In the past decade, many people have finally begun to recognize the many benefits of olive oil. Olive oil can help prevent heart disease by raising levels of HDL cholesterol (the "good" cholesterol) and reducing LDL cholesterol ("bad" cholesterol) levels. Some studies have indicated it could play a role in reducing the risk of some types of cancer. Olive oil also has high levels of antioxidants, molecules that help rid the body of damaging entities known as free radicals. However, when using olive oil you must be careful to avoid heating it. Surprisingly, when it's heated, olive oil can turn from a healthy food into a very unhealthy one.
Olive oil - a healthy monounsaturated fat
The reason olive oil is thought to be relatively healthy compared to other oils is that it is a monounsaturated fat. Other oils tend to be higher in saturated fats, which are implicated in a number of health problems including heart disease, obesity, and cancer. However, when olive oil is heated too much, the oil can change form into a more unhealthy form of fat. In fact, olive oil heating extensively can transform into trans fats, which are the most unhealthy form of fats. Trans fat causes your LDL to increase and your HDL to decrease. Thus, eating high levels of trans fats is a great way to cause your cardiovascular health to rapidly deteriorate.
Overheating olive oil
When you heat olive oil to its smoke point, it can convert to trans fat. The smoke point of olive oil is the point at which it begins to smoke and its molecular structure begins to change. The smoke point of olive oil is between 365 and 400 degrees F. If the oil has been exposed to air, its smoke point may actually be lower. Also, heating the oil repeatedly can have the effect of lowering its smoke point. If you re-use olive oil and reheat it frequently, it will change to trans fat relatively quickly. That's why it's highly recommended you don't use olive oil for frying.
How to avoid the bad stuff
The first thing to be sure of is to not re-use olive oil. Always keep the oil in a cool, dark place and definitely don't use them for frying. It's ideal if you don't heat olive oil at all. Also, if you invest in higher-quality olive oil you will run less of a risk that it converts to trans fats. Although it may cost you a few more dollars, it seems like a worthwhile cost.
Olive oil without cooking
Fortunately, olive oil has a flavor that almost any dish can welcome. You can drizzle it over salads, pastas, or grains to enhance the flavor of the dish you're eating. You don't have to look very far to find a recipe that could benefit from the addition of olive oil, but doesn't require it to be heated. So next time you add olive oil to a meal, do it without heating it. Your heart and body will thank you for it!