Healthy Cooking Sprays

Two chefs working in a busy kitchen
Cooking spray cuts down on the amount of fat used in a dish. (Image: Wavebreakmedia Ltd/Wavebreak Media/Getty Images)

Almost every "healthy" recipe calls for a cooking spray to coat the pan, but the aerosol method of application may make you suspicious. Cooking sprays are considered completely safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and rumors that they contain carcinogens are unfounded. If you are still concerned, making healthy homemade cooking sprays using olive oil and a pump bottle guarantees a safe spritz.

Can't Beat the Convenience

Cooking sprays create a thin layer of oil and lecithin so food doesn't stick to the pan or pot when you're sauteing it. They also make for quick greasing of a baking pan so muffins, cupcakes or cookies slide right out. While a pat of butter or tablespoon of oil does the same job, these add more fat and calories than you might want in your dish. These sprays contain a form of vegetable oil, such as corn, soy, canola or olive oil, along with soy lecithin, which emulsifies the product. To enable the spray to work and to prevent foaming or clogging, manufacturers usually include a propellant agent, silicone and a bit of alcohol.

Safety Concerns

The ingredients in commercial cooking sprays are categorized as GRAS, or generally recognized as safe, by the FDA. Although the aerosols do contain hydrocarbons as the propellants, David D. Doniger of the Natural Resources Defense Council told "Eating Well" in a 2013 article that they are not implicated in global warning. The hydrocarbons could pose a danger if you use the spray near open flames -- such as on a lit grill or on a pan heating over a gas burner. To be safe, spray the cooking surface while it's cool and no flames are in sight. Any sprays that do contain this flammable hydrocarbon should specify so on the label. For the healthiest and safest choices, look for ones that do not.

Pump It Yourself

A reusable pump eliminates waste from used aerosol cans, keeping the environment healthier, and ensures you control the ingredients. Purchase these pumps at cooking supply stores and fill with an oil of your choosing. Instead of artificial chemicals creating the pressure to release the oil -- you press a button that pumps the oil into a cylinder. Increased internal pressure in the cylinder releases the oil in small spritzes onto your pan or baking dish. You minimize the amount of oil used and still have all the convenience of a spray without any additives.

Good Oil Choices

Whether you fill a reusable pump or opt for commercial sprays, choose olive oil. Olive oil is high in monounsaturated fats, which are linked to healthier cholesterol ratios. If you fill your own pump, go one step further and choose virgin or extra-virgin oil, which contain antioxidants called polyphenols, which may fight inflammation in the body. If you plan to do high-heat cooking, such as a stir-fry, grapeseed oil is another heart-healthy option with a high smoke point.

Other Considerations

Canola oil is another heart-healthy option, but it is not without controversy. Some health experts point to it as a highly processed option, with much of the crop genetically modified. To avoid genetically engineered canola oil, opt for organic versions. Other healthy oils, such as avocado and walnut oil, are not suitable for high-heat cooking because they burn easily. Avoid cottonseed oil-based sprays as these are highest in pesticides and contain a lot of saturated fats.

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