When you’re preparing food for your family, you want them to have the best. You pay attention to important health concerns like calories and cholesterol levels. You might be eating the right type and amount of food, but still you wonder why you can’t seem to lose that extra pound or get rid of certain health troubles like high blood pressure.
Sometimes, we have to go back to basics to find the answers. It could be that you’re serving the right foods but you’re not cooking it with the right oil. I don’t know if you’ve heard it but there’s an ongoing debate on whether vegetable oil is indeed a healthy choice.
While some are made up of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats considered to be “healthy” fats, most commercial vegetable oils are swimming in trans fat and are so heavily processed, any healthy derivatives from vegetables are most likely gone.
Some experts are now encouraging people to find healthier alternatives. This article will help you choose a better substitute for vegetable oil and answer your questions on why vegetable oil may not be good for you.
List of the Best Vegetable Oil Substitutes for a Healthy Lifestyle
If you’re ready to look for them, you’ll find a lot of viable alternatives to vegetable oil. Most of them are traditionally used as cooking oils and food garnish, but some will surprise you as you probably never considered them a good replacement for oil.
These oils have varying smoke points, which you need to consider when deciding which oil to use. A smoke point, if you’re not familiar already, is the level of temperature where oil starts to smoke and produces a burned taste. If an oil has a high smoke point, it can be used for deep frying and/or stir-frying (1). Here’s 6 of the best vegetable oil substitutes we’ve found:
Coconut oil is a popular and healthier alternative to vegetable oil. While vegetable oil contains unsaturated fat that produces free radicals (a.k.a. bad for your health), coconut oil is mainly saturated fat. This might sound odd because of the “fat,” but dietitians say that this type of fat actually has a neutral effect on your heart because it’s largely composed of medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) that could boost your body’s “good” cholesterol (2).
Another perk of using coconut oil is its relatively high smoke point (it can take more heat than extra virgin olive oil and butter) (3). This makes it great for sautéing or stir-frying vegetables, seafood, and any dish that you want to have that nutty coconut flavor (4). Just maybe don’t use it to make your favorite fried chicken as that requires using the oil for too long.
Also, if you’re using it as garnish, try not to use more than 13 grams (one tablespoon) in a day (4).
Flaxseed oil is also called linseed oil and it’s extracted from flax seeds. For many years, it’s been used as a cure for rheumatoid arthritis and other problems with inflammation, which the alpha-linolenic acid in flaxseed oil seems to reduce considerably (5). It’s also rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are good for the heart (6).
This highly adaptable oil can be used as part of your salad dressing or mixed straight with your breakfast shakes. Just take care not to use it for high-heat cooking because its low smoke point makes it easy to burn (7). You don’t want your food to taste like coal while trying to be healthy.
Other than that, flaxseed oil is a healthy replacement for traditional oils—one that’s good for your heart and even your joints!
Olive oil is a popular choice to replace vegetable oil. It’s a staple in Greece, so you see it in a lot of Mediterranean dishes. It has monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) considered as a healthy source of fat that may help prevent heart disease (8).
Processed oils lose their natural vitamins and antioxidants, but virgin olive oil preserves these goodies. Extra-virgin oil is even better as it’s the least processed of all. Just be careful of grocery products labeled “olive oil” as this may be processed oil (9).
The minimal processing comes at a price though as extra virgin olive oil has lower smoke point than other types of olive oil. Still, it can tolerate temperatures ranging from 250-400 degrees F, so you can use it for sautéed, pan-fried, and stir-fried recipes (10).
Another thing to consider is the high-calorie content of olive oil, so although it’s healthier, moderate use is still recommended.
Sesame oil is derived from sesame seeds which are abundant in vitamins, protein, and antioxidants. It’s even used as a fountain of youth for aging skin and thinning hair (11). There are two types of sesame oil: one is pale yellow and rich in polyunsaturated fats, while the other one is amber-colored and has a stronger smell (12).
You may use light-colored sesame oil for frying as it has a higher smoke point, but the dark-colored variety burns more easily and better used as flavoring (13). With light sesame oil, you can fry foods up to 400 degrees Fahrenheit without worrying about exposing yourself to toxic chemicals (14).
One BBC recipe recommends using 2 tablespoons of sesame oil to prepare egg-fried rice. First, cook 2 eggs in 1 tablespoon of sesame oil in a pan (medium heat) and set aside on a plate. Then, heat another tablespoon of sesame oil (high to medium heat) to fry the veggies and then rice for 5-7 minutes (15).
Applesauce is an excellent fruit-based substitute for vegetable oil. It comes from a fruit revered for its health benefits (remember an apple a day keeps the doctor away, right?). There’s some truth to this as apples are blessed with antioxidants that fight free radicals. They also provide fiber and vitamin C (16).
When it comes to its sauce, it’s healthier to get the unsweetened variety. The commercially available applesauce is sweetened and less nutritious, so it’s better to make your own puree from apples at home than to buy them off the shelf.
Skip the butter or oil and add applesauce to your baked goods. You can do this gradually by starting with a 75% replacement instead of 1:1. This means that if you normally use half a cup of vegetable oil, you can replace it with 1/3 cup applesauce and keep 3 tablespoons veggie oil—ideal if you don’t want the taste to change drastically.
You don’t have to limit yourself to apples when there’s an endless array of fruits and vegetables that you can mash together to make the perfect oil substitute. You can puree bananas, pears, sweet potato, pumpkin, and absolutely any fruit or veggie that appeals to your taste buds. What’s more, many fruits are low in fat—a major plus compared to oils (17).
For example, a banana puree is a perfect substitute for vegetable oil in brownies and muffins, while other combinations will be great for loaves and buns. Just make sure that you don’t choose fruits with a strong flavor as they may overpower the taste you want. Replace one cup of vegetable oil with one cup of fruit or veggie puree. You can also start with three-quarters of a cup especially when dealing with a stronger type of fruit.
What Is Vegetable Oil and Where Does It Come From?
Vegetable oil is a type of oil extracted from grains, nuts, fruits, and seeds—most commonly oil-bearing seeds like corn, peanuts, cottonseed, and soybeans (18) (19). Made up of 100% fat, veggie oil undergoes a process called ‘shortening’ to get a light color and mild odor that’s perfect for baking (20).
When consumed moderately, vegetable oils are good for your health as they contain essential fatty acids that we all need. The problem is that they’ve become so popular that people are most likely consuming more than they need (21). For example, you can get 10 grams of linoleic acid in just 1 tablespoon of safflower oil used as cooking oil—a tablespoon almost already satisfies the 12 grams you need each day (22). It’s easy to exceed the amount of vegetable oil we pour on our pans or salad bowls when we think that it’s an ‘essential’ oil.
Three Crucial Reasons Why You Should Stop Using Vegetable Oil
Many experts are questioning if the health benefits of vegetable oil outweigh its downsides. Let’s explore some of their most common points:
1. Vegetable oil may not be good for your blood and heart
It’s not uncommon for experts to encourage people to ditch animal fats in favor of plant-based derivatives like vegetable oil. However, new research has emerged that shows switching to vegetable oil may not be the best move for our heart.
A BMJ study revealed that consuming a lot of vegetable oil could increase the chances of developing heart problems (23).
Researchers found that replacing saturated fat with linoleic acid found in vegetable oils may improve cholesterol levels but it doesn’t lower the risk of dying from heart disease (24).
Also, like most oils, vegetable oil clogs blood vessels slowing blood flow down—part of the reason why we feel heavy after an oily meal (25).
2. Vegetable oil may mess up your balance of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids
Omega 6 and omega 3 are both essential fatty acids, but when using vegetable oil, people end up consuming too much Omega 6 up to a ratio of 20:1 when, in actuality, we only need an Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio of 4:1 (26). This puts them at risk of cancer, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and inflammation-related illnesses like arthritis (27).
3. Vegetable oil releases toxic compounds when used in high-heat cooking
Remember smoke point? Scientists found that subjecting vegetable oil to high heat leads to the release of harmful chemicals known as aldehydes into the air (28). These chemicals have been linked to cancer, memory problems, and cardiovascular diseases.
They’re also related to formaldehyde which is known to damage the lungs when inhaled (29). Prolonged exposure to vegetable cooking oil can harm your body in subtle ways that you might not notice until it’s too late.
Tip on How to Replace Vegetable Oil for Healthier Baking
The good news is it’s easy to replace vegetable oil with better, healthier alternatives. If you want to bake using a substitute for vegetable oil from the list above, you just need to make sure you follow the 1 is to 1 ratio.
Replacing vegetable oil may even improve your baking. For instance, using applesauce can add moistness to cakes.
If you’re using oils, choose light-flavored ones as dark-colored oils tend to have a strong smell or taste that may not go well with your brownies or muffins.
There you have it—the best substitutes for vegetable oil! Some of them you can easily find in your pantry, while others may need to be ordered from an organic food store. Once upon a time, vegetable oil may have been endorsed as a ‘healthy’ oil but today’s manufacturing practices make this claim questionable.