When olive oil is unhealthy

Real Food Recipes

For some of you this will be old news, but it always surprises me how few people know this oh so important fact about one of their favorite cooking oils (if this is you, not to fret – you’re in good company!).

Olive oil is widely popular for its numerous health benefits.

It is rich in the healthy Omega-9 monounsaturated fatty acids and has been shown to decrease blood pressure and the risk of diabetes, age-related dementia, blood clots, and cancer.

In short, olive oil is awesome and extremely healthy! At least when used properly.

Unfortunately, when olive oil is overheated, it does more harm than good.

The “smoke point” of oil is the temperature point at which it starts to smoke (makes sense). Different oils smoke at different temperatures; olive oil has a smoke point in the lower range of the spectrum high-quality extra-virgin olive oils have a lower smoke point (around 320°F for high-quality extra-virgin olive oil). For this reason, it should be used at low to medium heat only.

So what is the problem with exceeding the smoke point? Well when an oil smokes, it begins to decompose and the antioxidants in the oil are replaced by free radicals, nasty little buggers that damage cells and are carcinogenic. The smoke is also toxic and should therefore not be inhaled.

If you need a hardier oil for baking or high-heat cooking, use an oil with a higher smoke point such as coconut oil. Unrefined coconut oil can be used for medium-heat and refined coconut oil can be used for medium- to high-heat cooking.


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  1. We now use pastured butter, lard from pastured hogs, and centrifuged coconut oil to cook with because of all the terrible things we’ve learned about other oils, but I must admit I’m confused about butter. Butter browns, and even burns, when frying with it, so doesn’t that mean it’s past the smoke point? Is there a reason this is not a problem with butter?

  2. Spectrum Naturals has a “high heat” organic Sunflower oil that is very light and doesn’t overpower the taste of your food. That is what I have been using for stir fry. I use butter to cook eggs but I think Sunflower might be what you are looking for.

  3. Do you recommend Grape seed oil at all? I have a roasted veggie dish I love that calls for olive oil but it bakes at 450, I’m assuming that is way too high for olive oil. I enjoy coconut oil but not for everything.

  4. I use a lot of expeller pressed coconut oil in my baking and frying. (It has basically no smell or taste.) I watch the Tropical Traditions emails for free shipping and order large quantities. Last Christmas, I made rosettes, those delicate deep fried cookie/pastery things and they were absolutely FABULOUS!! I use virgin coconut oil for things I don’t mind the coconut flavor in. This works really well for almost all of my needs! I even fry chicken in the expeller pressed coconut oil. Don’t do it every day, but sometimes THIS mom needs fried foods, and I have found the way to make them “healthier”.

  5. A fantastic book to read is Toxic Oil by David Gillespie. He explains very simply, the whole oil phenomenon and it changed my life. You don’t find anything except Olive Oil, Coconut Oil, Macadamia Oil and Avocado Oil in my pantry and of course butter.

    I really appreciate what you wrote about Olive Oil etc and have now subscribed to your emails. I’m eager to learn all I can about better eating and at almost 59, I can always learn more. I’ve changed our eating back to the good ol’ days of when I was a kid and sleep so much better….still waiting for the weight to move, BUT, exercise is difficult at present with knee/hip problems BUT, I will get there :).
    Have a great day 🙂

  6. To Melissa, my husband’s favorite way to cook eggs? in the grease/lard left over from our grass-fed bacon.

  7. Ick – stay away from the vegetable oils. There is a great post today by authority nutrition on the harmful effects of vegetable oils. Refined (cold-pressed) coconut oil is VERY neutral if you don’t like butter (ghee is very stable at a high smoke point) and allows you to stay away from those icky veggie oils.

  8. Lard & schmaltz & duck fat (from grass-fed animals) are a good substitutes for canola (or other vegetable oils). Rice bran oil tolerates a much higher cooking heat than most vegetable oils and it’s trans fat free. Health-wise, animal studies have shown that rice bran oil (which is made from the inner husks and germ of rice) can lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels. It does contain high levels of polyunsaturated fat, which go rancid quickly and need to be refrigerated to maintain shelf life.

  9. Around 320 Fahrenheit, just below most baking temperatures but certainly below most medium-high stove-top cooking temps. I will add this to the post – thanks for asking, Ann.

  10. There is a lot of different information going around about canola oil and to be honest I need to do more recon and shouldn’t have been so quick to suggest it. Canola has high amounts of health-promoting Omega-9 monounsaturated fatty acids, just like olive oil, as well as relatively high Omega-3 levels. But a big caution for canola oil is because of its content of Linoleic Acid, an Omega-6 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid (PUFA). Excessive PUFA intake is unfortunately rampant nowadays due to its use artificial and processed foods. Compared to other cooking oils, canola is a better choice with a lower percentage of PUFA overall at 21%. Olive oil is only 10% PUFA, while coconut oil and butter are the lowest at 2%.

    Like I said, I want to look into this more. Thanks for lighting the fire under my you-know-what.

  11. With all due respect….Safflower and Canola oils are worse! 🙁 They are made with hexane during a chemical extraction process. This leaves traces of chemicals in the oil. Here is a link:


    This is the EXACT type of oil that causes heart disease (Polyunsaturated)!! Stick with grass fed butter, Ghee, or coconut oil. Ignore the “lowers cholesterol” and do your own research!! Mainstream is even getting the message these days….

  12. I would not recommend the Canola to anyone, not organic or Gmo, Grapeseed oil or avocado oil has the highest smoke point.

  13. Hi, Melissa! Thank you for the nice compliment! I agree – coconut oil and eggs aren’t exactly a great pair. I always have butter (pasture-raised) on hand for baking and use this for my eggs, but if you’re not into butter, sunflower and canola oil (please buy organic as most non-organic canola is likely made from GMO rape seed) both have very high smoke points (over 400). I plan on writing a post about cooking oils soon – I’ll be sure to address all of the different options!

  14. What other oil would you suggest? I love coconut for many things, but not eggs! 😉 Love your site. So much great info. Thank you!