I know it’s been a while since the last episode of the Vegan Kitchen Simplified series, but better late than never, right? Today I’d like to talk about the single thing that can improve your vegan diet from the health standpoint – cooking with no oil.
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.
Cooking Oil Facts:
– 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’.
How to Cook With No Oil:
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 to 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 oil/vegan butter/shortening in baked goods with whole-food, plant-based ingredients like applesauce, bananas, ground flax, pureed beans, non-dairy yogurt, etc. 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. UPDATE: here’s my post with 10 easy oil-free salad dressing formulas – each of these dressings 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. 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. 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. 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 FatFreeVegan.com and HealthyGirlsKitchen.com. 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.
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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