You can pose your own question to our contributing editor Jennie McCary, MS, RD, LD, a registered dietitian and wellness manager for Albuquerque Public School District. She is president of New Mexico’s Dietetic Association and is New Mexico’s 2009 Outstanding Dietitian of the Year. Please send your questions, along with your name and city/state/country, to editor Sandy Webster at [email protected]

Question

I read that it’s healthier not to use olive oil for cooking because heating it to high temperatures can produce toxic substances. Is it true that olive oil should be reserved for salads and other uncooked foods?

Answer

On the contrary, olive oil is one of the healthiest oils to cook with because of its mono- and polyunsaturated fat content. Since olive oil remains fairly stable when heated, it can be used regularly to cook items at low-to-medium temperatures. Like other cooking oils, it will burn if cooked at extremely high temperatures for an extended period of time.
There are different varieties of olive oil, and each has its place in the culinary world. Plain and virgin olive oil are best for cooking food over low-to-medium heat because they have a slightly higher smoke point than extra-virgin olive oil. The pricier and better-tasting virgin or extra-virgin olive oils are best suited for use in uncooked dishes; for example, as a drizzle over fresh sliced tomatoes.

Remind clients that even healthier oils like olive oil contain a lot of calories and fat (120 calories and 14 grams of fat per tablespoon), so these products should always be used in moderation.