Is cooking spray actually 0 calories?

Cooking spray is a handy kitchen tool that many home cooks use to grease pans and baking sheets before cooking. Most cooking sprays advertise themselves as having 0 calories. But is this really true? Let’s take a closer look at whether cooking spray contains 0 calories or not.

What is Cooking Spray?

Cooking spray is an aerosol product designed to grease cookware and prevent food from sticking. The main ingredients in standard cooking sprays are vegetable oils, lecithin, and propellants:

  • Vegetable oils – Canola, olive, sunflower, or soybean oil are commonly used. The oil provides the greasing action.
  • Lecithin – An emulsifier that helps the oils mix with the propellants.
  • Propellants – Typically propane, isobutane, or dimethyl ether gas. These compressed gases are what pushes the product out of the can.

The oils are suspended in the propellants under high pressure. When you spray them onto a pan, the propellants evaporate, leaving behind just a thin layer of oil to prevent sticking. Cooking sprays come in aerosol cans for convenience and easy application.

Nutrition Facts for Cooking Sprays

Now let’s examine the nutrition facts and ingredients lists on some popular cooking spray products:

Pam Original Cooking Spray

  • Serving size: 1/4 second spray (0.25g)
  • Calories per serving: 0
  • Total fat per serving: 0g
  • Ingredients: Soybean oil, lecithin, propellant

Baker’s Joy Original No-Stick Cooking Spray

  • Serving size: 1/3 second spray (0.33g)
  • Calories per serving: 0
  • Total fat per serving: 0g
  • Ingredients: Soybean oil, lecithin, propellant

Smart Balance Omega Non-Stick Cooking Spray

  • Serving size: 1/3 second spray (0.33g)
  • Calories per serving: 0
  • Total fat per serving: 0g
  • Ingredients: Soybean oil, canola oil, olive oil, palm fruit oil, lecithin, rosemary extract, propellant

As you can see, the nutrition facts panels on cooking sprays uniformly list 0 calories and 0g fat per serving. But how can this be possible when we know the main ingredients are oils?

FDA Regulations on Nutrition Labeling

Cooking sprays can legally provide nutrition information based on a very brief spray duration (1/4 second or 1/3 second) thanks to FDA regulations on serving sizes. Anything under 5 calories can be listed as 0 calories. So the tiny amount of oil released in a fraction of a second spray contains less than 5 calories.

But in reality, most home cooks use cooking sprays for longer than 1/3 second, meaning you end up getting more oil and calories than what’s on the label. The FDA allows larger serving sizes to be listed voluntarily, but most brands opt for the smallest serving size possible.

How Many Calories Are in Cooking Sprays Really?

When used as directed, in brief sprays, cooking sprays do live up to their 0 calorie claims. But the calories can add up quickly if you use cooking spray more liberally.

Experts estimate that a 1-second spray of cooking oil likely provides around 10 calories, while a 3-second spray provides around 30 calories. So you could easily get 50+ calories if you generously spray a pan before cooking.

The amount of calories also depends on the type of cooking spray:

  • Regular spray oils like Pam have about 8-10 calories per second of spray.
  • Butter-flavored sprays like I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter Spray have about 5-6 calories per second since they have less fat than regular vegetable oil sprays.
  • Olive oil sprays contain around 10-12 calories per second of spray.

To visualize this data, here is a table comparing the calories in different durations of spraying 3 popular types of cooking spray:

Spray Duration Pam Regular Spray I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter Spray Pompeian Olive Oil Spray
1-second spray 10 calories 6 calories 12 calories
2-second spray 20 calories 12 calories 24 calories
3-second spray 30 calories 18 calories 36 calories

As you can see, the calories add up quickly as spray duration increases. While a brief 1-second spray may be negligible, longer sprays result in consuming real calories and fat.

Should You Avoid Cooking Sprays Altogether?

Cooking sprays can be convenient, but should you avoid them altogether if you’re trying to watch your calorie intake?

Not necessarily. Cooking sprays do have a place in low-calorie cooking when used responsibly. The key is moderation and smart use:

  • Use the shortest sprays possible, just enough to lightly coat the pan.
  • Spray pans before each use rather than heavily greasing them all at once.
  • Consider lightly wiping the pan with a paper towel after spraying to soak up any excess.
  • Use olive oil or butter-flavored sprays instead of regular vegetable oil sprays to cut more calories.

Alternatives like nonstick pans and cooking with broth or water can also reduce the need for sprays.

Following these tips will keep any calories from cooking sprays negligible rather than accumulating into high amounts.

Are There Any Benefits to Using Cooking Sprays?

Along with convenience, cooking sprays do offer some potential benefits:

  • Less oil needed – The fine spray requires less oil to grease pans than pouring and rubbing oil.
  • Even coating – Sprays distribute oil evenly over the pan’s surface.
  • Lower fat – Using less oil results in less fat and calories consumed compared to other oils and fats.
  • Easy cleanup – Food is less likely to stick, so pans require less scrubbing after cooking.

But any potential benefits must be weighed against the negatives if cooking spray is overused and starts contributing significant unwanted calories and fat.

Tips for Cooking Low-Calorie

If your goal is to cook meals as low-calorie as possible, here are some tips beyond smart cooking spray use:

  • Use nonstick pans and bakeware as an alternative to any type of greasing.
  • Line pans with parchment paper – an easy nonstick method.
  • Try silicone bakeware like muffin tins that won’t need greasing.
  • Brush pans lightly with olive oil instead of using cooking sprays.
  • Cook foods in broths, water, or wine instead of oil.
  • Rub pans with the cut side of halved onions or potatoes in place of oil.
  • Use a grilling basket when grilling meats and veggies to avoid greasing the grill.

Following low-calorie cooking methods can reduce your oil use overall, minimizing the need for cooking sprays.


So is cooking spray truly zero calories? The answer is:

  • In very brief sprays of under 1 second, cooking sprays do contain negligible calories that can be rounded down to 0 as allowed by the FDA.
  • But in longer sprays of several seconds, cooking sprays can contribute a significant amount of calories, up to 10-15 calories per second depending on oil type.
  • To keep cooking spray calories low, use brief sprays and avoid over-greasing pans. Opt for olive oil and butter-flavored sprays when possible.
  • Consider alternatives to cooking sprays as well when cooking low-calorie meals.

As long as cooking sprays are used in moderation for their intended purpose of lightly greasing pans, they can play a helpful role in low-calorie cooking.

Leave a Comment