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We’ve all been there: You’ve found a recipe you totally love, but you’re missing an ingredient, or it’s got one of those less-than-optimal-for-health ingredients—like vegetable oil. Then it’s time to go looking for a great substitute in the world of healthier oils.
“There are many wonderful substitutes for vegetable oil,” shares chef, nutritionist, and reiki master Serena Poon, C.N., CHC, CHN, “which unfortunately tends to be highly processed and therefore lacking in nutrients.”
One of the main draws of vegetable oil is, of course, its versatility—you’ll find it in baking, cooking, or in recipes for homemade salad dressings: “My suggestions for healthier alternatives depend on what you are making,” explains Poon.
The best substitute for vegetable oil in homemade dressings.
Making your own salad dressings is a great way to tailor them to your tastes and to skip extra fillers or additives. For a simple dressing formula, you need a good oil base to pair with an acidic component (like ACV)—and Poon likes to reach for two seed oils in particular: “Not only do these oils have a rich and nutty flavor, they also deliver useful health benefits,” she tells mbg:
1. Flaxseed oil
Poon recommends swapping in flaxseed oil when you need a simple, multipurpose swap. “Flaxseed oil contains omega-3 fatty acids,” says Poon—which are linked to benefits for brain health and more. It’s also a good option for topping pasta dishes—but it’s best to add it after, not during, the cooking process.
2. Pumpkin seed oil
The other perfect salad oil? Pumpkin seed oil, says Poon, not only for its flavor but because it “supports the cardiovascular system.” The strong flavor is reminiscent of distinct nut oils like walnut or hazelnut oil, which makes it great for salads, of course, but you can also add it to desserts.
The best substitutes for vegetable oil when cooking.
Because vegetable oil is a neutral oil, you may encounter it in a number of recipes as the main cooking oil—but that doesn’t mean you have to use it. In fact, some swaps may actually add extra flavor to your dishes.
3. Avocado oil
“For cooking, I usually recommend avocado oil because it has a high smoke point,” says Poon, “and can therefore be used for all kinds of dishes without concern.” Avocado oil’s high levels of oleic acid and lutein also lend it both heart and eye benefits, she explains.
4. Extra-virgin olive oil
Another popular swap you may already know is extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO). “Cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil is a great heart-healthy, anti-inflammatory choice,” she says. While there’s some debate among experts about whether or not you can cook with olive oil at high temperatures, Poon recommends sticking with low to medium heat for cold-pressed, in particular.
5. Sesame oil
According to Poon, sesame oil is “a delicious option for certain dishes because of its unique flavor.” In the right recipe, sesame oil can be a perfect swap for a vegetable oil, but be mindful that its unique flavor can be strong—recipes like this simple air-fryer broccoli are a great example. But as an added bonus, it’s also high in antioxidants.
Poon’s final suggestion for vegetable oil substitutes actually leaves the oil out—and instead goes for different ingredients altogether for your procrastibaking projects. “For baked goods, I usually suggest substituting vegetable oil with applesauce or mashed bananas,” she reveals.
6. Mashed bananas
Bananas aren’t just for banana bread (though we, of course, love using them for that purpose). They make a great substitute for vegetable oil in any baked good and may also allow you to drop some of the sugar in the recipe, given their natural sweetness. “Mashed fruits will add moisture to muffins and cakes without the processed oil or added fats and can act as a substitute for some added sugar,” said Poon.
If you don’t have bananas on hand, or are looking for a swap you can keep around without worrying about it turning brown, applesauce is the way to go. “Including fruit in your ingredient list can infuse your treats with fiber and phytonutrients,” says Poon. The simple enough swap works well in everything from pancakes to muffins and beyond.
Many recipes may call for vegetable oil, but it’s easy enough to find an appropriate swap in your kitchen—regardless of whether you’re cooking, baking, or putting together a quick dressing.