At first glance, cooking spray may seem like the near perfect food for anyone watching their calories. After all, it has no calories, no fat and even no sodium. But upon closer observation, that’s part of the problem — the nothingness of it all. Not only is it minus all the bad nutritional ingredients, but if you read the label you’ll also discover that it has no nutritional content whatsoever.
OK you say, well water doesn’t have any nutritional content either, and that’s good for us.
But unlike water, cooking sprays also have some questionable additives. Sure they have some sort of oil, but even my Crisco “100% canola oil” spray also contains dimethyl silicone and soy lecithin. And that’s the norm for most other cooking sprays on the market. Granted, some cooking sprays have a longer list of additives, but most at least have those two.
So what are they and what do they do?
Dimethyl silicone is a polymer that acts as an anti-foaming agent and a propellant. In plain English it keeps the oil from foaming and gets it out of the can. Don’t get me wrong, I think that having non-foaming oil is a great thing; but the fact that dimethyl silicone is also used in textiles, paper, paint and varnish is a big turn-off for me. Of course it’s better than butane, which is used as the propellant in some cooking sprays.
And then there’s soy lecithin, which is basically a soybean oil waste product. It’s what’s left after soybean oil is “degummed”, and it contains pesticides and solvents. Suffice it to say that it’s pretty nasty stuff, and unfortunately it’s used in a wide range of processed foods as an emulsifier. Basically it prevents liquids and processed foods from separating. Again that’s probably a good thing, but canola oil doesn’t separate in it’s pure form. Apparently soy lecithin is needed in cooking sprays, because after adding the other chemicals to make it spray, it has a tendency to separate. Go figure.
Which brings me to the point of it all. Why bother with the zero-calorie, zero-nutrition chemical concoction called cooking spray, when you can use the pure oil for 40 calories or less?
Think about it. There are 120 calories in 1 T of olive oil. I would guess you could coat a skillet or a baking dish with 1 t or less. Even better, if you put it in a Misto sprayer and spray it on your cookware, you will use even less. With a Misto, you just get the oil, without any additives. It’s a great kitchen gadget!
But I digress. Let’s talk about oil choice. That’s a loaded question, but most experts agree that olive oil is a good choice. Even though it contains fats, they are monounsaturated fats, which help reduce LDL (bad cholesterol) levels and increase HDL (good cholesterol) levels. It’s also a good idea to opt for extra virgin olive oil (evoo in culinary speak), as it contains just the oil from the pressed fruit, without any additives.
So there you have it. The lower calorie option isn’t always the healthier choice. When it comes to oils, it’s best to go as natural as possible, and that means ditching the cooking spray. Your body will thank you!