How to Cook with No Oil: 8 Useful Tips

Today I’d like to talk about how to cook with no oil, and why going oil-free may be so beneficial for improving your vegan diet from the health standpoint.

How to Cook With No Oil - 8 Useful Tips

Why would we want to cook with no oil, you may ask? In case you haven’t noticed, the subject of cooking with or without oil is one of the most polarizing among vegan chefs and cookbook authors.

One school of thought believes that as long as all of the ingredients are cruelty-free, they are worth using in our kitchens, so hail to the vegan butter, vegan margarine, vegan shortening, all types of oils, etc.

Another school of thought is convinced that using all of the above in your cooking on a regular basis will have a detrimental effect on your health, starting from chronic inflammation (the cause of so many chronic diseases in the Western world) and possibly leading to heart disease, diabetes, and even cancer.

Why Cook with No Oil?

Oil is a highly refined food with very little residual nutrients

We’ve all heard about the miracle effects those ‘heart-healthy’ olive and coconut oils will have on our wellbeing. But if you look at the Nutrition Facts label on each bottle of oil (found on most packaged foods in the US), you’ll see that it says, ‘Not a significant source of vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium and iron’.

The oil we know and use goes through an intense filtering and refining process, and not a lot of nutrients get to stick around after that.

Oil starts turning rancid as soon as it’s pressed

That’s just the nature of life of the long-chain fatty acids that vegetable oils contain. In order to make oils more shelf-stable and usable in high heat situations, manufacturers process the heck out of them and add hydrogen atoms.

You may have seen the term ‘partially hydrogenated’ on labels of some fatty foods. You know what else is a by-product of hydrogenation? Trans fats. And those are no good to us, no matter what school of thought we belong to.

Oil is harmful to our arteries

According to Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn Jr. – the man who knows a thing or two about heart health after having researching it firsthand at the famed Cleveland Clinic since 1968 – the monounsaturated and saturated fats in oil harm the endothelium (the inner lining) of our arteries, which is the gateway of cardiovascular disease.

All is not lost, however. Dr. Esselstyn’s research has proven that even the worst cases of heart disease can be reversed on a whole plant food, oil- and added fat-free diet, as our artery lining has a tendency to heal itself.

To learn more, take a look at this article describing nutritional reversal of cardiovascular disease.

Oil is unnecessary added fat

The truth is, most of the fat we consume goes directly into our body fat storage. Mother nature played a cruel joke on us humans when it made this transition very easy – only about 3% of the fat calories are burned to plant that fat directly where we least want it.

Interestingly, sampling a person’s body fat tissue can show exactly what kind of fat that person favors.

People who eat lots of junk food with margarine or shortening show high proportions of trans fat in their body fat tissue; cold water marine fish lovers display higher ratio of omega-3 fats in their soft spots.

As Dr. John McDougall (whose article on fat vs starches I’m referring to here) says, ‘The fat we eat is the fat we wear’.

The fat we eat is the fat we wear

So what can we do to cut down on oil in our everyday cooking without compromising the flavor?

How to Cook With No Oil: 8 Tips

1. Use water or veggie broth for meals cooked on stovetop

Heat up your pan or pot, and add 1-2 Tbsp of water or broth. Once the liquid turns bubbly, proceed with your recipe as you normally would if you started with oil. You may need to add more liquid to prevent the food from sticking to the pan.

In my plant-based cooking practice, I have never come across a soup or a stew recipe that couldn’t have been made without oil following this method.

2. Use a good nonstick pan

Nonstick cookware can save lots of aggravation when cooking oil-free meals! Teflon cookware is the most popular on the market, but if you’re concerned about the possible negative effects of Teflon on your health, try pots and pans with ceramic coating. I’ve heard good things about Amore Flamekiss cookware with nano-ceramic coating.

3. Use parchment paper for baking

Parchment paper helps prevent your foods from sticking to the pan. This works best for baking tofu (see this post for tips on baking oil-free tofu – the only way I make it these days), veggie meatloaves, casseroles, brownies, quiches, etc. – anything that would otherwise call for greasing up the pan first.

4. Replace oils in baked goods with whole-food, plant-based ingredients

Such foods as applesauce, bananas, ground flax, pureed beans, non-dairy yogurt, etc make great substitutions to oil or fat-based baking ingredients. I wrote about healthy vegan baking in detail in my post, How to Replace Butter and Eggs in Vegan Baking and Not End Up with Cardboard.

5. Use homemade oil-free salad dressings

I’m going to write an extensive post on my favorite quick and easy (no blender needed!) oil-free salad dressings soon, so stay tuned! Until then, please remember that even a simple lime wedge squeezed over your salad can add lots of flavor without weighing you down with processed fats.

To get a better idea on how to make your own oil-free salad dressings, see my post with 10 easy oil-free vegan salad dressing recipes – each of them comes together in under 2 min!

Note: a little bit of fat in your salad may actually improve the absorption of important nutrients, but it’s always best to get it from unrefined, whole-food ingredients. Top your salad with some chopped avocado, or sprinkle a tablespoon of raw pumpkin seeds.

6. Use an oil mister or sprayer if needed

In some cases a bit of oil may be necessary, like when toasting spices to bring out their flavor in Indian dishes, or oven-roasting potatoes and other vegetables.

For those situations, an oil mister/sprayer like this one may be useful. Spray the center of your pan with a bit of oil and toast your spices, or use a few pumps over the vegetables before roasting.

7. The paper towel trick

Don’t want to buy an oil sprayer? Another trick to minimize oil in your food: add a few drops to a heated pan, and use a paper towel to distribute the oil around and wipe some of it off.

8. Look for oil-free recipes

Cooking with no oil is going to be immensely easier if you start with recipes that are specifically developed to be oil-free. Most of the recipes here on Vegan Runner Eats call for no oil – see the recipe page here. Also, I like to get oil-free cooking inspiration from blogs like and Oil-free cookbooks to choose from:

– All of the Happy Herbivore cookbooks by Lindsay S. Nixon – I own four of her books and cook from them at least a few times a week;

– Rip Esselstyn’s Engine 2 Diet and My Beef with Meat – both help you kick-start the healthy, plant-based eating habit, and give you plenty of info to help you win any argument with skeptical meat-eaters;

– Dr. McDougall’s The Starch Solution – a book that explains why a low-fat, high-starch diet is the way to go for optimal health (plus over a hundred healthy, oil-free recipes);

– Dr. Esselstyn’s Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease Cookbook – a follow-up to Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease book, in which he describes the health benefits of an oil-free diet;

Forks Over Knives – The Cookbook, from the creators of the legendary documentary that has been inspiring so many people (including myself) to go plant based since 2011.

Also, see my post about my 5 favorite vegan cookbooks that I use all the time – most of them feature recipes that are either oil-free, or can be adapted to be oil-free. 

Phew! I think I got my point across now. I’m not going to claim that all of my home-cooked meals are always superhealthy and oil-free, but this post is a good reminder kick in the butt that will help me make an effort to keep oil usage to a minimum.

Question for you: Do you have any other tips on cooking without oil? Or do you know any other oil-free cookbooks? Please let me know, and I’ll add them to this list – giving you credit, of course!

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31 thoughts on “How to Cook with No Oil: 8 Useful Tips”

  1. I do agree with you on most facts you mentioned about the harm of cooking with oil, but that in general, we need to be more specific about which oil we are talking about. There are quite a few organic oils that are considered healthy and can add more nutrition to your diet and cooking in general.

  2. I am working towards plant based eating and have found these two books extremely helpful: Unprocessed by Chef Aj with Glenn Merzer and The Secret to Ultimate Weight Loss By Chef Aj with Glenn Merzer. Just amazing!

  3. Take a look at an electric pressure cooker…..they are not super expensive and I swear food taste better with no fat.

  4. Thank you for the info.
    Some times I will use left over wine in soups or stews. I will use red wine in tomato sauces or chile.

  5. I have recently started cooking with no oil. However, I cannot get my veggies to be crispy when I use water or broth as they were with oil. Any suggestions?

    1. Tasha, the crispiness of cooked veggies is the direct result of them being cooked in fat. That crisp layer is actually not very good for you, so you’re better off without it if you’re trying to make your food healthier. However, I often caramelize onion in a dry nonstick skillet while watching closely to avoid burning – that adds plenty of flavor to my dishes. When baking starchy vegetables like potatoes, you can spray them lightly with cooking spray, and cook them on parchment paper to avoid sticking.

      1. A way to easily caramelize onions comes from the world of chemistry. I add a *pinch* (less than 1/8 tsp) of baking soda to my dry onions before I start sautéing them in a moderately hot dry pan. This raises the pH in the pan which enables the Maillard reaction to kick in which causes the sugars in the onions to caramelize.

        Keep a small cup of water nearby to allow you to quickly add 1-2 Tbsp of water to dissolve the browning sugars off the bottom of the pan and keep them from burning. Keep the onions moving and keep lifting the caramel off the bottom of the pan and in say five minutes, you’ll have lovely onions.

        And this is a case where more baking soda is *not* better… you only need a pinch to catalyze the reaction. Adding more baking soda runs the risk of making the onions taste metallic and definitely raises the sodium content needlessly

  6. Dr Joel Fuhrman’s Eat to Live Cookbook and Eat for Health are both my favorite vegan sources. No oil used in any of his recipes. I also love the books by Rip Esselstyn and hi father Caldwell!!

    1. Thanks Lori! I’m a big fan of Dr. Fuhrman’s idea of consuming the most nutrients per calorie – it makes so much sense! And Rip Esselstyn’s My Beef with Meat book was the first plant-based cookbook I’ve ever bought.

  7. Great post, Alina, sharing important and helpful information! And a nice antidote to a recipe I saw this morning that called for nearly a cup of coconut oil. Yikes!

    We’ve abstained from added fats since I attended “Camp McDougall” (the 10-day live-in program) in 2007 for MS. I went vegan in 2000 and eating an all-plants diet helped reduce my symptoms – without meds – but I’ve been symptom-free since ditching the added fats. I highly recommend the change. And I say this as the daughter of an Italian who thought I’d never be able to give up olive oil! 🙂 (Along with all the benefits to health, another is not having splattering grease around the stove or greasy dishes to clean!)

    I’d like to add a couple more suggestions to your excellent list: we switched from parchment paper to Silpats silicone mats, and are consistently pleased with the results (and lack of waste), whether baking cookies (no burnt bottoms) or roasting potato wedges (nice crispness). We’re big fans of silicone and use it exclusively for our baking.

    And we find this recipe for No-Oil Oil is really handy for helping seasonings stick to veggies before roasting or to bread before baking.

    1. Thank you for reminding me about the no-oil oil from, Laloofah! And sorry your comments haven’t been showing up – for some reason they were getting marked as spam. It’s good that I looked through my spam folder! Also: it’s wonderful that you went to Dr. McDougall’s program a few years ago, I haven’t met anyone who’s attended his programs until today!

  8. Thanks for this post. I already cook without oil. I use water for the stove. I replaced it in baked goods with applesauce.
    For salads, may I suggest an emulsion made from cashew butter or tahini. You mix it with a little bit of water and you whip until it turns mayo looking. Add more water if necessary. You can put tumeric and other spices in it, lemon juice to cut the taste of tahini, etc.

    I wish more recipes were made oil free and sugar free (we replaced agave/maple sirop by dates when possible).

    1. That’s a great way to make a quick creamy salad dressing, Julie! I use tahini with a bit of lemon juice and a drop of maple syrup myself, but haven’t tried cashew butter yet.

  9. I just discovered your blog and I’m so happy I did! I just recently went plant based right after Christmas and bought several of the cookbooks you mentioned to give me ideas on what to make. I have been cooking with no oil and with no added salt and I notice a huge difference with not feeling bloated and losing weight quickly.

    1. That’s wonderful Michelle, welcome to the world of plant-based cooking and vegan living! Glad to hear that you’re already seeing improvements, there’s more to come!

  10. Good post. I’ve found that I don’t need oil to roast vegetables. Keeping the vegetables from drying out is key, but it can be done by spraying them with veggie broth or another liquid. I don’t have any trouble cooking savory recipes without oil, but I haven’t had as much success with my baked goods. Thankfully, I don’t really crave sweet desserts anymore, so I don’t really worry about it.

  11. This is perfect timing since I’ve gone WFPB & no oil starting with the new year. These tips are going to be a huge help, Alina!

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