Can you cook without oil? Is oil healthy? How do you cook without oil?
For many of you this doesn’t make sense. It’s common knowledge that some oils are good for your health while others are not. There are arguments like “oils contain anti-oxidants and healthy fats” that make it seem like oils are a health food.
Some oils can definitely be healthier than using butter and some oils are better than others. Olive oil, for example, is better than palm oil. But coconut oil is just as bad as butter (coconut oil contains more saturated fat than butter!). And before I get into this article, I want to state that I am not saying oil consumption is unhealthy. I’m saying there are benefits when cooking with less oil, or ditching the oil when it is simply not needed.
The health effects of using oil also depend on frequency of consumption and current health status. For example, someone with heart disease should probably avoid all oils for a while, whereas a healthy person with a healthy diet could enjoy fries fried in oil once a week without the same negative effects.
Cooking Without Oil Benefits
No matter your health status, using the benefits and tips below might get you to ditch the oil for good 🙂
#1 Healthier blood vessels
It’s been proven that meals high in oil (and it did not matter which oil) showed an endothelial impairment just 3 hours after meal consumption. The Endothelium is the thin membrane that lines the inside of the heart and blood vessels.
In a short term study, olive oil was proven to increase the good cholesterol and lower the bad cholesterol. This study is one of the reasons olive oil is known to be “heart healthy”.
BUT long term studies show that heart disease is best improved lowering total fat altogether (including monounsaturated fat like that which is found in olive oil).
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the US (source). While this study was small, there is evidence that a whole food plant based diet prevents or reverses heart disease. I am not aware of a study that proves the complete reversal of heart disease at this point (only improvement).
Note: whole food plant based is a diet that focuses mostly on whole plant foods and excludes refined foods like sugar and oil.
Dr. Esselstyn placed 200 participants on a whole food plant based diet. Of the individuals that did not stick with the diet (21 people), 62% developed serious health problems including stroke and heart attack. Of the individuals who followed the diet plan (177 people), only 0.6% had the same negative outcome (source).
While the control group is small (only 12 people), the outcome is drastic. In the image above and to the right you can see a patient with coronary artery disease with insufficient blood flow. Following a plant based diet for only 3 weeks with no other intervention, the image above and to the left shows the same patient with completely restored blood flow. Read more in his book: Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease: The Revolutionary, Scientifically Proven, Nutrition-Based Cure.
#2 Consumption of more nutrients
1 cup mashed avocado contains 348 calories compared to 1 cup of avocado oil which contains 1927 calories. And if you try to use the same amount of calories you get 1 cup mashed avocado for 380 calories and 0.2 cup avocado oil for the same amount of calories. Which one would fill you up more?
Whole plant based foods are always more nutrient dense than refined plant foods like oil. This means there are more nutrients per calorie in whole food compared to plant oils. In the image above you can see you get MUCH MORE nutrition out of 380 calories whole food than with oil. Oils are stripped of most of their nutrients and basically contain only fat.
However, you should still eat healthy plant fats. Whole foods, like the avocado, is not just fat (like the oil) it also contains carbs, proteins, minerals, fiber, and vitamins and, therefore, is a more balanced food source for healthy fats. Avocados are highest in fat but still contain other macro nutrients, while oils ONLY contain one macro (fat).
#3 Faster weight loss
As mentioned above, oils are very high in calories without any real nutritional benefits. Proteins and carbs contain 4 calories per gram and fats contain 9 calories per gram.
I am not saying you should avoid fat! To lose weight you should not follow an extreme diet like high fat or no fat, or whatever is the current trendy thing. It is important to balance your macro nutrients and eat all of them. Some people do better consuming more fat, others do better consuming more carbs, but by all means never cut out one macro nutrient group completely or reduce drastically (like the keto diet).
Here, I am simply stating that you don’t need to eat oils to get your healthy fats.
One tablespoon olive oil contains 119 calories. If you simply switch to water-frying for your lunch and dinner, you can cut out a couple hundred calories per day. Just by cutting back 200 calories per day without any other diet change or exercise you can lose 2-3 pounds per month naturally. And you probably won’t taste much of a difference!
If you stick with whole foods, they contain a combination of fiber, fat, protein, and carbs which all help you stay full longer. This is obviously important when trying to lose weight.
#4 Less inflammation in your body
A high amount of Omega-6 increases inflammation (source):
“In humans on a Western diet, the omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid arachidonic acid (ARA) makes a significant contribution to the fatty acids present in the membrane phospholipids of cells involved in inflammation.”
While vegans eat much less saturated fat, heart disease is best treated or prevented with avoiding oils most of the time. Olive oil might be better than omega-6-rich oils or saturated fats, but may still show adverse effects. (source)
While omega 6 fatty acids are healthy on a balanced diet, they do have an inflammatory effect when consumed too much. Omega 3 fatty acids, on the other hand, have an anti-inflammatory effect. The key is to balance both fats for a healthy diet. An optimal ratio of omega 3:6 is 1:4.
Many processed foods contain cheap oils that increase omega 6. If we don’t eat enough omega 3 (nuts and seeds) it could cause inflammation in the body. Avoid some sweet treats that contain cheap oils, fried food, and cooking with oils.
In my opinion, if you are healthy (no heart issues) and consume a well balanced diet, the occasional side of fries or vegan cookies is fine.
How to cook without oil
If you have decided to cut back on using oils in your diet, here are some tips on how to live life without (or with less) oils.
You can still make your own potato fries or sweet potato fries. Simple cut them into equally sized fries and spread them over parchment paper or a silicone mat on a baking sheet.
You can add your seasoning as desired. Here are some options:
You can set your oven to about 400 F and it should take anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes until they are baked. If the food is very dry you can spray on some water, vegetable stock, vinegar, or lemon juice with your seasoning.
Oils and butters are often used to make pastries moist. Instead, you can use mashed bananas, apple sauce, or other purees (pumpkin, sweet potatoes,…). However, if you use silicone baking pans and forms you might not have to use these substitutes at all. Here are some tools to use:
And here are some oil free baking recipes to try:
The best way to get your veggies really crunchy without added oils is using an Air Fryer. This is not a necessary tool since you can use the oven as well, but it gets the job done much quicker and makes it easier on you. Tofu is one food that’s bit harder to get crispy, so an air fryer is convenient. Some air fryers require a tiny bit of oil and some don’t require any oil, so be sure to pay attention before you buy.
Stir-frying, sauteing, and browning without oil
For frying, I use about 1/4 cup or less water and heat it up in the pan (I use this stainless steel pan). Then, I add the vegetables I want to fry and cook them on medium heat until they are soft and the water is gone. When there is no more water left, add the seasoning and leave them just a bit longer to get some crisp edges, if desired. Head over to this recipe for water fried potatoes. If you water fry onions try adding a pinch of salt. For an even better frying effect, try a Scanpan.
Also check out my water fried vegan fajitas.
You can also use vegetable stock instead of water. The amount of water depends on the amount and type of food you are making. For example, potatoes take longer so I usually add a lid and steam them until they’re almost soft. Then, remove the lid and let the water evaporate. In the last step I add the seasoning and let them brown slightly.
If you like to make a salad for lunch and wonder how you can possibly make a dressing without oil, fear not. Salad dressings can be made with soaked cashews, avocado, or tofu as the base and lots of herbs and spices added. Here are 45+ oil free vegan dressings and sauces to try.
Oil Free Meal Plans
The easiest way to get started with oil free eating is to follow a pre-planned meal plan. Below are some easy vegan meal plans for different needs.
- High protein 2,200 calorie meal plan
- 5-Day work week weight loss meal plan 1700 calories
- 7-Day weight loss meal plan 1200 calories
- 7-Day vegan fall meal plan
- Hormonal Acne Diet Plan (7-Day Skin Clearing Meal Plan)
Download the 3-Day Oil Free Meal Plan Below:
Further education on healthy eating
Dr, Fuhrman: The end of heart disease
Dr. Fuhrman focuses strongly on consuming a high nutrient per calorie ratio. He is an expert in the science of food and his nutrition tips improve health across the board. Check out his book here.
Dr. McDougall: Program for a healthy heart.
“Designed to produce dramatic health improvement in two months, a healthy eating program focuses on helping those who have already had, or are in danger of having a heart attack, but is also useful as a guide to the prevention of coronary disease.”
Dr. Greger: How not to die
Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease.
Dr. Esselstyn: How to prevent and reverse heart disease
The Revolutionary, Scientifically Proven, Nutrition-Based Cure.
T. Colin Campbell: The china study
The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss, and Long-Term Health.