Cooking is as much a science as it is an art. Knowing what ingredients to use at what times at the right ratios is absolutely essential when it comes to crafting the perfect meal. Unfortunately, there are plenty of recipes that taste amazing but don’t exactly use totally healthy ingredients. The solution? Substitutes, of course! Sometimes substituting one ingredient for another can produce just as tasty—and, in some cases, healthier—results.
Vegetable oil is a staple in many recipes, although eating too much of it may not be ideal. Those looking to upgrade their recipes need to check out the following substitutes for vegetable oil.
Is Vegetable Oil Good for Your Health?
But wait!, you may be thinking. Isn’t vegetable oil a healthy oil?
It’s true that many experts claim that vegetable oil is a healthier alternative to butter and the like, particularly for those who have issues with cholesterol. Recent research, however, suggests that vegetable oil might not be quite as healthy as many laypeople believe it to be.
Before we delve into the research, it’s important to know a little bit about vegetable oil first. In the United States, the most common kind of vegetable oil you’ll find in the stores is soybean oil. Vegetable oils, like soybean and corn oil, are rich in linoleic acid, which is an omega-6 fatty acid. Omega-6 is absolutely essential to help the body thrive. How much linoleic acid is in soybean oil? By some estimates, roughly 55% of this oil is omega-6 fatty acids.
For optimal health benefits, most experts believe that you should intake omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. According to some research, the ideal omega-6 to omega-3 ratio is 4:1. The typical diet of those in the United States and several other Western countries, though, does not meet this ratio. In some cases, the ratio could be as high as 50:1.
The result? According to this same research, a higher risk of heart disease and other serious health conditions.
Does Vegetable Oil Automatically Improve Heart Health?
Other research has reached similar conclusions. One 2016 BMJ article examined abandoned records and unpublished results from the Minnesota Coronary Experiment that took place in the late 1960s and early 1970s. This double-blind, randomized control study was quite extensive, examining thousands of participants. The goal of this study was to see if a diet with corn oil would reduce the risk of cardiovascular problems compared to a diet high in saturated fats.
The results? The vegetable oil group did show lower levels of cholesterol… but not lower risk of coronary heart disease. In other words, a diet with this linoleic acid-rich oil did not seem to put people at a lower risk of experiencing problems from heart disease. In fact, the vegetable oil group showed higher mortality rates than the high saturated-fat diet.
It’s important to take this study with a grain of salt, though. Firstly, the primary data was collected decades ago. Secondly, this study only examined a single variable—corn oil or no corn oil—in regards to diet. This fact means that the study cannot provide a 100% holistic picture about these patients’ lives and health, as other factors may have contributed to these outcomes.
What Does it All Mean?
In short, some research suggests that vegetable oil does not magically reduce the risk of heart disease. That doesn’t mean to avoid omega-6 fatty acid like the plague, though. Instead, some experts recommend aiming for that ideal 4:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3.
Some omega-3-rich foods include:
- Canola oil
- Chia seeds
Substitutes for Vegetable Oil
Considering the conflicting research regarding vegetable oil and its benefits, it’s important for anyone concerned about cholesterol and their heart health to first consult with a licensed healthcare professional about a heart-healthy diet and lifestyle.
If you and your physician decide that this heart-management plan includes cutting out or reducing your intake of vegetable oil, you may be wondering what you can do to still enjoy your favorite recipes. There are fortunately many substitutes for vegetable oil you can try.
Most people have applesauce lying around their kitchen, meaning it’s a great substitute for people in a fix who want to switch out their vegetable oil. (Applesauce is a great egg substitute, too!)
Vegetable Oil to Applesauce Ratio – 1:1
In moderation, some people enjoy switching out their soybean-based vegetable oil with canola oil.
Vegetable Oil to Canola Oil Ratio – 1:1
In moderation, olive oil can be part of a healthy diet. Many people enjoy extra-virgin olive oil, although more extensive research is needed to back up claims that it’s extra-effective in fighting heart disease.
Vegetable Oil to Olive Oil Ratio – 1:1
Fruit purées are great substitutes in baking, with bananas being particularly popular for this purpose.
Vegetable Oil to Mashed Banana Ratio – 1:1
It’s not just fruit purées that may up your cooking game, but vegetable purées, too.
Vegetable Oil to Pumpkin Purée Ratio – 1:1
Really, regular old water? Yes, really: regular old water may work when you’re trying to sauté something in your pan. Water isn’t the best oil substitute for baking, though.
Vegetable Oil to Water Ratio – 1:1
Be Wary of Coconut Oil
Coconut oil is a popular oil that many people add to their diets, and not just as a vegetable oil substitute. Why didn’t it make our list? Based on the available research, it seems people need to exercise caution when using coconut oil.
Because while coconut oil can increase HDL (high-density lipoprotein, or “good” cholesterol), it can also increase LDL (low-density lipoprotein, or “bad” cholesterol), according to the American Heart Association Journals. In fact, a single tablespoon of coconut oil contains all the saturated fats that adults need in a single day (based on the American Heart Association’s guidelines).
So, while you don’t necessarily have to cut out all coconut oil from your diet, taking it in moderation appears to be best, based on current research.
In Brief: What are Some Substitutes for Vegetable Oil?
For those who have talked to their doctor and decided to find some healthier alternatives to cooking, there are fortunately plenty of viable substitutes for vegetable oil, like applesauce, bananas, and even pumpkin.
Disclaimers: This article does not constitute professional medical advice, nor can it replace the advice of a licensed medical professional.