It’s been awhile since I wrote a Lifestyle post on Spartan Life, so I thought I would take this week to do so! Today’s topic: Why I don’t cook with olive oil.
But olive oil is healthy!
It contains the ‘good’ kinds of fats.
Cold pressed, unrefined, extra virgin/light versions are fine, right?
But how do you make salad dressings?
How do you saute?
What healthy fats should I be eating then?
These are the questions and thoughts that may be going through your head right now. I’ll address all of them in this post, explain why exactly olive oil isn’t a healthy food, why I don’t cook with it, and how you can replace it in your own cooking if you choose to do so. Let’s begin!
Eat To Protect Your Heart
There is no question that what we do daily, whether it is what we eat, or how we exercise, affects our endothelial function (how well our arteries work). Countless studies have now been done on the topic. It should come as no surprise anymore that meals high in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol negatively impact our arteries, even as quick as 2 hours after a meal. The proof is in the studies (If you have 3 minutes and 28 seconds of extra time to spare, the video below on this data is very well researched).
And do you know what food was found right at the top of the list as being harmful to endothelial function, right next to a sausage-egg McMuffin? Olive oil.
Why Does This Matter?
You may be asking yourself why we should care about endothelial function. The answer is, we should all care tremendously, as it’s the top indicator used by doctors to predict heart disease.
Heart disease is currently the number one killer in the United States. 610,000 people die from heart disease every year in the U.S. alone. That’s 1 in every 4 deaths. On top of avoiding all foods that are naturally rich in cholesterol, saturated fats, and trans fats (meat, dairy, eggs), we should also all be conscious to avoid processed plant foods that are high in saturated fats (oils) as well.
For anyone interested in watching a fantastic talk on the subject of diet and heart disease, I highly recommend watching How Not To Die by Dr. Michael Gregor. It’s long, but worth it.
These negative health consequences weren’t just proven in olive oil though, but all processed oils (coconut oil, sunflower, hemp, canola, etc.)
What Fats Are ‘Good’ Fats?
You may have heard this concept before. That there are ‘good’ fats, and ‘bad’ fats. This is true, and I’ll take a moment to explain briefly. Certain fats are essential to our bodies, like Omega 3 and Omega 6. You’ve probably heard of those two before.
Our bodies don’t just need these two nutrients, it also needs them in the right proportions. Oils unfortunately have the completely wrong ratio for our bodies (the ideal ratio is 1:1). Take these examples below:
- Safflower oil is 75% Omega-6 and 0% Omega-3
- Sunflower, Corn, Cottonseed and Soybean oils are all more than 50% Omega-6 fats with 0% Omega-3s
- Fish oils are 100% Omega-3 and 0% Omega-6
As you can see, oils are completely unbalanced, as is fish oil, another commonly thought of “health” food. What foods do have the right ratio? Flax seed meal, chia seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, beans, olives, leafy greens, winter squash, and more. Basically, whole plant foods.
Now wait one second! …You may be thinking. If olives are good for us, why isn’t olive oil?
The Difference Is In The Fiber
I’ve written many times before about the benefits of fiber in our diet. Did you know that 97% of Americans are deficient in fiber? As a nation, we’re averaging about 15 grams a day, when the bare minimum is around 31 grams (optimal intake of fiber for cancer prevention start at 35 grams per day). We’re getting less than half the minimum as a nation. And fiber is extremely protective against many of our top killers.
Back to the discussion of how this relates to oil.
When you eat fats from whole foods (such as a whole olive), your body has to work to break down the plant cells (fiber) to release the pure fats. This process happens over the course of a few hours so the fat enters your blood stream slowly over time. Because oil is a highly processed and concentrated form of fat, with no fiber, when you eat it, it bypasses this digestive process and floods your blood stream.
This is the same reason why eating a whole piece of fruit (like an orange) is much healthier for us than drinking the straight juice. The fiber in the whole fruit helps our bodies release the sugars from it slowly over time, versus the juice dumping it in our system all at once with no fiber or buffer to slow it down. But I’ll save an informative post about sugar for another time. 😉
What About The Mediterranean Diet?
Ah, the poor misunderstood study that sings the praises of the Mediterranean diet. If you have 4ish minutes to spare, I highly recommend checking out this video on the subject.
To summarize briefly though, a traditional Mediterranean diet has been proven to be much healthier than the Standard American Diet, but there is still room for improvement. The reason the Mediterranean diet is healthy though, isn’t because of the olive oil, but in spite of it. It’s the high intake of whole fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts that makes the Mediterranean diet good for us.
How Can I Cook Without Oil?
By now I hope that I’ve explained well enough why I personally don’t cook with olive oil. Numerous studies have shown that it’s not as healthy for us as we once thought, and that it’s actually pretty harmful to us. This doesn’t even mention the fact that just 2 tablespoons of olive oil packs in 240 calories. So those trying to manage their weight may want to avoid it for that reason too.
There are healthier ways for us to get our “good” fats, and eat them in a way that our bodies can absorb and use in the right way. So having said all that, how can we begin to cook without oil (or with less)?
Eliminating Oil In Baking
The ratios are the exact same. So when a recipe calls for 1/2 a cup of oil for example, you can use 1/2 a cup of applesauce instead. It makes it an instant healthy swap.
Eliminating Oil In Oven Roasting
I love roasting vegetables. No, listen… I looOOOoOOOooove roasting vegetables! It brings out such a unique flavor to them that makes any dish taste even better. One of my favorites, is crispy oven roasted broccoli. You may be wondering how to achieve the “crispy” part, without the oil though.
The answer is simple, just leave out the oil.
When roasting vegetables, spread them out evenly on a baking tray lined with parchment paper, and set the oven for a temperature ~20-50 degrees hotter than you normally would, and bake until they become charred. It’s honestly that easy. When left in the oven for the right length of time, any vegetable can become charred and crispy all on its own, without doing ANYTHING else besides placing them in the oven.
Check out my roasted Brussels sprouts recipe for full instructions on how to do this!
Eliminating Oil In Sautéing
Just use water. No really, instead of putting a tablespoon of oil into your pan to sauté vegetables, use 2-3 tablespoons of water instead. This is what I do for all of my sautéing, and honestly, I don’t miss oil at all. I don’t even taste a difference if a recipe calls for me to sauté onions in oil and instead I use water. Once you add all your spices and sauces to the final dish, you won’t even notice that the oil is missing.
As you sauté, you may need to add additional tablespoons of water to the pan to help keep things from sticking while it cooks. But this has never been an issue for me. Low sodium vegetable broth is another option to use. Check out this video for a quick how-to on using this technique:
Eliminating Oil In Salad Dressings & Sauces
I love creating new salad dressings, and finding ways to make new and interesting flavors. When it comes to dressing recipes, there’s always an easy substitution to oil. Some of my favorites are tahini, lemon/lime juice, vinegar, soy sauce or water. Below are some dressing/sauce ideas that are all oil free:
Final Thoughts On Olive Oil
As you can see, avoiding oils in cooking is surprisingly easy! It eliminates tons of calories from your meals, it eliminates the high concentration of fats that contributes to plaque in our arteries, and recipes can be just as easy and delicious without it.
That being said, do I 100%, without a doubt, no questions asked, ALWAYS avoid olive oil? No! For example, when I go out to eat at restaurants, I don’t sweat it if my meal has oil in it. Restaurant food will always have more oil, sugar, and salt in it than you would normally eat. At the same time, I really don’t eat out that often. Maybe once every other week. I always eat 100% vegan and plant-based, but in restaurants I don’t worry about olive oil.
When I cook at home, which is where the majority of my food comes from, I don’t use it. I think olive oil is something that should be eaten sparingly (like in restaurants), but avoided at home. At least, this is what I personally choose to do.
Spartan Life & Oil Free Recipes
All of my recipes are oil free (with the exception of like, 1-2 I think from my very early days of blogging). Now and moving forward they will always be oil free. So rest assured that when I post about something, it’s always with the intention of providing a healthy, nutritious meal idea to you my readers.
If you found any value in this message, or any of this information, please feel free to browse my recipes for delicious oil free cooking! Not using oil makes most of my recipes low fat, on top of me also not using a lot of sodium, or cooking with any other processed ingredients like refined sugar, etc. But I’ll post more about those sub-topics later too.
Living a healthy, joyful, simple, & compassionate life is what my blog is all about, so I hope that I’ve inspired you with this post to see what else I have to offer you.
Thanks for reading, and please leave a comment if you have any thoughts to share! 🙂