Vegetable Oil - Practical Considerations

I mentioned in my previous post that I stopped using vegetable oil, and gave a brief layman's overview of why. Now I'm going to lay out the substitutions I made in my own cooking, as well as some some suggestions for eating out and purchasing stuff at the grocery store.

Practical Considerations - Cooking Changes:

Salad Dressings: You can’t directly substitute another type of oil for vegetable oil in salad dressing, because other oils have flavors - vegetable oil does not. However, you can re-work your salad dressing recipes to accommodate other oils. I use a mixture of olive, walnut, and avocado oil in my dressings, and have occasionally used sesame or flaxseed 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...and I actually like a lot of my new recipes better than my original ones! Hint: start with more acid/vinegar and go from there

Frying: Peanut oil - this works just as well as canola oil, and can be reused. Peanut oil isn’t the greatest oil for you, unless you get unrefined (which I don’t, because I’m poor), but it’s still better than vegetable oil.

Sauteing: You can just substitute olive oil 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 make it no better for your than canola oil.

Stir Fry: Sesame oil - it adds a delightful flavor to anything Asian-tasting and, in my opinion, is far superior to stir-frying with canola oil. Combine this with peanut oil to create a safer stir-fry - sesame oil, when heated, can produce PUFAs as well, but the peanut oil will protect it because Science (aka Fairy Magic).

Baking: This one is tricky. Coconut oil works surprisingly well for applications like greasing a pan (so does butter, which is probably better for you). In small amounts, the flavor difference is negligible. I haven’t experimented with larger amounts (such as in a cake), but it does work great for cooking pancakes. There are also recipes for olive oil cakes and muffins, and I actually have preferred my olive oil cake recipe for years - hence not experimenting with substitutions for vegetable oil in baking yet! 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. In the future, I might experiment with this further. Then again, I don’t have very many baked good recipes that call for vegetable oil so...I might not.

Practical Consideration - Eating Out
There’s not much you can do eating out - you can’t control what oils the restaurant uses, and in all likelihood, they use vegetable oil. However, you can do the following:
  1. 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.
  2. Don’t order salad at a restaurant - chances are, the dressing is going to full of things that are bad for you, making your ‘healthy’ choice not so healthy. Besides, making salad at home is easy - if you’re going to go out, get something different!
  3. Avoid fast food - obviously.
  4. Limit how often you eat out - cooking at home is good! If you’re short on time, you can pre-make some frozen dinners for yourself.
  5. Go for local restaurants - although they probably still use vegetable oil, they are less likely to use fillers and other additives than typical chain restaurants (there are some exceptions to this rule, like Panera. Panera rocks.)
  6. Some restaurants, particularly Asian ones, use peanut oil instead of vegetable oil. It’s worth asking.

Practical Considerations - the Grocery Store

  1. Read ingredient labels and avoid vegetable oils, when possible
    1. This is not always possible - sandwich bread, for example, almost always has soybean oil in it.
    2. By choosing non-vegetable oil foods whenever possible, you can at least decrease your exposure.
  2. Avoid bakery items and desserts, processed foods, and boxed food. These are the items that tend to have large amounts of bad oils in them - and yes, this is true for organic foods as well. You are best off with whole foods, like produce and dairy. High quality products may use olive oils or butter instead of vegetable oil as well - this is where reading the ingredients comes into play!
  3. 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' olive oil (this isn't actually that expensive or hard to find)
  4. Buy unrefined oils when possible - particularly if you decide to use coconut oil!
  5. Good cooking choices: coconut oil, avocado oil, peanut oil (frying only), sesame oil, flaxseed oil

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