Cooking with oil adds a significant amount of calories to food. The exact amount of calories added depends on the type and amount of oil used. Oils are almost entirely made up of fat, and fat contains 9 calories per gram. This means that oil is a very calorie-dense ingredient. Even small amounts of oil can add a substantial number of calories to a dish.
How Many Calories Are in Different Oils?
The number of calories in oils varies depending on the type:
|Oil||Calories per tablespoon|
As you can see, most common cooking oils contain around 120 calories per tablespoon. Some oils that are more saturated, like coconut oil, contain slightly fewer calories. But in general, oils have a very similar calorie count.
How Cooking Method Impacts Calories
The cooking method can also impact how many calories from oil get added to your food. Methods that use more oil or allow the oil to be more fully absorbed will result in more calories:
- Pan/skillet frying: Food is cooked in a generous amount of oil in a pan, allowing it to soak up a lot of the oil. A significant number of calories are added.
- Stir frying: Less oil is typically used than pan frying, but the constant stirring allows food to absorb more oil than other methods. A moderate amount of calories are added.
- Roasting: Oil is lightly coating food before roasting. Some calories are added but less than frying methods.
- Baking: Only a small amount of oil is used to grease the pan, so minimal calories are added.
- Broiling/grilling: No oil is used, so no additional calories are added if cooked without oil.
As a general rule, the more oil used in cooking and the more contact between the food and oil, the more calories are added.
How Much Oil Should Be Used in Cooking?
To limit excess calories from oil when cooking, here are some tips on how much oil to use:
- Pan/skillet frying: Use 1-2 tbsp oil per 1 lb of food.
- Stir frying: Use 1-2 tsp oil per 1 cup of ingredients.
- Roasting: Lightly brush or spray oil to coat, about 1-2 tsp for 1 lb of food.
- Baking: Use nonstick pan or brush pan with 1 tsp or less of oil if needed.
- Broiling/Grilling: No oil needed, or brush food with 1 tsp or less of oil if desired.
When following these guidelines, pan frying in 2 tbsp of oil per pound of food would add approximately 240 extra calories from the oil alone. Meanwhile, baking using 1 tsp of oil would only add around 40 calories. The method and amount of oil make a big difference.
Estimating Calories Added from Oil in Recipes
When cooking recipes that include oil, you can use some simple guidelines to estimate how many calories the oil adds:
- If oil is used for frying, estimate 60 calories per tablespoon used.
- If oil is used for roasting, baking, or coating a pan, estimate 40 calories per teaspoon used.
- For stir-fries, estimate 45 calories per teaspoon of oil.
- When a recipe calls for “drizzling” or “lightly oiling”, estimate 1 teaspoon of oil used.
You can then tally up the estimated calories based on the amount the recipe specifies. This will give you a rough idea of how many calories you are adding from the cooking oils.
Strategies to Reduce Calories from Oils
Here are some ways you can reduce the number of calories added from oils when cooking:
- Use cooking spray instead of pouring oil into pans.
- Use a mister spray bottle filled with oil to lightly coat pans instead of pouring. You’ll use less.
- Use nonstick pans when possible to use less greasing oil.
- Trim visible fat from meats and poultry to reduce the amount of fat that renders out when cooking.
- Blot fried foods with paper towels to absorb excess surface oil.
- Use reduced-fat oils like canola or light olive oil.
- Substitute some frying with lower calorie cooking methods like roasting, grilling, or baking.
- Use a minimal amount of oil by coating food instead of allowing it to fry in a pool of oil.
Following healthy cooking techniques like these can let you cut back at least 100-200 calories per meal compared to frying everything in generous amounts of oil.
Healthy Oils for Cooking
While oil adds calories, some oils are still healthier than others. The best cooking oils are:
- Olive oil: Extensive research shows heart health benefits. Opt for “light” olive oil to cut about 40 calories per tablespoon compared to regular.
- Avocado oil: Full of monounsaturated fats that are good for blood cholesterol levels.
- Canola oil: Contains omega-3 fats and has less saturated fat than many oils.
- Walnut oil: Provides omega-3s and can withstand high heat.
- Sunflower oil: A good source of vitamin E.
Focus on choosing healthier oils more often when cooking. And use just small amounts to limit calorie intake.
Cooking Oils to Limit
There are some less healthy oils that are best limited when cooking:
- Palm oil: Very high in saturated fat, which raises bad LDL cholesterol.
- Coconut oil: Also high in saturated fat so limit use.
- Cottonseed oil: Can contain harmful chemical residues so it’s best avoided.
- Partially hydrogenated oils: Contain trans fats that increase heart disease risk.
- Cold-pressed oils: Lose health benefits when heated so use for uncooked dishes.
These oils are not inherently unhealthy and can be used occasionally in moderation. But they should not be your everyday cooking oils.
Healthiest Cooking Methods Without Oil
To limit oil and calories, use these healthy no-oil cooking methods whenever possible:
- Steaming: Use a steaming basket or rack to steam foods over boiling water.
- Poaching: Submerge foods in gently simmering water.
- Boiling: Boil foods like eggs, vegetables, pasta in water.
- Baking: Use parchment paper or nonstick pans to bake without greasing.
- Grilling: Cook meats and veggies on an outdoor grill or grill pan.
- Broiling: Cook under the oven’s broiler with no oil needed.
- Microwaving: Quickly cook many foods without any oil.
- Roasting: Roast veggies tossed lightly with broth instead of oil.
Combining these no-oil methods with the occasional use of healthy oils in moderation is the best approach for reducing calorie intake.
Oil-Free Substitutions to Reduce Calories
You can also use oil-free substitutions in recipes to slash the calories that cooking oils add:
- Instead of frying, coat food in egg whites and breadcrumbs and bake.
- Replace 1 tablespoon of oil with 3 tablespoons of broth in stir fries.
- Substitute applesauce or mashed banana for half the oil when baking.
- Use nonstick cooking spray on pans instead of greasing with oil.
- Brush food with reduced-sodium soy sauce or lemon juice instead of oil before grilling.
- Saute veggies in broth or water instead of oil.
- Blend silken tofu and use as a thick vegan “oil” for roasting veggies.
With some creativity, you can recreate fried and oily dishes in a healthier way with few to no calories from added oils.
Cooking with oil undoubtedly adds a significant amount of extra calories. A few tablespoons of oil can add over 200 calories to a meal easily. The best way to minimize calories from added oils is to use healthy cooking methods that require little to no oil, such as steaming, grilling, and baking. When you do use oil, opt for healthy oils like olive and canola in modest amounts. With mindful cooking techniques, it’s possible to drastically reduce the calories that oils add to your food.