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Does Cooking With Olive Oil Ruin Its Health Benefits?

Scientists have found that cooking with olive oil reduces its polyphenol content. There is still plenty to spare, though, making olive oil heart-healthy.
Does Cooking With Olive Oil Ruin Its Health Benefits?
Cooking meal in a pot. Bottle of Extra virgin oil pouring in to pot for cooking meal. Healthy food concept.

Numerous studies have shown that the Mediterranean diet can lower cardiovascular risk and help ward off a number of other chronic conditions. One of the staples of this eating pattern is extra virgin olive oil. It is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids and polyphenols that serve as powerful antioxidants. But does cooking with olive oil undo its benefits?

How Does Cooking with Olive Oil Affects Its Polyphenols?

Some scientists have expressed concern that heating olive oil might undermine its health benefits. Does olive oil maintain its anti-oxidant capacity after it is heated? To find out, investigators at the University of Barcelona simulated home cooking conditions (Antioxidants, Jan. 16, 2020).

They found that heating olive oil to temperatures used for sautéing food did reduce the levels of polyphenols. In fact, cooking with olive oil at the lower temperature (120 degrees C) reduced these compounds by 40%. At the higher temperature (170 degrees C), polyphenol content dropped by 75%. Nonetheless, total polyphenol content was still high enough to prevent LDL cholesterol oxidation. Hence, it meets European Union criteria for a healthful food.

In summary, this research suggests that cooking with olive oil is certainly safe, but extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) might be best used in salad dressings and in other ways that don’t require heating. Be sure to keep this oil in a glass container in a dark cupboard to preserve polyphenols that provide the best flavor (Journal of the American Oil Chemists Society, Feb. 6, 2019).

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
  • Lozano-Castellon J et al, "Domestic sautéing with EVOO: Change in the phenolic profile." Antioxidants, Jan. 16, 2020. https://doi.org/10.3390/antiox9010077
  • de la Torre-Robles A et al, "Effect of light exposure on the quality and phenol content of commercial extra virgin olive oil during 12‐month storage." Journal of the American Oil Chemists Society, Feb. 6, 2019. https://doi.org/10.1002/aocs.12198
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