One of the hardest parts about transitioning to a whole food plant-based diet is going oil-free. And it's no surprise since so many of used to cooking pretty much everything in oil. The good news is cooking without oil doesn't have to be hard! Keep reading to learn why oil isn't part of a whole food plant-based diet, and how you can easily make delicious caramelized onions without oil.
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Struggling with the oil-free component of a whole food plant-based diet? You're not alone! The concept of cooking without oil is foreign to many. Not to mention oils like olive oil and coconut oil have often been touted as "health foods" for the last 20 years or so.
So why isn't oil part of a whole food plant-based diet?
Here's the short answer:
Oil is not a whole food.
Here's the long answer:
When an olive, coconut, or seed is pressed to extract oil, it leaves behind fiber and important nutrients (like fiber!) that the whole plant contains.
And this refined oil is high in fat. And while monounsaturated fats, like the ones found in olive oil, are said to be "better" than saturated fats, they are still harmful to the inner lining of our arteries and can still lead to cardiovascular disease.
Not to mention, oil can become carcinogenic when it reaches high temperatures, or its smoke point. Olive oil reaches its smoke point at 350-410 degrees Fahrenheit. Coconut oil reaches its smoke point at 350 (plus coconut oil is high in saturated fats).
If you’re trying to lose weight, eating oil isn't going to help you. Oil is extremely calorie dense; just one tablespoon contains 120 calories. That’s the equivalent of 5 medium carrots.
And think about it, which one of those is going to fill you up? Usually, we don’t condone calorie counting, but in this case, we can use it to put things in perspective.
Just because you remove oil from your diet doesn’t mean you won’t be getting healthy fats. Fat is important for proper brain function and plant-based fats are often loaded with Omega-3s which have endless benefits. Beans, nuts, seeds, and avocados all contain healthy levels of fat. Even tomatoes and leafy greens contain fat! No need to worry that you’ll be depriving yourself. Instead, you’ll be consuming fat the way nature intended -- as part of the veggie itself.
So there you have it...olive oil is a processed, calorie-heavy, nutrient-deficient fat source. And even if it’s a little bit better for you than the oils in animal products, it’s still not a whole food and it isn’t included as part of the whole food plant-based lifestyle.
Ok, now that we know why olive oil isn't part of a whole food plant-based lifestyle, let's talk about cooking without oil.
We get it - oil-free cooking can sound intimidating but we promise, it’s actually pretty easy to do. You can even saute without oil! and still get that beautiful caramelized color and sweet flavor -- and it's a whole lot healthier. Here's how:
Slice your onions into thin ½ rings.
Cook on high heat with a ¼ a cup of water.
Let water cook-off, and let onions brown and stick to the pan.
Add a few tablespoons of water, to deglaze the pan and keep the onions from burning. Your mixture should be browning.
Repeat steps 3 and 4 until onions are soft and deep brown.
If you’d like to give your onions a salty, rich flavor, add a little low sodium Tamari about 3 minutes before removing it from heat.
- 1 teaspoon of low sodium Tamari per onion
If prefer a sweet flavor with a punch, add balsamic about 5 minutes before removing from the heat in order to let the vinegar cook-off, and let the liquid thicken.
- 1 teaspoon of balsamic vinegar per onion
This one's for the visual learner's out there! Here's a quick tutorial on how to caramelize onions without oil.
Make going oil-free easy!
Get whole food plant-based (oil-free) meals delivered, ready to heat and eat with the MamaSezz Get Me Started Bundle. Check it out here.
Oil is not part of a whole food plant-based diet because it's not a whole food - its nutrients and fiber have been stripped.
Oil is not a "health food" and is high in fat and calories, while low in nutrients.
Cooking without oil is easy (and delicious)!
You can still caramelize your favorite veggies, like onions, without oil - just use water!
You can get ready-made and oil-free plant-based dishes delivered with MamaSezz.
Caroline is a plant-based chef, recipe designer, and whole food plant-based nutrition educator, with a Plant-Based Nutrition Certificate from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies.