How to Cook Without Oil: A Guide for WFPB Beginners
For some people, one of the toughest parts about transitioning to a whole food, plant-based diet is learning why and how to cook without oil. Oil has often been sold to us as a health food - a heart healthy substitute for butter, a great source of “good” fat, a staple of the health-promoting Mediterranean diet!
So why cook without oil?
1. Oil is not a whole food - A whole food, plant-based diet generally means focusing on whole plant foods as close to their natural state as possible. Whole plant-based foods are nutrient-dense and typically low in fat - so you not only get the nutrients you need, but you stay full longer (thank you fiber!) and avoid cravings. When olives are turned into olive oil, they’re stripped of their nutrients. What’s left behind doesn’t much resemble the original plant food and instead contains lots of fat and calories.
2. Oil has lots of fat and calories - Rather than being nutrient-dense, as noted above, oils are nutrient-deficient and calorie-dense. So just a tablespoon of the stuff is packed with 120 calories and 14 grams of fat. At MamaSezz we don’t like to get hung up on calorie counting, HOWEVER, the problem with this high calorie food is that without the nutrients and fiber from the original plant food, your body quickly absorbs oil and turns it into fat. And despite being high in calories, oil doesn’t take up as much space in our stomachs as nutrient-dense whole plant foods so eating oil tends to increase how many calories we consume in total because we have a harder time recognizing when we’re full.
3. Oil is NOT heart-healthy
- Is it better than butter? Sure. Olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fats, not saturated fats, so using oils in the place of something high in saturated fat, like butter, can lead to reduced total and LDL cholesterol. However, as Dr. Joel Furhman
says, "there is a reduction in risk because you are replacing a more dangerous fat with a less dangerous fat.” In other words, better doesn't always mean healthy.
Monounsaturated fats, like saturated fats, are still harmful to the inner lining of our arteries, which can lead to cardiovascular disease
How to cook without oil
OK, so we’ve talked about why oil isn’t included in a whole food, plant-based diet…but now what? Are all your veggies doomed to stick to the bottom of your frying pans forever? Will you never eat salad dressing again? Fear not. You can ABSOLUTELY cook without olive oil and it’s a lot easier than you think. Some oil-free cooking tips to get you started:
1. Sauté with veggie broth or water - Heat up your pan the same way you’ve always done, only this time, swap the oil for low-sodium or homemade veggie broth or water. After 1-2 minutes, go ahead and add your veggies: garlic, onions, anything goes. You can continue to add a little more water as you go to prevent sticking to the pan. I promise you don’t need oil to get a nice, crispy oil. Want more flavor? Add extras like Tamari, fresh citrus juice, or your favorite spices.
2. Bake with avocado, banana, or soaked chia seeds instead of eggs. They’ll give you the moisture you need for your delicious whole food, plant-based baked goods.
3. Roast with parchment paper - Since you won’t be “greasing” your pan anymore, go ahead and purchase some parchment paper to toss veggies on before you place them in the oven. The parchment paper keeps the vegetables from sticking.
4. Whip up some oil-free salad dressing
- We often think of homemade salad dressing as some sort of olive oil and vinegar combo. But I’m here to tell you the oil can be nixed and you’ll still have a delicious, flavorful salad dressing. Check out some of our favorite oil-free salad dressings
Not ready to take the oil-free plunge?
Start small. Rome wasn’t built in a day. You don’t have to rush out and toss out all the oils in your pantry just yet. Start by making one oil-free meal a week. Step it up to 2, then 4, then 5. Reduce the overall amount of oil you’re using. Usually use 3 tbsp of oil when cooking? Bring it down to 1 tbsp. You’ll get there.
More questions on how to cook without oil or plant-based living in general? Join our private Facebook support group
for plant-based beginners and get tips and tricks, recipes, and support for other folks transitioning to the whole food, plant-based life.
By Ali Donahue
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