Heart-healthy, high-heat cooking oils

by Nick Rose, M.S., PCC Nutrition Educator

This article was originally published in May 2013

Olive oil deserves its reputation as a heart-healthy oil: it’s rich in monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) that support “good cholesterol” levels and powerful antioxidants that support a healthy response to inflammation. New research confirms that eating healthy fats like olive oil and nuts daily greatly reduces the risk for heart trouble. However, when extra virgin olive oil is heated above medium (325° F to 350° F, when it often begins to smoke), the health benefits of this fruity oil are reduced significantly.

If you desire a cooking oil with the same healthy fats as olive oil that also is safe for high-heat cooking, I suggest trying a high oleic safflower oil, high oleic sunflower oil, or organic canola oil. Each is rich in oleic acid, the same type of fat in olive oil, but each can be heated up to 450° F without oxidizing (damaging) that precious fat during cooking. Be sure to look for high oleic or high-heat versions, which are made from varieties well suited for high-heat cooking.

PCC delis use a blend of extra virgin olive oil and high oleic safflower oil in most dishes. Using a 50/50 blend extends the range of safe cooking temperatures while providing the same heart benefits of oils rich in MUFAs. Try this method in your home kitchen: just combine your favorite olive oil with a high-temperature oil.

A note about canola oil: some shoppers have asked whether it’s a genetically modified (GMO) food. While more than 90 percent of the canola grown in this country is GMO, all of the canola oil sold at PCC is either organic or Non-GMO Project Verified. When shoppers tell me that canola contains a toxin called euricic acid, I always reply that today’s canola contains less than 2 percent of this controversial fatty acid that also is found in kale and broccoli — so it can’t be that bad for you!


What happens when I heat extra virgin olive oil?

Extra virgin olive oil’s (EVOO) delicate olive polyphenols (colorful antioxidants) are broken down quickly during heating. This reduces the oil’s natural defenders like hydroxytyrosol and oleuropein, two antioxidants that protect our cellular membranes from damage.

The big problem with heating EVOO past its “smoke point” (typically 325° F to 350° F) is visible: The oil turns brown in your skillet, an indication of oxidized fats. This gives your food an off taste and your bloodstream oxidized oils, which it doesn’t like. However, olive oil can be safely used for oven roasting above 350° F; just because your oven is at 400° F doesn’t mean that the food in your pan is at the same temperature.

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