By Jane Birch
Reducing Fat in Your Diet
Whole plants naturally contain the macro and micro-nutrients we need in the right balance, so (unless you have a specific health condition that warrants it) there is no need to micromanage your diet. Focus on the big picture: eating a diet of whole (unprocessed) plant (not animal) foods. This diet is naturally very low in fat.
Because the American diet is so high in fat (average 35%), it may take some time for your taste buds to adjust to a naturally low-fat diet, but it will happen! It happens quickly from some people, but it may take up to about 90 days for others. The key is to totally eliminate high-fat foods from your diet so that your body and brain learn to adjust. It can help if you tell yourself: this is just for 90 days (rather than THIS IS FOREVER). I think it is easier to go cold turkey, but some people may prefer a slower, step-by-step approach.
Because this way of thinking is so foreign from our current food culture, the following suggestions for reducing fat may be useful, but remember: it is the big picture that matters.
1. Learn to identify high fat foods.
- All animal foods: meat, dairy, and eggs. These are naturally very high in fat, unless the fat has been taken out (in which case they are unhealthy for other reasons).
- All vegetable oils, including coconut oil. This goes without saying: these are all 100% fat. Even cooking spray labeled as “zero calories and fat-free” is 100% fat! (The FDA allows companies to round down to zero.)
- Most processed foods. Check the labels, and read the ingredients. Calculate the percent of calories that are coming from fat. If 20% or more of calories come from fat, consider this a “high-fat food.” It is not uncommon for 50-70% of the calories to come from fat! (But note that most processed food, even if the fat has been removed, is not healthy.)
- High fat plant foods. These include raw nuts and seeds (75–92% fat); avocados (88% fat); coconut (92% fat); and olives (98% fat).
- Soybeans are relatively high fat (40%) and so are traditional soy foods (tofu, soy milk, tempeh, miso, edamame, etc.). Nontraditional soy products and “fake foods” made from soy (soy burgers, soy turkey, etc.) are usually VERY high in fat. (Because they are made from soy isolates, which are not healthy, even if they are low-fat they should be avoided.
2. Eliminate animal foods, oils, and high-fat processed foods.
You won’t cook with foods that are not in your house. And if they are gone, it will motivate you to learn how to do without them.
3. Limit high fat plant foods.
If you are addicted to any of the high-fat plant foods, eliminate them (at least until you have this addiction totally under control). These foods are not an essential part of a whole food, plant-based diet, but if you choose to use them, plan to keep consumption to no more than about one ounce a day. Stick with traditional soy foods in moderation and avoid the fake soy products altogether.
4. Learn to cook without oil.
See the suggestions below for Cooking Without Oil
5. Learn to read food labels.
When purchasing foods in a box or package, make sure no more than 20% of the calories are from fat (no more than 2.5 grams of fat per 100 calories).
Also read the ingredients. Avoid all saturated fats, hydrogenated fats, and tropical oils, including lard, butter, coconut, cocoa butter, palm oils, shortening, or margarine.
6. At restaurants, ask that your food be prepared without oil.
It can be hard to get healthy food at some restaurants, and it often takes some courage. Be brave! This is your health!!
You can ask the waiter to ask the chef which vegan dishes are prepared without any added oils or can easily be made without added oils. Steamed veggies are perfect, or you can ask, “Could you use water or vegetable broth instead of oil when cooking the vegetables?” Restaurants want to please customers, and most places will try their best to accommodate you!
Sometimes there are no oil-free salad dressings at the restaurant. In this case, try using balsamic vinegar, salsa, lemon juice, or even some added fruit. You might also want to just bring your own salad dressing in a small container.
Cooking Without Oil
1. Use any of the thousands of oil-free whole food, plant-based recipes, and you won’t have to come up with any substitutes.
2. Steam your vegetables. This makes it easy!
3. When sautéing vegetables, use water, vegetable broth or vinegar instead of oils.
4. Learn how to brown your vegetables for flavor. Watch Chef Del Sroufe demonstrate.
Advice from Mary McDougall: “Browned onions have an excellent flavor and can be used alone or mixed with other vegetables to make a dish with a delicious taste. To achieve the brown color, as well as to flavor your foods, place 1 1/2 cups of chopped onions in a large nonstick frying pan with 1 cup of water. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the liquid evaporates and the onions begin to stick to the bottom of the pan. Continue to stir for a minute, then add another 1/2 cup of water, loosening the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Cook until the liquid evaporates again. Repeat this procedure 1 or 2 more times, until the onions (or mixed vegetables) are as browned as you like. You can also use this technique to brown carrots, green peppers, garlic, potatoes, shallots, zucchini, and many other vegetables, alone or mixed in a variety of combinations.”
5. When baking, use substitutes for oil. Replace the oil with half the amount of another moist food, such as applesauce, mashed bananas, mashed potatoes, mashed pumpkin, pureed plums, or tomato sauce. Other substitutes that are useful but contain higher levels of fat include: pureed tofu, soft silken tofu, soy yogurt and ground flaxseeds.
Prune Puree Method 1: Put a 12-ounce package of pitted prunes a food processor with about ¼ cup of water. Process and slowly add more water while processing to reach the desired consistency (similar to applesauce). This can be stored in the refrigerator for several weeks.
Prune Puree Method 2: Fill a blender with water up to the 3-cup mark. Add the prunes until water reaches the 4-cup mark. Blend until completely smooth
6. Replace oil in dressings and sauces with silken tofu, mashed avocado, or beans. Un-drained white beans can be pureed and substituted 1:1 for oil in any dressing recipe. Garbanzo bean juice also works. Here are some no oil WFPB Salad Dressings and WFPB Sauces.
7. Below is advice on cooking cakes and muffins from Mary McDougall.
“Cakes and muffins made without oil usually come out a little heavier. For a lighter texture use carbonated water instead of tap water in baking recipes. Be sure to test cakes and muffins at the end of the baking time by inserting a toothpick or cake tester in the center to see if it comes out clean. Sometimes oil-less cakes and muffins may need to be baked longer than the directions advise, depending on the weather or the altitude at which you live.”
8. When roasting vegetables in the oven, use a good balsamic vinegar in place of the oil.
9. Use non-stick cookware, parchment paper and silicone mats and dishes.
10. Here are more guides to oil-free cooking:
- Cooking Without Oil (Straight Up Food)
- How To Replace Fatty Oils In Your Baking Recipes (Fred Detwiler)
- Substitutes and Techniques for Fat-free Cooking (FatfreeVegan)
- How to Saute Veggies Without Oil (Chef Del Sroufe demonstrates how to saute vegetables without using oil — 6 min. video)
- Expert Tips on How to Cook Without Oil by Darshana Thacker
Last updated: August 13, 2016