One of the more common questions I get is how to cook with less oil or fat when trying to watch calories or when people are watching their cholesterol levels. Let’s first talk about the purpose of cooking with oil, the purpose fats have in nutrition, and then how to cook with less.
Purpose of Oil in Cooking
Stove Top: One of the main reasons to have oil in a recipe when cooking on a stove top or in a skillet is to help the ingredients either not stick to the pan or for the ingredients not to burn. Since oil has a high heat tolerance it helps when vegetables or other ingredients are coated to let them cook through without burning.
Baking: In baking, oil is used to help with keeping the dish from not drying out, so it’s there for moisture.
And let’s face it, things just taste better when there’s a little fat mixed in. That’s the essence of comfort foods. There are some recipes I don’t skip on the oil/fat. For instance, if I’m actually going to indulge and make cookies, or make homemade mac and cheese, or have been craving really fattening mashed potatoes, I don’t skip on the butter. Choose your battles. Because of lessening my oil and fat intake throughout most days, the days I do make something fattening, there is no bad feelings. Now I’m hungry for oatmeal cookies… Let’s talk about fats in nutrition and why it’s needed!
Purpose of Fats/Oils in Nutrition
There are healthy and non-healthy fats. The easiest way to tell the difference is whether or not they are liquid at room temperature. If they are liquid (olive oil) it is most likely a healthy unsaturated fat. If it is solid at room temperature (shortening or butter) it’s most likely unhealthy saturated fat.
Fats are important in nutrition and to always have in your diet. They help protect the nervous system, is needed for heart health, brain function, digestion, and cell reproduction. All very important reasons to take in fat.
Why Choose a Low Fat Diet?
Fats are are needed in the diet and are needed to be eaten each day, but there is a balance.
Fats are twice as many calories and although we do need them in our diet, it doesn’t take much. Especially now that fats are more abundant and part of most processed foods, in dishes when we eat out, and the fact that things with fat in them taste so much better so we usually will choose the higher fat option.
High fat diets have been linked to heart disease, high cholesterol, diabetes, etc. All things that can be controlled or lessened by diet.
Still keeping fats in the diet, we want to make sure we are not having excess fat or oil if we can control it. When we do our cooking, there are plenty of ways to cook with less fat and make sure the fats we are eating are more of the healthy unsaturated fats than the saturated fats.
There are some healthy high-fat diets out there. But you need to do your research and make sure you are doing it the healthy way if you choose to go a high-fat diet route. But for this post, we are talking about lessening the fat/oil in our diets.
Cooking with Less Oil
Stove Top Cooking
- First off, if you have a non-toxic non-stick skillet, use it. You don’t have to use as much oil to help with food sticking, if at all.
- Start with 1/2 the oil the recipe is saying to use at first. You can always add more later.
- Cook with lower heat. It might take a little longer but your food won’t burn as quickly.
- If you can not turn the heat down, starting your dish with chopped onion, celery, mushrooms, etc. on a low heat, will coat the pan in it’s own juices and will help to use less oil. You will most likely have to use some.
- The other thing, if you are making a sauce or if there will be liquid in the bottom of the skillet and it still calls for oil, try to cook it without it.
For Example: If you are making chili or spaghetti sauce, start on low heat and add any vegetables it calls for like onion, bell pepper, mushrooms, etc. They shouldn’t need any oil to cook. If it starts to dry out you can always add a small amount of water or broth. Then you can start adding any sauce, beans, tomatoes, etc.
- When baking a cake, muffins, bread, etc. always start with 1/2 oil and then substitute the rest with applesauce, mashed banana, pumpkin puree, etc. Whatever flavor will go with whatever you are cooking. It will keep the mixture moist throughout cooking.
- You can also use those substitutes for the whole recipe if you’d like, but to start off try doing it 50/50.
- Sometimes when I cook pasta I keep the pasta separate from the sauce. Once it’s done cooking you CAN add oil to help it not stick, but after draining the pasta, rinse it with cold water. This will help it not stick and you don’t need any oil. The noodles will be cooler, but the sauce you are using should be hot if you are making a hot pasta dish.
- If you make your own salad dressing, start with 1/2 or even 1/4 of what is called for. I can not tell you how much oil I realized I was using when I started to do this. The other seasonings and any acid like vinegar or citrus juice is what adds the flavor. The oil helps to spread it around and sometimes is needed, but it doesn’t have to be much.
- This is a big one for me. Start by using a small amount of oil to make sure the oil is coating the vegetables.
- Use the shake and bake method. Take whatever vegetables you are using and put them in a large ziplock bag or a glass bowl with a cover. Use only about 1 tbsp or less oil and toss it around to coat. You can always add more if it’s still dry. The oil will go a lot farther this way.
We can get our healthy fats in a number of ways throughout the day: nuts, seeds, nut/seed spreads, butter, avocado, olives, meat if it’s not super lean, crackers, breads, hummus, guacamole, other spreads and dips, dairy, etc. Cooking with oil adds to your total fat intake throughout the day that might not be needed nutritionally. Oil/Fat is needed in our diet for good nutrition. There are many reasons to balance your diet and a lot of people are seeing the need to keep their fat intake in check for multiple reasons. Cooking with less oil, whether in baking or on the stove is possible with little to no changes in the recipe or flavor and little to no extra effort on your part.