A surprisingly large number of people have been interested in my previous post about vegetable oil, where I explained why I don’t use it. But how does one go about avoiding vegetable oil? It’s in everything! Besides, don’t you need vegetable oil to make cakes and stuff?
No, vegetable oil is worthless. You can still eat cake without it. 🙂
Avoiding Vegetable Oil – At Home
You can directly substitute any oil for vegetable oil in salad dressing. However, you need to be aware that unrefined oils have flavors, and will affect the taste of your final product. In my opinion though, this makes for a better dressing! I use a mixture of olive, walnut, and avocado oil in my dressings, and have occasionally used sesame or peanut oil as well. It may take some trial and error to convert your salad dressing recipes to non-vegetable oil, but it’s TOTALLY worth it!
Refined Peanut oil – this works just as well as canola oil, and actually results in tastier fried food. Peanut oil isn’t the greatest oil for you, and deep frying isn’t good for you (obviously), but it’s still better than vegetable oil.
Animal Fat – You can fry food in tallow or lard. I haven’t actually done this yet, because tallow and lard are difficult to get, but I will be trying it soon (hopefully) and will let y’all know how it goes.
You can just substitute olive oil, or a mixture of olive oil and butter, whenever you’re sauteing at medium or low heat, with no changes to the final taste. Just don’t use olive oil for high-heat cooking; the high-heat will damage it and make it bad for you.
Roasting and High Heat Sauteing
Avocado oil is your best friend these applications. It has a really high smoke point and is full of healthy fats. And don’t worry, avocado oil isn’t much more expensive than olive oil…just don’t put the oil on toast. We all know how avocado toast results in financial ruin.
I recommend mixing unrefined peanut oil with sesame oil for Asian stir frys. The flavor from this combination is far superior to tasteless vegetable oil. Just make sure that you never cook with sesame oil by itself – it has to be combined with peanut oil, or else it can create bad fats, just like vegetable oil. Sesame oil is fine if it is not heated.
Butter: If a recipe calls for shortening, you can use butter. Just be aware that since shortening has a lower water content than butter, the ratio isn’t identical
1 cup shortening = 1 cup + 2 tbsp butter
Coconut oil: Muffins and cakes often call for vegetable oil, not shortening. When this happens, I usually use coconut oil instead. I use unrefined coconut oil most of the time, but it does have a coconut flavor. For certain cakes, I will use refined coconut instead, which has no taste.
There are also recipes for olive oil cakes, and I actually prefer my olive oil chocolate cake over pretty much every other cake in existence. The composition and final product of an olive oil cake is a bit different however, so you can’t just replace vegetable oil with olive oil in baking.
Baking sheets: Who needs Pam Cooking Spray? I just grab a little butter and rub it into my loaf pans, casserole dishes, or whatever else calls for a “greased” tin or baking sheet. You could also use coconut oil.
Grill Grates: We put some avocado oil in a glass spray bottle for use on the grill and you know what? It works just as well as non-stick grill sprays. It helped our grill racks develop a nice, non-stick patina.
Avoiding Vegetable Oil – Eating Out
There’s not much you can do when eating out – you can’t control what oils the restaurant uses, and in all likelihood they use vegetable oil. However, these things will help:
- Don’t order fried food at a restaurant. This will decrease your exposure to the worst example of vegetable oil. If you get good at home-frying, you won’t want to order fried food out anyway.
- Don’t order salad at a restaurant – chances are, the dressing is going to be full of things that are bad for you, making your ‘healthy’ choice not so healthy. Besides, if you’re bothering to go out to eat, why are you ordering a salad?!?! Salads are super easy and cheap to make at home! You could also bring your own salad dressing into the restaurant – my mom does this.
- Avoid fast food – obviously.
- Limit how often you eat out – cooking at home is good! If you tend to be short on time, you can freeze “TV dinners” for yourself whenever you have leftover casseroles or soups. I keep at least one emergency meal in the freezer at all times, so that I’m not stuck going out to eat just because I got home from work late.
- Ask the Chef. Some restaurants, particularly Asian ones, use peanut oil instead of vegetable oil. A good Italian restaurant will use olive oil. It’s worth asking, and you can target healthier restaurants when you do go out.
Avoiding Vegetable Oil – the Grocery Store
- Read ingredient labels and avoid vegetable oils, when possible
- Avoid store-bought desserts. These are the items that tend to have the largest amounts of bad oils in them – shortening, margarine, and good ol’ soybean oil
- Avoid processed food in general. If you go to the grocery store and look at labels, you’ll be impressed by the sheer quantity of vegetable oil and sugar in just about everything – even “organic” products. Things like cereal and condiments are pretty much all oil and sugar – it’s pretty gross when you think about it. You are best off buying whole foods, like produce, meat, and dairy. Making condiments at home is easy, and healthier. It’s cheaper too.
- Buy the right kind of olive oil. Many olive oils are actually mixed olive and vegetable oil – don’t buy those! Furthermore, look for ‘cold-pressed’ or ‘expeller-pressed’ olive oil.
HELP: I Feel Overwhelmed
Okay, I get it. You went to the store, checked labels, and feel like you’re being poisoned by all the food items you normally consume. You start thinking about having to make your own bread, salad dressing, breakfast, lunch, and dinner all the time and you feel overwhelmed.
Just bear with me for a second.
It’s all about baby steps.
If you currently eat a lot of processed foods, try to start learning to make really simple things that tend to be really high in vegetable oil. Salad dressing would be my number one suggestion, but if you don’t eat much salad, maybe you’d rather start with something else.
If you slowly start incorporating healthier habits, it won’t be so overwhelming, and even small things make a difference. Here’s a list of the things I would prioritize to minimize vegetable oil intake. If you’ve mastered number 1, move on to attempting number 2, and so on and so forth.
- Cooking Oil. If you cook at home with any regularity, you will benefit MOST from simply replacing your cooking oils. And this is easy!
- Salad Dressing. Making your own salad dressing is simple – you just mix oil, vinegar, and spices together. Many salad dressings, such as Italian and Balsamic will actually keep at room temperature for a long time. There are many recipes available online, or you can get my balsamic recipe here.
- Boxed Dessert Mixes. These are pretty terrible for you, and baking dessert at home is really easy. It’s also a fun project for kids, and doesn’t take too many dishes.
- Breakfast Cereal. It is incredible how much vegetable oil and sugar are in most breakfast cereals, even fancy, schmancy, expensive, organic cereals. It’s pretty gross, really. Try making eggs in the morning, or oatmeal. Think you don’t have time? Let me put it this way – I used to make myself eggs for breakfast while my coffee was brewing. By the time the coffee was done, so was breakfast. You can do that, right?
- Boxed dinners. Whatever your favorite boxed meals are, they probably contain vegetable oil, and if they don’t, they still probably aren’t good for you. Start learning to make your favorites – the internet has tons of recipes, and there’s some on this site, so start experimenting! Also, I PROMISE, you will save lots of money on your grocery budget if you cook from scratch.
- Condiments. Mayo, in particular is solid vegetable oil, and it’s easy to make your own. You can also buy mayo made with avocado oil instead of soybean oil, but … warning: it’s expensive. If you can afford it, cool, but otherwise you can make it at home.
- Bread. Weirdly enough, a lot of bread has soybean oil in it. I don’t know why, since you don’t need oil to make bread. It’s not a LOT of oil, but if you’re feeling ambitious, you can learn to make delicious bread at home. It’s not as difficult as you might think, though it does require some time. You may also be able to find local bakeries that don’t use vegetable oil in their bread – although I enjoy making bread, it’s often easier for me to buy from my local Italian bakery. As a bonus, the bread is about the same price as bread at the grocery store, and it tastes way better.
Good luck! You can do it!