Is Olive Oil Bad for You? Cooking With Olive Oil

Medically Reviewed on 4/18/2022
Is Olive Oil Bad for You
While olive oil is not bad for you, it has a low smoke point and should not be used for cooking in high heat, which may cause the oil to form harmful compounds

While olive oil is not bad for you, it has a low smoke point and should not be used for cooking in high heat, which may cause the oil to form harmful compounds.

Why olive oil can be good for you

Olive oil is rich in antioxidants and healthy monounsaturated fatty acids:

  • Antioxidants protect your body from free radicals caused by oxidative stress, which can ward off certain diseases such as diabetes, heart diseases, stroke, and even certain types of cancer
  • When used in place of saturated fat, monounsaturated fats help lower bad cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein) levels and the risk of dementia.

Is olive oil good for cooking?

Many experts believe that exposure to high heat changes the intrinsic properties of fats and oils. Olive oil especially has a low smoke point, between 365-420 F. Smoking point refers to the point at which an oil begins to produce smoke. When you heat olive oil to its smoke point, useful compounds such as polyphenols get transformed into potentially harmful compounds.

While olive oil may not be an ideal cooking oil for frying at high temperatures, it can still be used for cooking at lower temperatures so that the nutrient content is preserved.

Which type of olive oil is best for cooking?

Even for low heat cooking, it is important to understand the grades of olive based on how they are extracted and processed. The highest grade of olive oil is extra virgin olive oil, followed by virgin oil, and finally, refined olive oil. 

Research suggests extra virgin olive oil has a relatively high smoke point of 376 F. Hence, it is safe to use for most cooking methods, including pan-frying. Some evidence suggests that pan-frying certain foods in olive oil, such as tomatoes, onions, and garlic, can improve the bioavailability of antioxidants such as carotenoids and polyphenols.

What are alternatives to olive oil for cooking over high heat?

For cooking over minimal heat, you can use olive oil. However, if you want to deep fry, the best option is canola oil, which is rich in heart-healthy compounds such as alpha-linolenic acid and polyphenols. If you are not sure about buying plain canola oil because of the concern regarding genetically-modified canola seeds, you can go for organic canola oil. 

Other oils you can use at high heat include:

  • Peanut
  • Sunflower
  • Avocado
  • Macadamia nut
  • Almond

If you want to err on the side of caution and not use olive oil to cook at high heat, you can still reap the health benefits of olive oil by using it in other ways, such as drizzling it over bread, salad, or fish.


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Medically Reviewed on 4/18/2022
Image Source: iStock Images

Chiou A, Kalogeropoulos N. Virgin olive oil as frying oil. Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety. 2017 Jul;16(4):632-46.

LeWine HE. Is extra-virgin olive oil extra healthy? Harvard Health Publishing.