The Number 1 Diet-Friendly Cooking Trick


By: , – Stephanie Karpinske, R.D., Family Circle
  :  56 comments   :  24,938 Views

Adding more vegetables to your diet is a great way to lose weight—but not if you sauté those veggies in butter or oil. Remember: Just one tablespoon of butter or oil has 120 calories. Sauté your veggies in water instead and you could save hundreds of calories!

Here’s how to do it:
  1. Heat 1-2 tablespoons water in a skillet until they barely start to bubble.
  2. Add your vegetables and sauté as usual. If veggies start to stick, just add another tablespoon of water.

Which vegetables should you try?

This technique works best for somewhat soft vegetables that have a high water content, such as zucchini, onions, celery and mushrooms. But I’ve successfully used this method for carrots when making soup and it worked just fine. The trick with tougher vegetables is to cut them into small pieces so they cook quickly.

What about the fat?

You may have heard that you need some fat to absorb some of the nutrients in vegetables. This is true but you likely have another source of fat in the meal you’re serving with your vegetables. If not, simply drizzle your sautéed vegetables with a teaspoon (per serving) of good quality olive oil. You’ll get less fat doing this than actually cooking your vegetables in oil.

Have you ever tried this trick? Will you this week?

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  • 56
    I see this quoted about the calories for butter and oil. the 1 tablespoon of butter quoted is a huge amount of butter to saute with (1/8th of a stick of butter is 120 calories). Nothing wrong with sauteing with water but some butter or oil can add a boost of flavor without an incredible amount of calories. I say use the butter just don't make them float in it - 3/7/2014   2:14:48 PM
  • 55
    I use coconut oil now - 9/15/2012   11:11:32 PM
  • 54
    This is my normal method, but lately since I am so low on my fats daily, I have been trying to cook them in a teaspoon of olive oil. Don't think I'd like the oil just drizzled over the top. - 7/28/2012   9:59:51 AM
    I started sauteing this way about a month ago. It is great. I add in my vegies (have used all types) and a spoon full of water. I usually use a wooden spoon when cooking so i fill the bowl of the spoon with water and add that in. When the vegies start sticking I add another spoonful and mix thoroughly. I also find that if you cook on lower flame for longer time it cooks better. Lastly, if you add in water to onions the onions will brown so you get the same apearance as onions sauted in oil. - 7/24/2012   4:50:50 AM
    I've used both strategies, and I prefer to use a small amount of olive oil. By limiting other sources of oil, I can afford the extra calories, and often NEED them! - 7/23/2012   8:30:37 AM
  • 51
    If I want to saute without the fat, then i just spray some nonstick spray down in the pan! if I only use water I know I'm going to end up using twice as much salt in the end, so it's kind of a toss-up. - 7/22/2012   5:32:46 PM
  • 50
    We're eating tons of veges with our meals but no butter or OO...not needed! - 7/21/2012   8:26:47 AM
    I use a MODIFIED version of this technique to cook stir fries for my family. Into my big 12-inch heavy pan I spray first with a pan spray, then add about 1 Tablespoon of a healthy fat, such as extra virgin olive oil or cold-pressed walnut, heat, then begin stir frying a HUGE amount of veggies. When almost crisp tender, I splash on some reduced sodium tamari or soy sauce, and sprinkle on water as needed to prevent scorching. After removing the veggies to a serving bowl, I deglaze the pan by adding a tiny bit more water and stirring to create a "sauce." - 7/20/2012   9:59:19 AM
  • 48
    PS And my son's brother-in-law went on such a fat free diet, he not only lost weight, but almost all the hair on his body - arms and all included. He would not even eat salmon because of the fat in it. We do need some healthy fats. - 7/19/2012   9:55:57 PM
  • 47
    Now wait a minute!!! When I use 1 or 2 Tbsp. Olive Oil to saute vegetables, that is certainly not for one person. I usually cook for 7 or 8 people, so we each get a little of that healthy fat. Even if I cook only for DH and myself, I have enough stir-fry veggies to last many meals. If you look in my freezer you will see I cooked enough to freeze for future meals. - 7/19/2012   9:53:14 PM
  • 46
    I've been doing this for years. I no longer use (or own) oil, margarine or butter in anything any more. If a Recipe (such as cookies) calls for 'fats' I only use coconut oil, and then only half what the recipe calls for, the other half I substitute with apple sauce. - 7/19/2012   11:57:54 AM
  • 45
    I tried this last night, and it worked wonderfully! I was making chicken with a coconut curry cream sauce (korma). Since the sauce was full flavored and most of the calories came from fat, I thought I'd skip any additional fat and just saute the chicken in my cast iron pan with water only. The chicken was moist, perfectly browned, and absolutely delicious. Thanks so much!! - 7/19/2012   11:45:26 AM
  • CLEO27
    I sort of agree. I start by cooking my mushrooms, onions and peppers in about 2 tsps of olive oil. Then part the way through I add some frozen vegetables and put a cover on them. The water content from the frozen veggies helps to cook the other veggies as well without adding anymore oil - 7/18/2012   9:08:34 PM
  • 43
    I actually steam my veggies and I love them that way. - 7/18/2012   6:31:57 PM
  • 42
    I've been using home made vegetable stock instead of some of the oil for stir-fry type meals - for several months now.
    The veg stock is usually from today or yesterday - the water the potatoes & carrots etc were boiled in, and various veg steamed on top, plus the water drained from veg steamed in the microwave.
    I use it for gravy that day, or for stir-fry or oven-baking of meat and veg, or it goes into the soup pot for either DH or me. - 7/18/2012   6:06:01 PM
  • 41
    I disagree on labeling this the "Number 1 Diet-Friendly Cooking Technique." The #1 Technique in my book is measuring. Period.

    Also, the technique isn't 'frying' but modified steaming. You also have to have a well-seasoned or non-stick skillet for this. Healthy fats aren't the enemy. It's the portions that get you into trouble. - 7/18/2012   6:02:41 PM
  • 40
    I agree using too much oil is not good. But we do need some fat in our diet so a tablespoon of olive oil shouldn't hurt. I usually spray the skillet with Pam or another almost 0 calorie cooking spray first. Then I'll add a tablespoon or two of water as needed during the cooking process. - 7/18/2012   6:00:08 PM
  • 39
    Agree that is steaming rather than sauteeing. And don't think that inducing any paranoia over including some fats in cooking foods in our daily intake is even appropriate. Olive oil, avocado oil, and coconut oil, and ghee (clarified butter) are NOT enemies of health!
    - Maryjean - 7/18/2012   2:33:55 PM
    After I steam saute my vegetables I spray them with some butter spray 0 cal for 5 sprays. I get the flavor of butter with out the calories. - 7/18/2012   10:48:27 AM
    I use this method for steaming, but it's a poor substitute when sautéing is called for. Browning won't occur at temperatures so low. Browning develops the flavors (the Malliard reaction) that make the difference between vegetables that are cooked and vegetables that are delicious.

    BTW, there's a suggestion below about infusing olive oil with lemon peel for a couple of weeks. Be aware that homemade infused oils present a risk of botulism, as the bacterium can thrive in the anaerobic environment the oil provides. Commerically-prepared infused oils are safe because they are sterilized during production. Probably not a huge risk, especially if the oil is throughly cooked during use, but something to be aware of! - 7/18/2012   10:35:53 AM
  • 36
    It's really more like steaming, but if you add herbs to the water, they flavor the veggies pretty well. I'm apt to spray a whole pan of veggies very lightly with EEVO before I put them in the water; I agree with pp who say that it's not THAT much oil, when it's divvied up into the servings of produce (the problem with exaggeration in some of these blogs!) and the addition in flavor and nutrient absorption is worth it. (After all, the blog suggests adding oil on AFTER cooking; I use than what they suggest, and using it before cooking eliminates some of it. - 7/18/2012   8:49:17 AM
  • 35
    Oh this is going to be a hard one. I usually use water, but also extra virgin olive oil. I just can't seem to give that up... - 7/18/2012   8:32:48 AM
    Its a good technique for SOME recipes, but for a stir fry, I'll use olive oil or 'Smart Balance'. Other times I like to cook veggies in low-fat low-sodium chicken broth. - 7/18/2012   7:54:42 AM
    Its a good technique for SOME recipes, but for a stir fry, I'll use olive oil or 'Smart Balance'. Other times I like to cook veggies in low-fat low-sodium chicken broth. - 7/18/2012   7:44:04 AM
  • 32
    I use this technique for my vegetables, I even use for peppers and onions when making turkey sausage with peppers and onions. - 7/18/2012   5:41:12 AM
    I seem to fall in line with most of the other comments here: I wouldn't use a whole tablespoon of oil just for me, it'd be for two or three portions! If I want steamed veg then I'll steam them. The whole point of stir-frying my veg is to, um stir-*fry* them. That's where the taste comes in. I'll admit there are some recipes that suggest lightly boiling the veg before frying (a great chinese lemon broccoli recipe I know of) but I'd still use the oil for the actual frying. I like the taste, I like the satiety and olive oil is good for me. - 7/18/2012   5:07:07 AM
  • 30
    I could never use this technique, sorry. I'm from Spain, the land of extra virgin olive oil, it's part of a mediterranean diet and good for your heart. I'll keep using it. - 7/18/2012   3:15:30 AM
  • 29
    I've always "sauteed" in a little water. It never made sense when I saw people heating up a cold pressed oil like EVOO. If I use this it is usually at the end when serving. - 7/18/2012   3:14:47 AM
  • 28
    I usually use one tablespoon to sautee 6 to 10 servings of vegetables at a time, so my calories from oil per serving is one tenth of a tablespoon, or 12. I think 12 calories of extra flavor is worth it for me most of the time unless I'm trying to balance out a splurge in fats elsewhere, like having avocado too. I often sear some watery veggies like onions with no oil and deglaze with water or broth as I'm starting a dish though. - 7/18/2012   1:37:17 AM
    Of course, by definition, as some others point out this is steaming not sauteing. To truly "saute" you have to use some fat.

    That being said, I frequently do something similar, but use broth. To use only water would, in my opinion, create absolutely tasteless vegetables. - 7/17/2012   10:17:22 PM
  • 26
    Yes, I do my veggies this way, and I like it better than butter. I will sometimes add a squeeze of lemon juice at the end. Also have pan roasted them in the lemon olive oil, but I like the "zing" that the squeeze of fresh lemon imparts. - 7/17/2012   10:11:30 PM
  • 25
    I have to wonder if that would work with my stainless steel cookware. Everything sticks, so oil - not even non-stick cooking spray - is needed. I don't think I got fat adding a teaspoon or two of olive oil to my sauteed vegges though...

    Also, I don't think this is actually THE Number 1 Diet-Friendly cooking trick... I could think of some others which are more useful. - 7/17/2012   8:45:29 PM
  • 24
    I will often use this technique, but use chicken or veggie broth instead of water. It works on the same principle, but adds more flavor and only a very few calories. - 7/17/2012   8:37:38 PM
  • 23
    I like to use coconut oil, but only 1 tsp. Before I found that (at Trader Joe's) I used to use 1 tsp of olive oil. I measure out the tsp, so I probably won't try the water trick. I need to do this, otherwise I wouldn't get my healthy oils into my diet. - 7/17/2012   6:06:29 PM
  • 22
    Well what do you know, learnt something new! I will try to cook veggies like this more and use les oil. I was a bit confused by the first comments though, since I agree that some of the healthy fats is good but it's easy to over do it and use too much! - 7/17/2012   5:17:52 PM
  • 21
    What is the difference between sauting in water and steaming?
    Couldn't I just understeam the vegetables then add to whatever meat or seafood I am stir-frying? - 7/17/2012   5:11:06 PM
  • 20
    This really does work. I have been stir-frying my veggies
    this way for years. You can not tell the difference.
    Having stir-fry tonight. Yum! - 7/17/2012   4:37:51 PM
  • 19
    Great tip. I prefer thinly coating the pan with vegetable spray. (use pam or make your own) its less oil. - 7/17/2012   4:00:33 PM
    Trying it tonight. - 7/17/2012   2:43:07 PM
  • 17
    No, I haven't tried this trick - but neither do I plan to. I love veggies, so my favorite style is raw and second favorite is lightly steamed. I also don't have what I'll call "fat issues". Unless I'm having a lot of dairy, my natural way of eating tends toward the lower end of the fat range nutrition-wise, so I'd do better to add rather than subtract. - 7/17/2012   2:16:17 PM
  • 16
    I've had my veggies cooked with coconut oil-it not only tastes really good, but it's a healthier fat. - 7/17/2012   1:48:49 PM
  • 15
    Let's be honest about what this is -- some combination of boiling and steaming. It's not sauteing. Sometimes boiling/steaming is good, but we also need healthy oils in our diet. - 7/17/2012   1:45:19 PM
  • 14
    I never thought of that before. But I've read other Spark articles that say we need healthy fats with our veggies. - 7/17/2012   1:08:54 PM
    I could agree with the water for oil if you use a tablespoon per serving, but come on now, you don't need that much oil for 1 or 2 servings of veggies, a teaspoon is usually sufficient. - 7/17/2012   12:55:33 PM
  • 12
    Never thought of this. I will try next time with mostly water and a bit of olive oil for flavor. - 7/17/2012   12:52:37 PM
  • 11
    WOW! 120 calories in one tablespoon. Ya know, you know this but did you actually KNOW this? I knew butter was a lot and I do not butter veggies, but I used to use at least 2 or 3 tbs per can! This is eye opening. Thanks! - 7/17/2012   12:27:39 PM
  • 10
    I think that it's a good idea if you're in a pinch with your calories. I sometimes use olive oil and water to prepare my veggies in. - 7/17/2012   12:24:26 PM
  • 9
    Interesting. - 7/17/2012   12:13:55 PM
  • 8
    I've done this for years, but also have used broth. Often times I'll add just a tsp or so of olive oil for flavoring. Works for me! - 7/17/2012   11:58:28 AM
  • 7
    I'd rather use a little bit of olive oil, it is still heart healthy and greatly adds to the satisfaction. - 7/17/2012   11:53:29 AM

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