammation and increase nutrition by using oils correctly.  Eat Well. Be Well.

¹ Real Food/Fake Food by Larry Olmsted, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2016.

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