The Healthiest Oils for Cooking

by Lacy Kuester MS, MPP, RDNNutrition

Understanding Olive Oil

Olive oil is a staple in the kitchen of anyone following the Bredesen Protocol. It’s packed with good fats and phytonutrients that support your cognitive function and overall health. All quality cold-pressed olive oils -- whether they’re extra-virgin (EVOO), virgin (VOO), or refined (OO) -- have similar beneficial fat content. What changes substantially in these oils as they become more refined is their phytonutrient content. Cold-pressed, EVOO has the most phytonutrients because it’s the least processed. Think of it as being the closest thing to the olives from which it was made. The very best extra virgin olive oil has a high polyphenol content, has a known harvest date, and is stored in a dark bottle. This type of extra virgin olive oil will have a very strong, often even peppery flavor and will appear green in color.

VOO has fewer phytonutrients than EVOO, and even fewer remain in refined OO (1, 2, 4). We definitely want to maximize our intake of cold-pressed EVOO to get the benefit of phytonutrients to support our cognitive health.

Smoke Point

You may have heard that some oils are better to use than others when cooking at high temperatures. That’s due to something called the smoke point. The smoke point is the temperature at which an oil begins to degrade, changing its chemical composition as well as its taste. If an oil is heated above its smoke point, it can form harmful compounds in your food as well as in the air in your kitchen (4, 5). Different oils have different smoke points, making some safer for high-temperature cooking than others. EVOO has a relatively low smoke point of 383℉, making it unideal for recipes that call for higher heat. Many inexpensive oils have very high smoke points and are often used for high heat cooking, such as canola oil, soybean oil, vegetable oil, and grapeseed oil. However, these oils are highly refined, are usually chemically extracted, and can contribute to inflammation in the body. Additionally, they give off a higher level of carcinogens, even when heated below their smoke point (3, 5, 7).

Other Considerations When Cooking with Oil

The smoke point is not the only thing to consider when choosing an oil with which to cook. You should also know that heat, even when below the smoke point, destroys phytonutrients and antioxidants (that’s why it’s important to choose an EVOO that’s cold-pressed. It preserves the phytonutrients). When cooking with EVOO, the smoke point may be 383 degrees, but studies have shown that the phytonutrients in EVOO are destroyed at much lower temperatures. By ~350 degrees, all phytonutrients are cooked off, leaving you with the same healthy fats you would get in a high-quality OO (1, 2, 6). If you’re cooking below 350 degrees or applying no heat to your food (i.e. making salad dressings, drizzling your food with olive oil, etc), then EVOO is the way to go. We want you to get those phytonutrients whenever possible. However, if you’re applying a higher heat to your food, then avocado oil or algae oil are a better bet.

Key Takeaways

High-quality extra virgin olive oils are beneficial for your cognitive health. The less processed they are, the more nutrients they contain. Cold-pressed EVOO with a known harvest date, that has been stored in a dark colored glass bottle is the most phytonutrient-packed option, but it’s also the most delicate. Applying heat destroys EVOO’s nutrients, so it’s best used when applied raw to food. Use algae oil or avocado oil, both of which have healthy fats and much higher smoke points when cooking foods. For a recommendation of a great extra virgin olive oil with some of the highest amounts of brain healthy polyphenols, contact your Amos Institute dietitian today!


References:

  1. Boskou, D. (Ed.). (2015). Olive oil: chemistry and technology. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral.proquest.com
  2. Brenes, M., García, A., Dobarganes, M., Velasco, J., & Romero, C. (2002). Influence of thermal treatments simulating cooking processes on the polyphenol content in virgin olive oil. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 50(21), 5962–5967. https://doi.org/10.1021/jf020506w
  3. U.S. Department of Agriculture. (2013). Deep fat frying and food safety. Accessed Jan 13 2020 from https://www.fsis.usda.gov
  4. Öğütcü, M., Aydeniz, B., Büyükcan, M., & Yılmaz, E. (2012). Determining Frying Oil Degradation by Near Infrared Spectroscopy Using Chemometric Techniques. Journal of the American Oil Chemists’ Society, 89(10), 1823–1830. https://doi.org/10.1007/ s11746-012-2087-x
  5. Katragadda, H., Fullana, A., Sidhu, S., & Carbonell-Barrachina, Á. (2010). Emissions of volatile aldehydes from heated cooking oils. Food Chemistry, 120(1), 59–65. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodchem.2009.09.070
  6. Santos, C., Cruz, R., Cunha, S., & Casal, S. (2013). Effect of cooking on olive oil quality attributes. Food Research International, 54(2), 2016–2024.