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What has 120 calories per tablespoon and is 100% fat?

Here’s a hint: it has no fiber, no water and little-to-no nutritional value.

Yet it’s in everything and most people can’t even think about cooking without it.

You probably guessed that it’s oil.

One other thing about oil; it is highly processed.

Have a look at all the steps it takes to make canola oil and see if you would call it “food” at the end of the process.

Did you know that oil consumption decreases endothelial function? In layperson’s language, this means that oil constricts the blood flow by 32% after a meal, injures the endothelial cells (the cells that line the interior walls of blood vessels) and triggers plaque build-up (atherosclerosis).

Scary stuff.

So fat and calories aren’t the only reason to cook without oil.

Furthermore, (and this might shock you) you don’t even NEED oil in your cooking.

You don’t need it for flavor, for texture or even for keeping things from sticking to your pans.

Here’s how to replace oil depending on the cooking method:

  • Baking and Roasting:Oil helps with browning in the oven, but it’s not necessary for browning or crisping. Vegetables will brown on their own if you cook them low and slow. If you want something super crispy like French fries, finish for a minute or two at a higher temperature or pop them under the broiler. Make sure to use parchment paper or a thin layer of water in the bottom of the pan to prevent sticking.
  • Sautéing and Stir Frying:When you sauté vegetables, water and broth do just as well, if not better than oil. Add a couple of tablespoons to your wok or skillet and get it nice and hot. Add vegetables and stir. Keep the veggies moving so they don’t burn. To give new life to old stir-fry recipes, add some avocado. It punches up the flavor and keeps food from sticking to the pan!
  • Steaming:Steaming is the simplest way to cook vegetables without oil. Just remember not to add your spices until the end to bring out the best flavors. Don’t have a steamer? Steam veggies in a flat-bottomed pan. Add just enough water (or veggie broth) to cover the bottom of the pan and get it boiling. Add your veggies and cover tightly. Cook for 1-2 minutes, remove from heat and let steam for 4-5 minutes. Add spices. Enjoy!

What about great oil substitutes?

  • Broth and water are the most common oil replacements for stove top cooking. But you can also use fruit and vegetable juices.
  • Spices bring out the flavors of food instead of smothering them. Add them to your stir-fry water or broth for a bit of zing!
  • Use unsweetened applesauce or banana to replace oil in baked goods. They add a little sweetness and lots of moisture.
  • Soaked dried fruits also work well in baking and they can add sweetness to sautéed veggies, too.

It might seem crazy and maybe even a little scary to think of cooking without oil.

And it might take a little practice to get things just right – browning without overcooking, learning how to keep things from sticking and finding the right spices to add.

But once you learn to cook without it, you’ll wonder how you ever tolerated the greasy taste and texture of oil-drenched foods or thought oil added flavor!

Rosane Oliveira, DVM, PhD

President & CEO, Plant-Based Life Foundation | Dr. Rosane Oliveira combines a lifelong passion for nutrition with 25 years of genetics research to create programs that help people develop healthy habits on their journey towards a more plant-based lifestyle. She is a Visiting Clinical Professor in Public Health Sciences and was the founding director of the first Integrative Medicine program at the UC Davis School of Medicine. She completed her postgraduate studies in Brazil and did her postdoctoral training in immunogenetics and functional genomics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.