A Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil is known for reducing the risk of heart disease. Yet we are told that we shouldn't cook with olive oil as the heating process toxifies it.
Is this true? We took a look at the research to try and cut through the confusion.
When you cook in olive oil, chemicals called aldehydes are produced which are believed to be toxic. Do these aldehydes pose a health risk and should we therefore avoid cooking in olive oil altogether and save it only for drizzling on salads?
In fact, all vegetable oils produce aldehydes during the heating process.
Researchers from the University of the Basque Country analysed olive, sunflower and flaxseed oils and found that olive oil produced the least aldehydes, making it a better cooking choice than other vegetable oils.
This is because olive oil is a monounsaturated oil and behaves differently to polyunsaturated oils such as sunflower and flaxseed oils. In fact, it contains no more aldehydes when heated than butter or goose fat. All monounsaturated fats produced relatively low levels of aldehydes when compared with polyunsaturated fats.
This makes olive oil one of the healthier options for frying foods.
Very little is known as to what constitutes a safe level of aldehydes for humans.
Our bodies produce aldehydes naturally as a by-product of normal fructose and alcohol metabolism.
The research suggests that cooking in olive oil is unlikely to expose you to a higher level of aldehydes than you would normally be exposed to naturally as part of your body’s normal metabolic process.
Therefore, it seems that cooking in olive oil is unlikely to pose a significant risk to health, particularly if used sparingly.
As always, everything in moderation!
one of the joys of my first trip to Greece last year was Greek salad doused in olive oil. I just love the stuff and the flavour it gives. So very glad to read this.
So the point it that it isn't great but it won't do any harm if you use it sparingly. Does it still have health benefits once cooked though...?
that's interesting - and very good news! I always think things taste better cooked in olive oil but I'd also heard there might be a safety issue. Sounds like it isn't the case after all.