DO WE NEED OIL?
So this is easily one of the most controversial topics inside of the plant based community. People get downright feisty when it comes to conversations about oil. If you’re whole food plant based you would argue that oil is not a whole food (and that’s correct, it isn’t), but lots of people point to various health benefits that oils like olive oil have (and that’s correct too, olive oil has many health benefits associated with it).
This article isn’t about trying to convince anyone not to use oil, so let’s get that straight from the get go. You’re a fucking adult - if you WANT to use oil then that’s your choice. What this article IS about is how we don’t actually NEED oil as a food product.
People use oil for both health benefits and as an ingredient to use with food - so what follows, will give you some whole food alternatives that give you the same benefits of oil.
One of the biggest reasons I’ve cut out oil in my own diet is that it’s the most caloric dense food on the planet. Every tablespoon of oil is roughly 100-120 calories. And those are calories that don’t satiate you the way that whole foods of the same category does.
Here’s what 100 calories of high fat whole foods looks like:
50 tiger nuts
4 1/2 Dark Chocolate Hershey’s Kisses
3 tbsp shredded coconut
2 1/2 tbsp pumpkin seeds
2 tbsp chia seeds
1 tbsp nut butter
1/3 of an avocado
Look, if you’re at a good weight and an extra 100-120 calories here and there aren’t a big deal for you, then this is a non-issue for sure. But for anyone trying to lose weight having a single serving of the stuff makes a big difference - instead of splashing a tablespoon of it on your salad, or whatever you’re using it for, you could add these foods to your meal or snack for the same amount of calories:
82 kidney beans
33 cherry tomatoes
33 seedless grapes
28 baby carrots
22 cloves of garlic
17 shelled edamame
16 black olives
16 ribs of celery
12 raw brussel sprouts
5 dried figs
4 tbsp hummus
3 1/4 cups air popped popcorn
2 small chocolate chip cookies
1 1/4 cups blueberries
1 medium banana
1 small baked potato
FOR THE HEALTH OF IT
A lot of people will tout olive oil and coconut oil as superfoods - and you know what, they aren’t wrong! You’ll find many reputable doctors and nutritionists that will back those claims up with their health benefits. But the thing is, for every single health claim that you can pull out of one (or both) of those two oils, you can also find the same health claim coming from a variety of whole foods that, if you’re consuming, make adding caloric dense oil entirely unnecessary.
Here’s the top ten health benefits people use to support their choice to consume oil, along with examples of whole foods that give you the same thing (and more), and that you’re hopefully already eating as part of your diet:
1. It’s a Healthy Source of Monounsaturated Fats!
It totally is - and so are these: avocados, almonds, cashews, peanuts, dark chocolate, coconut, and chia seeds.
2, It’s an Antioxidant!
So is: dark chocolate, pecans, blueberries, strawberries, artichokes, goji berries, raspberries, kale, red cabbage, beans, beets, and spinach.
3. It’s Anti-inflammatory!
So are: tomatoes, green leafy vegetables, nuts, strawberries, blueberries, cherries, and oranges.
4. It Helps to Prevent Strokes!
Just like: Most fruits and vegetables (seriously, too many to list), and whole grains.
5. It Helps Prevent Heart Disease!
In the same league with: nuts, berries, seeds, oats, legumes, red wine, red yellow and orange veggies, oranges, cantaloupes, papaya, and dark chocolate.
6. It Helps to Fight Weight Gain!
It could be on a super hero team along with: coffee, green tea, apple cider vinegar, cinnamon, hot peppers, grapefruit, and watermelon.
7. It Helps with Alzheimer’s Disease!
That’s awesome. So does: green leafy veggies, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, and wine.
8. It Reduces Type 2 Diabetes!
Along with: whole grains and starchy veg, vegetables, fruits, beans and legumes
9. It Helps Prevent and Treat Rheumatoid Arthritis!
Sweet deal! Also in that club: garlic, ginger, broccoli, walnuts, berries, spinach, grapes, tart cherry juice,
10. It has Antibacterial Properties!
Just like: wine, cinnamon, turmeric, cranberry juice, and honey.
One note I will add is that if you’re eating a plant-based diet then you NEED to take a B12 supplement (to be honest, people who don’t probably need one as well).
I NEED IT FOR COOKING AND/OR BAKING
First and foremost - oil in cooking and baking serves a specific purpose. And so to understand why and how you replace it, you need to understand what it’s for - and the answer is not flavour (with perhaps the exception of salad dressing: see below). So below are the most common reasons we use oil as an ingredient and how easy it is to swap it out with a whole food alternative (that often WILL actually add to the flavour!)
Sautéing / Cooking
We use oil in a frying pan to keep shit from sticking to the pan. Luckily non-stick pans have been around since 1938… Granted - they haven’t always been what they are today. Either way - there’s no reason that, even without one, you can’t simply get away without just using water or vegetable stock to sauté whatever it is you’re cooking in a pan. Most vegetables start to sweat and create their own water as you cook them, so you’ll be surprised how little you need.
What about making things crispy??? Well - luckily we now have not only convection ovens, but also air fryers that are pretty damn inexpensive. I’ve got a recipe here on the site for french fries that are crispy as fuck and don’t use a drop of oil. Click here to give them a whirl.
Similar to cooking we’ve had non-stick baking supplies for sometime now - silicon is your best friend. From bread loafs to muffins pans to donut molds, there isn’t a baking sheet that you need that you can’t find in silicon form. Amazon sells pretty much all of them.
Oil in baking does two things: its biggest job is to keep your stuff moist by trapping in the gases that get released from the interaction of baking powder and baking soda and slowing down gluten formation: basically it keeps shit tender and fluffy. The second thing it does is helps bind your other ingredients together in the right way. So we need ingredients that can accomplish these two tasks. Luckily you’ve got some options!
If you see canola oil in a recipe your easiest 1:1 swap is Applesauce. It maintains the original flavour while also adding a little sweetness. You can even add some light plant milk to make it a bit creamier if you want. Applesauce is moist as hell and way lower in calories than oil.
Cornstarch also works. It won’t add any real nutritional value, but you will get a similar end result. Simply mix it with a little bit of water under heat until you get the consistency you want--err on the more watery side if you’re not sure. After it cools, it should be good to mix into your recipe. That said, I don’t recommend it in recipes with high oil content, as it's prone to change the consistency of your batter. Honestly, this isn’t one of my favourite choices - but it’ll do in a pinch.
Fruit or Veggie Puree: Almost any fruit or veggie puree will serve as a great oil substitute. You could see this as a positive or negative, but the flavours will most likely show up in your recipe. So if you coordinate this well, it can actually give you an even better result! Think zucchini or banana bread, for instance, or try a raspberry puree in a chocolate cake—fuck yeah! On the veggie side, you should be a little pickier, but I love winter squash varieties and mashed sweet potatoes as a substitute for oil. Pumpkin is killer in recipes where you want to add it to the flavour palette. Some veggies may also change the appearance of your end product, such as beets. These are a delicious oil substitute, but can change a lighter cake into a pink one--not so great if you are trying to be ninja stealthy with your healthy substitutions! If you are working with coloured veggies or fruits, try to keep the recipe on the darker side for the most discreet results.
This might be the biggest thing people associate with food and oil - and it’s honestly one of the easiest (and tastiest) to swap out.
If we think of oil as fat, then the substitute for oil becomes clear: something else that’s fatty. Here’s some options:
Yogurt - nonfat or low-fat if you’re not plant-based or a cashew or other plant-based yogurt if you are
Avocado - For the silkiest, smoothest dressing, use a food processor or blender
Any Nut Butter (try different ones with different combos)
Vinegars - soooooo many to choose from - seriously - the world of vinegar is your oyster!
THE BOTTOM LINE
So I hope that all of this helps. Like I said at the top of this, you’re an adult, if you want to include some oil into your life then go for it. You do you. But what I wanted to do in this article, and hopefully I have, is dispel the idea that we NEED oil as part of our lives. We don’t. If you WANT to include oil then that’s a horse of a different colour. But for health, weight loss, and eating - it’s just not necessary. If you disagree with any of my points here by all means, fire me a message - I’d love to know your point of view!