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Oil-Free Vegetarian Cooking

By Carly Schuna

Vegetarians and vegans tend to eat a diet that is lower in cholesterol and saturated fat than meat eaters do. However, if plant-based eaters want to lower the total amount of fat in their diets, using oil-free cooking is one effective method. By making use of alternate cooking techniques, it’s possible to have meals that taste good and cut fat intake at the same time.


Cooking oils, including olive oil, canola oil and vegetable oil, are used for many purposes, but two of the most common are to add flavor and to prevent foods from sticking to a pot or pan. Most cooks sauté fresh vegetables in oil to soften and flavor them. Often, oil is mixed with vegetables prior to roasting to infuse them with flavor and prevent them from drying out. Oil is also used to make popular vegetarian foods such as bruschetta, hummus and pesto. Using an oil substitute in a recipe is a way to cut the amount of fat and calories, and it often makes the finished product healthier.


Many people prefer to use cooking spray as an alternative to oil. Cooking spray can be used to coat nonstick pots and pans, and it adds few calories to the finished dishes. Butter, though just as high in fat and calories as oil, is a highly flavorful alternative. Vegetarian cooks might also consider sautéing or cooking food in water, stock, broth or a concentrated juice. Some nonstick cooking and baking pans do not require any coating of oil or an alternative.

Cooking Methods

Oil-free cooking methods are plentiful and healthy. The Mayo Clinic recommends baking, which does not require adding any oil or fat to food. Braising, grilling, boiling, poaching and steaming are additional methods that work well.


The University of South Carolina recommends enhancing vegetarian dishes with fresh or dried spices and seasonings so they’re full of flavor but still low in fat. Fresh herbs should be added near the end of cooking so that their flavors remain vibrant. Dried herbs can be added near the beginning to allow their flavors time to infuse the dish.


Vegetarians and vegans should be aware that dietary fat serves an important purpose for health and nutrition. According to the Vegetarian Society, fats serve as a concentrated energy source and help the body absorb vitamins A, D, E and K. Fat molecules can also act as cushions for cells and joints. Consuming too little fat can result in skin problems and further complications related to malnutrition, so before cutting oil out of your diet, talk with your doctor to ensure you’ll get the fat you need.

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