For some people, one of the toughest parts about transitioning to a whole food, plant-based diet is learning how to cook without oil – and understanding why it's recommended in the first place. But fret not! With our expert hacks you'll be cooking without oil — and loving it — in no time!
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Oil has been sold as health food, a heart healthy substitute for butter, a great source of “good” fat, a staple of the health-promoting Mediterranean diet! So what the heck is this nonsense that we're going on about – cooking without oil!?
Well, turns out, cooking oils, including olive oil, aren't quite as healthy as we've been told. Here's why going oil-free is recommended on a whole food plant-based diet:
1. Oil is not a whole food
2. Oil has lots of fat and calories
Want to lose weight on your plant-based diet? Time to learn how to cook without oil.
Rather than being nutrient-dense, as noted above, oils are nutrient-deficient and calorie-dense. Just a tablespoon of olive oil 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 do, 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
1. 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 and makes without oil cooking (and cleanup) a breeze.
2. Non-stick or silicone cookware
Cooking without oil becomes a whole lot easier if you have some quality nonstick pots and pans on hand. Skip harmful Teflon in favor of heavy stainless steel or enamel-coated cast iron.
3. An air fryer
You definitely don't need an air fryer for without oil cooking, but it sure is handy.
To use your air fryer without oil, simply season your food, put it in the air fryer basket, and set the desired temperature and time. Pretty easy, right?
While most air fryers will beep so you can shake the basket halfway through, when you're air frying without oil you may want to shake the basket a few extra times to prevent sticking.
Want more air fryer tips? Here's our oil-free vegan guide to air fryers.
OK, so we’ve talked about why oil isn’t included in a whole food, plant-based diet, the best kitchen tools to have on hand for cooking without oil, so now let's get into how to cook without oil.
Are all your veggies doomed to stick to the bottom of your frying pans forever? Will you never eat salad dressing again?
Good news: cooking without oil is a lot easier than you think. Some oil-free cooking tips to get you started:
1. Sauté with veggie broth or water
There are plenty of alternatives for oil in cooking. One of the easiest ways to go is simply to swap your olive oil for 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 one or two 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 veggie.
Want more flavor? Add extras like Tamari, fresh citrus juice, or your favorite spices.
2. Bake with fruit purées
Veggie broth may be a great oil substitute for cooking, but when it comes to baking you'll want to reach for fruit purées as a healthy swap for oil, butter, or shortening. Mashed bananas, date paste, and applesauce all work well – even avocado will provide the moisture you need for your delicious whole food, plant-based baked goods.
Get more tips on whole food plant-based baking here.
3. Roasting without oil
Some of our favorite alternatives for oil in cooking in the oven: a dash of Tamari, soy sauce, or balsamic vinegar and your favorite seasonings!
But you don't need an oil substitute for cooking when you're roasting your veggies. Just toss them on parchment paper dry if you want!
Pro tip: for perfectly roasted veggies without oil, keep them in the oven 5-10 minutes longer or until browned.
Good news: it's super duper easy.
While many of us were raised to think of homemade salad dressing as some sort of olive oil and vinegar combo, the oil can be nixed and you’ll still have a delicious, flavorful salad dressing.
Need salad inspo? 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.
- Olive oil isn't part of a whole food plant-based diet - it's not a whole food! It's got loads of fat and calories (with very few nutrients). And it's not heart healthy - monounsaturated fats may be technically better than saturated fats but that doesn't make them healthy.
- You don't need a bunchy of fancy cookware for without oil cooking. Parchment paper is great for oil-free roasting. Enamel-lined cast iron and stainless steel make great non-stick pots and pans. And while definitely not necessary, an air fryer is a fun addition to your oil-free kitchen.
- It's easy to cook without oil: you can pan fry with water or broth, you can use fruit purees when baking, can roast veggies on parchment paper, or whip up oil-free salad dressings.
- Nervous to go all in? You can start small and make one oil-free meal a week then gradually build up to more!
- Don't want to learn to cook without oil? MamaSezz cooks and delivers oil-free dishes to your door, ready to heat and eat.
By Ali Brown
Ali is a mom, wife, and nutrition and lifestyle writer and editor. She has her Plant-Based Nutrition Certificate from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies.