I'm Spiritual, Dammit

Cooking with olive oil at high heat levels can be toxic

Like most Americans, I have adopted the concept that the first step to healthy cooking is to use extra virgin olive oil.  We hear about this from just about every chef on The Food Network, and Rachel Ray starts almost every dish by drizzling her "E-V-O-O" in the pan.  But did you know that heating olive oil is actually toxic?

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I used to be the host and Executive Producer of a food and wine show on NBC here in Chicago called "Taste".  We were on the air for 12 seasons, which meant visiting a lot of kitchens for chef demonstrations.  From Rick Bayless of Frontera Grill to Grant Achatz at Alinea, we got tips from the best in the business.  


But there was one food expert named George Mateljan who forever changed the way I cook with olive oil.  George has written 5 books on healthy eating, including The World's Healthiest Foods,and he told me that cooking with olive oil isn't all it's cracked up to be.

"You never want to let olive oil get hotter than 200-250 degrees," he warned as he poured it into a pan for our taped cooking segment.

When you first put room temperature olive oil into a pan, it's green and vibrant- filled with vitamins and anti-oxidants.  But as the temperature rises, all those nutrients are literally burned out of the oil, along with the color, and toxic fumes start to rise from the pan.

"People are inhaling this smoke every day when they think it's being healthy, but in reality, the smoke from heated olive oil is full of toxins," George tells me.

So what's a home chef to do??!!  

"Use an oil that can take the heat," he explains.  

"Like canola oil?"  I ask.

"Use safflower oil, coconut oil, or avocado oil.  You can find all of those in the supermarkets today," he suggests.

George spent 10 years doing research before launching his World's Healthiest Foods book, so I trust he knows what he's talking about.  The book is so large, it reminds me of that Riverside Shakespeare anthology I had to lug around in college.  An easier way to reap the rewards of George's hard work is to go to his website.  Like the book, it is jammed with text, but this is an incredible resource for healthy recipes and scientific findings on nutrient rich foods that are easy to cook.

So does this mean no more olive oil?  Not a chance.  Research says that by ingesting more olives, you can even help prevent certain kinds of cancers- such as breast cancer, colorectal cancer, and skin cancer.  You just need to know how to correctly use your olive oil in order to reap the benefits.

"I drizzle olive oil on just about everything," says George.  "After I've cooked my meal, I put it on fish, vegetables, whatever you make- it's like adding a handful of nutrients and vitamins to every dish."

So after meeting George, I went out and purchased some of that safflower oil and coconut oil.  I must say, I have noticed much less smoke in the kitchen when making dinner, which is especially good since I have a three year old running around.  Now I drizzle my E-V-O-O on salads and cooked fish, and I find you can actually taste the olives when you don't heat up the oil.

So spread the word, and save the olive oil for the END of the cooking process.  As Martha Stewart would say,  "It's a good thing!"  


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15 Comments

blindasabat said:

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You have to wonder about the credentials of the authors source when he doesn't seem to understand that all oils are 99.9% fat regardless of whether its avocado or canola or olive or whatever. That aside, it is worth noting that burning any oil regardless of whether it is olive oil or not is not good for you. Olive oil gets is wrongly accused of having a low smoke point. Bad olive oil yes, good olive oil no. The smoke point depends a lot on its free fatty acidity. The lower the FFA the higher the smoke point. Good olive oil has a low FFA and therefore has a smoke point that is significantly higher than the usual imported rubbish that you find in the supermarket, or the cheap food service olive oil that chefs seem to use out back in the kitchen.

Doc Olive said:

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I've read volumes of scientific literature on the subject of organoleptic compounds in olive oil and never heard this before, so I looked into it. I think the key omission in this article is the designation of the temperature SCALE for the point at which toxic off-gassing may become toxic, and it looks to me like it would be KEY to say that the suggested limit of 200-250 degrees is in degrees CENTIGRADE. That would be in the range of the smoke point of unfiltered extra virgin olive oil. It is alarming and alarmist to leave out that key information, and irresponsible to boot.

For the record, the smoke point of unfiltered extra virgin olive oil is about 375F or 190C
The more refined your olive oil, the higher the smoke point. If you are using refined olive oil, such as pure olive oil or light olive oil, it can be as high as 465F or 240C. You can see here where the range specified in the article of 200-250 degrees came from.

PLEASE PUBLISH A CLARIFICATION, ERRATUM OR ADDENDUM.


Cerasuola said:

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The title is extremely misleading and basically wrong, along with some of the information in the article. The 2 previous posts are correct. (Extra Virgin) Olive oil is a fat and the best one for you. Our hearts and cholesterol need it. It can be used for cooking and for finishing dishes. People need to purchase from a local producer, so that they know when, where and how it was made. The labels on inexpensive imports are not truthful. Those labeled Extra Virgin probably are not and are most likely defective, bare minimum, rancid when they arrive here. Be careful. Remember, you get what you pay for! 99% of oil produced in the US comes from California. You can't go wrong purchasing a California Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
Please check your facts next time.

PLEASE PRINT A CORRECTION.

Jen Weigel said:

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I am not saying that olive oil is bad for you-
if you read the post very carefully- it says that the smoke is toxic and the nutrients are cooked out of it at higher heats. As the first comment states- George told me that Olive Oil shouldn't be heated above 200-250 degrees, but the actual smoke point is 190 degrees Centigrade. The smoke point for say an avocado oil is 271 degrees centigrade. As I state in the article, olive oil is not only good for you, research says it prevents certain kinds of cancers- so again- read the full post. Thanks for your comments

SIGH said:

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You can't have a headline like, "Cooking with olive oil can be toxic", and then say " I am not saying olive oil is bad for you".

Just because someone spent ten years doing research doesn't always mean they know what they are talking about. I completely agree with the previous posts. In addition, the fresher the olive oil, the higher the smoke point.

Jen Weigel said:

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Sure you can have a head line that states COOKING WITH OLIVE OIL CAN BE TOXIC- because my blog gives an example of how you can misuse Olive Oil in the kitchen, and it can be toxic. Watch the demonstration video on www.youtube.com/jenweigel and you will see for yourself. Do it at home, and you can see AND smell for yourself. Olive Oil is a wonder food- just don't cook all the good crap out of it and you'll be fine!

George is the founder of Health Valley Organic Foods- and has been studying nutrition and cooking for several decades. He is a pioneer in the healthy food movement. I know he knows his stuff..

EVAO said:

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I realize this may be a little late, but extra virgin avocado oil , is much healthier than Olive oil. Higer in anti oxidents
vitamins , minerals, and doesn't lose nutritional value at high heat. Its a great story, I bottle, import and distribute
Extra virgin avocado oil.

Cerasuola said:

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Not the point, Jen. By writing a salacious headline with the word TOXIC in it, while referring to one of the most healthiest foods on our planet is completely irresponsible. (Call out the Haz Mat Team, you may die from the healiest food in the world!) I read your post thoroughly and understand that some good points were made, but with a headline like that, you're obviously there to sell papers. Not everyone reads beyond a headline and then skimming an article. (Unfortunately many people do believe everything they read).
Your headline chould/should have been different. If your object is to inform and educate, then you did yourself and the Chicogo Tribune an injustice.

leiasmom said:

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Wow. As a person in the olive oil producing industry, and one who makes her living by providing fresh, healthy, California Extra Virgin Olive Oil to consumers, I'm floored by your completely irresponsible headline stating that olive oil "can be toxic". Not only did you make a HUGE mis-statement of OMISSION by not including "WHEN USED AT HIGH HEAT FOR FRYING", but citing The Food Network and Rachel Ray in your first paragraph actually APPEARS to give credence to your mis-statement. Not one chef or cook on The Food Network has EVER recommended cooking or frying foods at HIGH temperatures in olive oil - including E-V-O-O Rachel (not even Paula Deen!) It wasn't until the 12th paragraph in your article that you began to explain what you were trying to say!!! I'll bet most readers didn't go much beyond the first few paragraphs.
The fact remains that fresh Extra Virgin Olive Oil is a boost to one's health in any number of ways. We in the industry have been working very hard for years to educate consumers about the benefits of domestic, fresh, unadulterated EVOO. (Many imports are NOT unadulterated - they're "cut" with hazelnut, canola, grapeseed oils - yet LABELLED as EVOO - which should be illegal, and in fact IS illegal in some states). Please set the record straight so as to not set us back in our consumer education by what could be years. Fair is fair, Jen. Consumers deserve more than that headline "sound-bite" from you. They deserve the whole story. It IS safe to cook with EVOO - just don't make French Fries with it.

Jen Weigel said:

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A reminder to all of you- this is a BLOG okay- not the front page of the Tribune. When Dr. Oz was on Oprah last year telling her that she shouldn't throw the olive oil into the pan to saute her fish or vegetables, she said something like "but that's how I cook most of my food?" It was an "Ah-ha" moment for the whole audience. And for most of America. He explained the same thing that I expressed in my BLOG. My point in posting this was to say that MOST Americans are greatly MIS-using one of the best foods available. My huge pet peeve is when people read one paragraph of my blog and then yell that I'm not promoting the goods of olive oil. As you mentioned- I do say this (I believe in the "12th paragraph"....) that olive oil is great. I wanted to get people's attention to read this so they can watch the video and start to use this oil in the correct manner. Most of us half listen and just throw it in the pan and think it's making us healthy. And to be honest- olive oil starts to smoke in about 30 seconds... whether you measure the temperature or not. I believe in the science behind all of the research that George Mateljan brings to the table. He has a foundation that does NOTHING but research foods and the benefits of certain foods 24 hours a day. Remember when we thought it was safe to smoke on airplanes because the government said it was okay? If George tells me NOT to heat olive oil more than 200 degrees- I'm not going to heat my olive oil anymore. He did say you can bake with it- up to 350 degrees- and drizzle it on everything because it makes food taste better. So now, this is what I do at home. He is an expert. Much more so than anyone on The Food Network or Rachel Ray. I'd much rather go to George's website to get my cooking tips.
Again- glad to have the dialogue going- but this is my blog- and I'm sharing my experiences from my life. If it gets just a few more people to stop smoking out their kitchens- that's a good thing.

leiasmom said:

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I agree! Thank you for changing the headline - it will now alert people to the hazards of over-heating EVOO - and actually ANY cooking oil, and may make people read the entire article. EVOO is BEST as a "finishing oil", but can be used safely for lightly and slowly sautteing foods, as well as roasting and baking. The really BEST way to use EVOO is by drizzling over food just after it's been cooked. It adds incredible flavor and wonderful nutrition to just about anything. And don't forget that Vinaigrette for your salads!

Thank you, Jen, for the addition to your article's headline. We in the industry appreciate it. I use Extra Virgin Olive Oil every day of my life, and I feel the general public deserves to understand all the benefits of eating it also, as well as the "over-heating" problems that may arise.

Synthia Rose said:

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I totally agree with you. I use Coconut Oil for cooking at high temperatures and make homemade vinegarettes with olive oil.

I can understand the histrionics of people here, however. When you love an "good" oil so much you don't want to hear anything about can be unhealthy. I felt similarly when I recently learned flax oil and wheat germ oil, which can be sooo good for you, have a short shelf life with the potential for rancidity that can cause cancer. In fact, once they reach health food store shelf or arrived to your door from Amazon.com they are likely already rancid and not worth the risk of using.

Hard to believe bad things can happen to good, natural ingredients but it does. We can run from this knowledge, but we can use it for better choices.

Synthia Rose said:

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oops.
arrived = arrive
can=can't

shaun said:

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Use coconut oil instead huh? It's the oil with the absolute higest level of saturated fat. What a completely pointless article.

http://www.spinalhealth.net/fats.html

Nader said:

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Saturated fat isn't the evil it has been made out to be. The reasoning behind saturated fat's bad reputation is based on flawed research (read about Ancel Keys if interested). It depends on the source/quality of the saturated fat. The saturated fat in a Bic Mac for example is not good, but the saturated fat in virgin coconut oil is quite unique in that it is composed primarily of medium chain fatty acids which have been shown to have many health benefits. Another example of quality saturated fat is that which is present in grass fed beef.

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