Is Sautéing Or Frying With Olive Oil Bad For Me?

Recent headlines lead us to believe that although olive oil has many health benefits, it becomes “toxic” when heated.

Here are the truths:

According to the American Heart Association and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, olive oil is a heart healthy, anti-inflammatory, monounsaturated fat, protecting us from cardiovascular disease, stroke and “free radicals” – compounds which can damage our cells.  Its high Vitamin E content, along with other natural plant compounds, are wonderful antioxidants, guarding our bodies from cellular damage linked to cancer. In fact, olive oil, heated or unheated, is one of the healthiest fats and is an essential part of the Mediterranean diet.

Every oil has a smoke point which can cause it to oxidize. You’ve probably seen the smoke point of an oil, when it is overheated, begins to smoke and as a result causes it to degrade a bit.  This change in an oil’s chemical structure, promotes the creation of cell damaging free radicals. However, with olive oil and its high anti-oxidant qualities, it seems to take a long time for this to happen; much more than you would see in a typical household environment.  A group of scientists actually tested this by heating extra virgin olive to more than 350 degrees for 36 hours and saw little change in oxidation. (In case you are wondering, a typical household stove heats to below 350 degrees). If you are deep frying at higher heat, try using a healthy plant based oil with a higher smoke point like peanut oil. If moderate heat doesn’t oxidize olive oil significantly, what does? Long term exposure to a lot of light and air has the greatest impact on olive oil.

The take home message?

  • Feel comfortable using olive oil for light frying or sautéing, at household stove temperatures.
  • Avoid buing a huge amount of olive oil and letting it sit for a long time and becoming rancid.
  • Make sure your olive oil is sealed and stored in a dark, cool spot.
  • Olive oil does not have to be refrigerated because of its high monosaturated fat content.
  • Enjoy this wonderful, heart healthy, anti-inflammatory and yummy tasting oil warm or cold.



2.“How heating affects extra virgin olive oil quality indexes and chemical composition,” Y. Allouche, A. Jiménez, J. J. Gaforio, M. Uceda, G. Beltrán, J Agric Food Chem, 2007 Nov 14;55(23):9646-54. Epub 2007 Oct 13, PMID: 17935291

3. ”The antioxidants in oils heated at frying temperature, whether natural or added, could protect against postprandial oxidative stress in obese people.” Perez-Herrera A, Food Chem. 2013 Jun 15;138(4):2250-9

Anschutz Health and Wellness Center