I should have done a post on how and why I cook without oil months (years?) ago. It’s something that I’m frequently asked about. Basically anytime I mention that my dish is oil-free, I’m asked, either: A. “How do you cook without oil? or “Is there a reason you’re cooking without oil?” Sure is! There are a lot of reasons to not cook with oil! Soooo… let’s talk about: A. Why I don’t cook with oil. B. How I cook without oil. And C: Why you do cook with oil?! Cool? Cool!
First let’s ask the question: WHY do YOU cook with oil? We can talk about the reasons why people do cook with oil, but first, I’m curious to know the reasons you personally cook with oil. Problem is, this is oftentimes a one-sided forum… (unless you comment below or comment on insta or wherever). But even if I can’t read your thoughts and you don’t feel like leaving a comment below… I’m curious to have you guys answer the question for yourselves. I’ll just pretend I’m hearing all your answers while I type, K? So go ahead and ask yourself the question, “Why do I cook with oil?” The fact is, while there are some reasons to cook with oil (but none involve health by the way), most daily home cooks just cook with oil out of habit. Nothing more.
Through recipes (my own included), cooking shows, commercials, and whatever else, we’re conditioned to think that adding oil is a necessary step in cooking a dish. Spoiler alert: it’s not. I was totally one of those people– I cooked with oil every single day and every single meal… and I did it out of habit and conditioning. I watched all my favorite chefs do it recipe after recipe and I never questioned it, it just seemed like the norm. And so I did it too. Year after year I cooked with oil and I never second-guessed my actions or the implications it might have on my health.
Eventually, I started researching, reading, learning and became aware of the fact that maybe I should have questioned my thoughtless actions years ago. Because all the research I read led me to the realization that maybe 1. cooking without oil isn’t actually necessary at all. 2. it’s really not even good for you (at all).
Let’s start with a list of reasons why people typically cook with oil:
- to help things not stick / frying
- flavor enhancer (spice absorption)
- “the caramelization of food” (I just brought up the topic at home, Alex added this point)
- “because they don’t know better” – Marlowe (LOL)
But here are some simple fixes to counter those actions:
- Things like habit and conditioning are pretty easy to change. Next time you run out of your cooking oil, don’t buy more. BOOM habit: gone.
- Same as above.
- Want things not to stick? And ease of cooking? Well, we’ll get into that in a bit!
- Indian food is especially notorious for heating spices in oil for flavor. This can be a more tricky problem, as this technique surely is one way to enhance flavor. But you can ground up fresh spices or cook food over a long simmer to blend spices for extra flavor. This isn’t a deal-breaker. And really, a long simmer is going to be better overall instead of a high heat boil.
- While I have no doubt that some of you do practice cooking your foods with hopes to achieve a deep caramel color at home, I’m guessing the good majority of you do not use caramelization techniques– so this isn’t too much of a concern for you. At one point I did drench food in oil to give it a rich dark color, but now I care more about my overall health than one item having a (let’s say it: carcinogenic) glaze. Also, I find foods like sweet potatoes, squash, plantains and more can still get a natural caramel color just being roasted in the oven— no oil required.
- Let’s continue learning more together, ya?
Unless you’re deep-frying something (which let’s be honest, you probably shouldn’t be) there’s not a big need to cook with oils. Also let’s remember, need + desire are totally different. I’m not here to say DONT COOK WITH OILS. That’s totally your call if you choose to do it for one reason or another (maybe you have other reasons than the ones listed above). I’m just here to remind you that you don’t need to cook with oils, give you reasons to not using them that maybe you never realized and helping to guide you in the kitchen without them 🙂
Why I don’t cook with or eat oil:
If you do your own research and skip over the fancy cooking blogs and go right to research articles (Nutritional and Physiological Effects of Used Frying Oils and Fat,/// Decreased food efficiency ratio,/// Challenges of Utilizing Healthy Fats in Foods,///Genotoxic and carcinogenic risks associated with the dietary consumption of repeatedly heated coconut oil.) time and time again, you’ll find that heating oil proves to have a variety of carcinogenic qualities, it creates free radicals, that you’ll be consuming, and it denatures the potential health benefits of the oil. While some oils might have some healthy properties (pre-cooking) like omegas, I find that it’s absolutely and completely unnecessary to consume oils for these “positive properties” since you can also find these health benefits in eating whole unprocessed foods like nuts, seeds, and fruits for example. I really can’t think of a single reason to consume oil over whole foods.
I mean, let’s say I hand you an avocado or a cup of oil…. which one seems more appetizing? Or how about a handful of nuts vs a cup full of oil? Which one do you want to consume? I’d be very surprised if any of you chose the cup of oil. It’s unnatural enough to consume oil– but then… to heat it in a pan or pot? It’s unnecessary and the studies show how incredibly damaging it is for our cells– so whatever reason you choose to cook with oil, ask yourself, is it worth it? Probably not.
Let’s say that the studies showed that cooking with oil wasn’t actually bad for you… then what? Do we still use it? Do you? Or not? Or what about raw pressed oils left uncooked? I personally would still skip any oil. Fats, especially processed fats are terribly difficult for your body to digest and process. Even avocados (probably the best fat you can eat) is going to be significantly harder on your gut than it’s lesser fat fruit friends.
If you want to improve your digestion, lowering your fat intake is key. And for me, well, I’d rather eat a sliced avocado or a delicious bowl of guacamole than have a tablespoon of oil in a dish. Ya know? Making processed oil removes all the fiber and other digestive aids that whole foods hold. Your body understands how to process and digest a whole food like an avocado found in nature. No matter how evolved you might assume humans are, we have not been designed or evolved enough to thrive and feel optimal health by eating oil.
Now, this point doesn’t apply to most of you– but in our home, we follow a high carb low-fat diet. We have all found improved energy levels, improved health, and better digestion in this diet. Adding oil to anything would increase the fat levels in our bloodstream a bit too much where would risk a spike in our blood sugar. We aim to keep stable blood sugar levels for optimal health and skipping oils is an easy step to keep up with this 🙂
Now, don’t get me wrong, when we’re out to eat, it’s very VERY rare that I’ll ask for something without oil. If it’s a salad, yeah, I’ll pass on the oiled dressing– or if it seems like an easy skip, sure. But I’m not going to be a total pain for the kitchen either. Because at that point, I probably should have just stayed home and saved the cooks the hassle, haha. Honestly, it’s one of many reasons we’d rather just cook at home these days. I get to save money and know that there are only high quality and necessary ingredients going in my meal 😉 Now, you’re not going to die by having a dish made with oil– but if I can skip it, I do. And at home? Well, that’s an easy place to skip it.
The shortlist of why I don’t cook with oil:
- I follow a high carb low-fat diet. Adding oil to any dish adds an exorbitant amount of fat to a meal and will spike blood sugar
- there are no health benefits in cooking oil
- cooking oils creates free radicals and carcinogenic properties
- diets lower in fat and protein are easier to digest
- oil is not naturally found in nature, we aim to eat whole foods containing natural whole fats instead.
How To Cook Without Oil
Cooking without oil is simple! For the most part, you just have to NOT pick up the bottle of oil, then NOT pour the oil in the dish, haha. The rest of the dish really just continues to cook with or without it, haha. Cooking foods pulls out the water and dehydrates the food (why fruitarians need to drink less water) when things dry out, they begin to stick. So you’ll find, depending on which vegetable you’re cooking, certain ones will cook easier and some might stick a bit more. But you’re not destined to a pile of vegetables sticking to the bottom of the pot*.
For oil-free stovetop cooking:
We simply keep a kettle filled with water on the stove. When foods begin to dry out and stick, I add a splash of water and VOILA, no more sticking! I know this isn’t the most technical blog post– but that’s because it doesn’t have to be! It’s really that simple. Like with most of our recipes we typically start with things like onion, carrot, and/or celery for sauteing. Then add things like greens or whatever other veg we might use. We use a wooden spoon to stir the veggies as needed. Then if it something that might be a bit saucier, add the tomatoes or whatever other foods your using. Keep stirring and keep adding a splash of water if things feel like they’re going to stick. That’s really it.
Tip for oil-free dressings and sauces:
As far as things like salad dressings, well, you guys know I have some on the blog– they are all really good and all of them without oil. Yes, there are no vinegarettes, but they are still creamy delicious dressings for salads. Adding things like raw tahini, avocado, or even just a zucchini or tomato (if you want to avoid fats all together) are great ways to blend up a dressing and keep it creamy.
Tips for oil-free oven roasting:
We make oil-free “fries” all the time. There’s no need to oil up the bottom of your sheet tray for roasting and baking. The trick is making the oven is nice and hot when you pop your food in. Especially for things like potatoes and sweet potatoes (that contain little water). I crank the oven up to 450-550F and then pop in the sheet tray of sliced potatoes. You also have the option of buying a grilling tray if you’re convinced your vegetables will definitely stick to the tray (they won’t). A grilling tray is great to roast larger veg with zero stick worry.
And well, that’s really it! Or I think it is, if I’m missing something, let me know! But I think that’s the basic idea of why we don’t use oil at home anymore and how easy it. If you want to learn more about eating without fat— and eating a higher carb diet in its place (I diet I can fully and confidently stand behind) then check out this book or this one too.
*By the way, I should mention that we definitely don’t own any non-stick pans— and even with our ceramic pots and pans and our cast iron, we never have a problem with sticking foods. We currently (for the last 10 years actually) use this cast iron pan and have this pot in a few sizes– and have zero problems with cooking oil-free 🙂