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A Quick Guide to Healthy Oils

Walk into the baking section of even the most average supermarket today and you will probably find more oils than you probably know what to do with. The range of nut, seed, fruit, and vegetable oils in natural food stores can be truly intimidating to the average home cook or even the experienced gourmet who hasn’t found a reason to venture beyond olive and vegetable oils. When cooking with plant-based ingredients, variety is your friend! Oils provide essential fats to give you sustained energy, facilitate brain function, and help the body absorb vitamins. When used in excess or heated beyond their temperature range (see the section on smoke point below), oils can increase your risk of heart disease and even cancer. So get to know this pantry staple. Each type of oil has a distinct profile and should be used at specific temperatures. It is important to understand the differences between oils to make the most of their nutritional value and know which oils are best suited for certain kinds of recipes as well.


Oils widely available today include avocado, canola, coconut, corn, grapeseed, olive, peanut, safflower, sesame, sunflower, walnut, and the ubiquitous vegetable, to name a few. Keep in mind that cheaper cooking oils are often a mixture of ingredients, especially vegetable oils, so check the labels of your favored brands to see what’s really in them. Mixtures aren’t necessarily lower quality, but their ideal cooking temperature will be different than pure alternatives. Many varieties come in refined or unrefined options as well. Think of unrefined oils as unprocessed – they are often more flavorful than their refined counterparts and are higher in nutrients. However, unrefined oils must be cooked at lower temperatures than refined oils.

Why smoke point matters: An oil’s “smoke point” is just that – the temperature at which it begins to smoke when heated over a flame. Research has shown that heating unrefined canola oil beyond its ideal cooking temperature releases fumes that increase the risk of lung cancer. Expeller or cold pressed oils, which are extracted in a way that best preserves nutritional value, also lose much of their flavor when heated beyond their smoke point. The following quick guide is true for most oils of the listed variety, but check the label of the oil you are cooking with to confirm its ideal cooking temperature (check out this article by Organic Authority for more details).



LOW/NO HEAT for dressings, marinades, and simmering

  • Flax oil (225°F)
  • Coconut oil (350°F)
  • Extra virgin olive oil (374°F)



MEDIUM HEAT for sauteeing, baking, and low temp frying

  • Peanut (448°F)
  • Grapeseed (420°F)
  • Sesame (446°F)



HIGH HEAT for frying,broiling

  • Canola (470°F)
  • Corn (457°F)
  • Safflower (509°F)


Storing oils at the proper temperature and with their expiration date in mind is just as important as cooking with them at the proper temperature. Yes, oils expire (as do nuts and seeds : the same principles apply to safely storing these healthy snacks). Heat and light can degrade oils which is why they are often sold in dark containers. Whole Foods recommends keeping oil refrigerated to maintain maximum freshness, but storing bulk containers sealed tightly in the basement or a cool cupboard is fine too if you need to save on space. You know your oil has gone rancid if it smells and tastes bitter. Don’t immediately assume your oil is bad if it’s cloudy though. This happens to some oil as it cools, especially olive and coconut oil.

Try it out You might be surprised by the substitution possibilities of replacing animal fats like butter or lard with healthier alternatives like coconut oil. Although it takes some time to get used to the different melting temperatures of certain oils (coconut melts at 76°F, so it will start to soften when you work with it), you can pretty much make anything with oil that calls for butter. This recipe for Coconut Oil Pie Crust from Whole Foods is a great example of what you can do with a little bit of oil and imagination.




Staying Nourished & Energetic

If you’ve signed up for the 7 Day Veggie Challenge or are trying to balance your plant-based diet, you may be concerned with staying nourished and energetic. Being vegetarian or vegan doesn’t have to mean sacrificing an energetic lifestyle! In fact, many people report feeling better when they replace meat and/or dairy with plant protein. The key is to balance your intake of fats, proteins, and vitamins, and keep track of what and how much you’re eating if you are making a significant dietary shift for the first time. Keeping a food journal too stay on top of your intake has never been easier with apps like MealLogger, or simply keep a running list meals you’ve eaten when you sit down to check emails in the evening on your laptop. Sign up for Veggie Challenge to receive information tailored to your concerns during your first week or read on to learn about some common concerns for vegetarian and vegan eaters.

You may need to be extra conscious of your iron intake when transitioning to a plant-based diet.

Getting enough iron, protein, B12, etc. Vegetarian and vegan diets are rich in the essential nutrients the body needs, but it is important to be aware of what your body requires in order to make the transition from a meat based to an omnivore diet. Finding good alternative sources of protein, calcium, iron, and B12 will help you to make the change by working these into your daily meals. We have published detailed information on maintaining a healthy diet here: Bear in mind that it is particularly important to find reliable sources of Vitamin B12, Iodine, Vitamin D, and Omega 3. Our top pointers are:

Food_Pyramid_Vegetarian_Food_Guide (1)
Basic food groups for vegan eating. Follow link for details.

Feeling nourished and energetic  Making sure to consume enough calories, protein and  Vitamin D is important for addressing feelings of fatigue and hunger and staying committed to a vegan or vegetarian diet.   It can be easy to think of all the low-calorie foods you could eat as part of a vegan diet, such as salads and fruits, but it is also important to remember to eat denser, more calorie-rich foods. Those moving to a low-calorie vegan diet will need to be particularly aware of this. Getting enough fat in your meals will also make you feel satisfied and full.   Finding good sources of protein is also important for feeling full and energized. Vegan and vegetarian food is rich in protein, but it can be difficult to adjust initially if you are used to large amounts of protein from an meat-based diet. Legumes such as lentils, beans and soy foods are a good source of protein that can be easily worked into your diet. For more information, The Toronto Vegetarian Society has useful information on energy foods and what to eat at  and also a helpful page on vegetarian energy foods for kids and athletes For more ideas on how to feel properly nourished on a vegetarian and vegan diet, we recommend reading Ginny Messina, MPH, RD’s tips on committing to veganism, which address the most common barriers related to nutrition, practical issues, and social support:  

What to serve someone who hates vegetarian foods?

What to do when the person you have to cook for hates the idea of a plant-based diet and hates anything whole grain and healthy? He does not like most veggies, beans, tofu…(anything not processed) and loves meat. 
– Janette, age 30s, Toronto

Hi Janette,

The important thing here is not to force the issue. He may not be ready to make the change, so you’ll need to try a few different things.

Let’s assume he understands the health benefits of a plant-based diet, and he is fully aware of the environmental damage animal agriculture causes (if not, you could perhaps educate him on that front), and that he understands the cruelty and suffering involved. But he just chooses to eat meat, dairy and eggs because that’s what his taste buds dictate.

I don’t normally recommend this option, but given the strong resistance you’re describing, let’s see if a phased approach works. Would he be willing to try some of the meat substitutes – i.e. Yves ground round, deli slices, burgers or Gardein, Tofurky or President’s Choice Blue Menu meat-free products? Daiya or other non-dairy cheese? These products certainly can’t be classified as “health food”, but they are good transition choices. Can you try putting some chicken-less (vegan) strips into a stir-fry, and see if he notices? Or put Yves “ground round” into a chili. Most people can’t tell the difference when all the spices and other flavours combine in a dish. As long as it tastes good, he’ll probably eat it. This way, at least the animal suffering stops, and these products are way healthier than their animal-based counterparts. Then slowly, bit by bit, you can try to wean him off the processed plant foods described above, and introduce more whole foods.

However, if he absolutely refuses to even take this step, then I’m afraid you’ll have to just let him make his choices – but make it clear that he’ll have to help with the cooking or other chores, because you can’t make two different meals everyday without help. It’ll be a negotiation.

I would also recommend this type of discussion takes place after a meal, and when both of you are in a calm frame of mind.

Wishing you and your partner optimum health.

– Nimisha


Nimisha Raja gives lectures and workshops to schools, seniors’ centers and other groups on vegetarian related issues. She has appeared on numerous radio and TV stations promoting vegetarian lifestyles, and has taught several cooking classes.
Nimisha holds certificates from the Optimum Health Institute in San Diego, the Ann Wigmore Natural Health Institute in Puerto Rico and a B.A. in Economics from the University of Toronto.

Cookbook review: Get It Ripe by jae steele

The first vegan cookbook I got was jae steele’s Get It Ripe and it is, hands-down, my favourite cookbook in the house! Everything I’ve made from it has turned out to be a delight.

The first half on vegan nutrition, spanning everything from protein sources to B12 to the marvel of sea vegetables, is so comprehensive and helpful I find myself returning to it often. How long to cook various grains, how to sprout from your kitchen and why organic, local and non-gmo are important considerations are all covered in plain, friendly language that feels more like it’s coming from a trusted friend than a certified holistic nutritionist. jae also discusses her own journey to veganism which only completes the ‘friendly conversational’ feel of the book.

If Get It Ripe stopped after the first half, I would still recommend it heartily but alas, the cookbook portion is equally marvellous. This is a whole-foods-based cookbook with lots of soy-free and gluten-free options so it’s a very good choice for people who are looking to eat healthier and focus their meals on lots of vegetables, legumes, fruits, seeds, nuts and whole grains. I also liked that there were not a lot of ‘weird’ ingredients and that most recipes had things you’d already have in your pantry, or could easily get from your local grocery store. The recipes are simple, tasty, hearty and healthful.

Tofu scramble with homemade ketchup
Tofu scramble with homemade ketchup

She includes breakfasts, (try the blueberry polenta pancakes and tofu scramble with homemade ketchup), and soups, hearty main dishes, (try the luscious lasagna, good sheppards pie, and tourtière) and delicious dips, (try the red lentil hummus for a new spin on an old favourite). The deserts are unparalleled in terms of ease, (her maple flax cookies boast 6 ingredients and whip up in a jiffy), and a few of her muffin recipes have fast become household standards.

Whether you’re a new vegan or an old vegan or a veg-curious omnivore, I highly recommend picking up Get It Ripe. My bets are you’ll love it as much as I do.

Pasta with lemon zest and basil

Lemon zest and basil pasta
Lemon zest and basil pasta

This recipe is great for summer – it is delicious also when eaten cold.

Serves 6, <30 minutes

2 lemons

3 Tbsp (40 g) olive oil

1 bunch of basil, rinsed and chopped

1 bunch fresh garlic, chopped

6 cups (1 ½ L) water

1 lb (500 g) of your favourite pasta

salt (to taste)


Wash the lemons, grate the zest and squeeze out the juice. In a bowl, mix the lemon juice with oil and garlic.

Cook pasta in boiling water until al dente. Drain. Toss pasta with the lemon juice mixture.

Add the basil to the pasta (preferably after the pasta has had a chance to cool a bit as too much heat can cause the basil to turn brown). Add salt to taste. Add more olive oil to taste (optional).

Variations: Try arugula or mint instead basil


Edamame, bok choy, bean sprout soup

Edamame, bok choy and bean sprout soup
Edamame, bok choy and bean sprout soup

Serves 6-8, <30 minutes

1 Tbsp coconut oil

½ onion, finely chopped

2 carrots, chopped

1 lb (500 g) of edamame (fresh young soya beans)

2 cups (150 g) bok choy, chopped

2 cups (200 g) soya bean sprouts

6 cups (1 ½ L) of water

2 cubes of vegetable stock

1 cup (250 g) of tofu, diced

2 Tbsp of miso

Heat the coconut oil in a large pot. Once this starts to simmer, add the chopped onion and carrots, stir and after 3 minutes add the edamame, bok choy and soya bean sprouts.

Dissolve 2 cubes of vegetable stock in boiling water in a separate pot and gradually stir this in with the vegetables. Leave the soup simmer on medium heat for 15 minutes.

Take 1 cup of soup broth and add miso to this. Let this dissolve and then add the mixture to the soup. Add tofu and let cook for 2 minutes.

Variations: Try soya sauce instead of miso.


Edamame and broccoli stir-fry with pasta

Serves 6, <30 minutes

edamame and broccoli stir-fry
edamame and broccoli stir-fry

This recipe is unique and tasty: a great fusion of an Asian-style stir-fry and Italian spaghetti with olive oil.

3 Tbsp (40 g) olive oil
1 onion
1 head of broccoli, chopped
1 lb (500 g) of edamame (fresh young soya beans)
½ tsp sea salt
3 medium tomatoes
1 small branch of wild leeks (garlic scapes or green onions)
1 lb (500 g) of your favourite Italian long pasta
fresh or dried chili pepper (to taste)
ground black pepper (to taste)

Heat oil in a large wok over medium-high heat. Cook onion in oil for 1 minute. Stir in broccoli, salt, cover with lid and cook until soft. Stir in edamame. Mix in wild leeks and stir frequently.

edamame and broccoli pasta
edamame and broccoli pasta

Make a quick tomato sauce by mashing the tomatoes with a fork or blender. Season the vegetables with your homemade tomato sauce, salt, chili and ground black pepper to taste.

Meanwhile, cook Italian long pasta in boiling water until al dente. Drain. Toss pasta with vegetables, and serve warm.

Variations: Try quinoa or rice pasta to make this recipe gluten-free

How to cook fresh, healthy and tasty rice

Here are simple recipes and techniques for making various kinds of rice. You only need a pot with a tight fitting lid. Sturdy pots with thickened bottoms are best for even cooking.

If you have rice often getting a rice cooker can be convenient. Rice cookers can be programmed to cook at a set time and to automatically turn off. Just follow the directions that come with the machine. And pressure cookers are handy for saving time when making brown or wild rice.

Photo credit: <a href="">michelle@TNS</a> / <a href="">CC BY-NC-SA</a>
Photo credit: [email protected] / CC BY-NC-SA

Brown Rice

Makes 6 cups (1 kg), <50 minutes

There are several varieties of brown rice including: basmati, short grain, long grain, Jasmine, sweet rice, etc.

2 cups (370 g) fresh* brown rice of choice
4 cups (960 ml) water
1 tsp salt

Bring rice, water and salt to a boil in a pot with a tight-fitting lid. Simmer for 40 minutes on very low heat. Do not lift lid or stir!

Variations: add a small handful of cloves, cardamon pods, whole black peppercorns or lemon peel to the rice before cooking. Adding in some wild rice adds a nice flavour and visual interest.

Read more

How to add beauty to veggie food

Add colour and flavour with lovage leaves and tulip petals
Add colour and flavour with lovage leaves and tulip petals

Spring, being the season of transformation, is the perfect time to change your diet, and go vegetarian! Becoming vegetarian can be daunting in the beginning but you can use the appeal of spring to beautify your food!

Leaves and flower petals can easily make your food more attractive, just use them to dress up your teas, salads, soups, dips! The diverse range of culinary presentations with their friendly appearance, will help you in going vegetarian.

Adding mint, oregano, sunflower, daisy or lovage leaves will bring colour and flavor. Perfumed flowers such as bergamot, lavender and citrus blossoms will give a spicy touch to your savory and sweet dishes.

The vibrant colors, textures, scents and flavors of rose, violets, tulips, are also perfect for floating in drinks or scattering across main dishes and desserts.

If you want invite your friends to join your new veggie diet you can prepare a delicious dinner decorated with flowers and leaves. Take inspiration from our suggestion:

Homemade organic Hummus topped with lovage,topped with tulip petals. The sauce is made with the remains of the hummus that was in the blender with olive oil, soy sauce and lots of lemon, plus bread from the farmers’ market.

If you want to add colour with petals, make sure you eat flowers you have grown yourself, or know to be safe for consumption. Flowers from the florist or nursery have probably been treated with pesticides or other chemicals and should not be consumed.

It all began with a big, gregarious pig

Jenn making fresh squeezed lemonade.
Jenn making fresh squeezed lemonade.

My name is Jenn Sorrell and my journey towards veganism began with a big, gregarious pig. While on holidays with my husband in England, we visited a small-scale farm and were greeted, most pleasantly, by a large black sow. As our snub-nosed friend rolled onto her back in front of us, clearly desiring a belly scratch, I realized that not only were pigs intelligent, curious and affectionate creatures but beings with their own agenda and their own deep desire to live.  I stopped eating pork immediately after that trip.

Wanting to look into the issues surrounding how we fill our plates, I picked up Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer and once I was done, I was vegan. Motivated primarily by the animal welfare issues, I went on to read The Food Revolution by John Robbins, (of the Baskin Robbin’s empire) to learn about the health and environmental aspects of our diets. The more I read, (Mad Cowboy, The Kind DietMain Street Vegan, The China Study), the more my thoughts on the matter solidified and the more I believed that my choice was the best choice not only for the animals, but for my health and the health of the environment. I not only felt great physically, but also spiritually knowing I was making a conscious effort to align my values and beliefs with my actions.

In addition to being part of the Veggie Challenge Team and helping others to make the transition to an animal-free diet, I write a blog called The Vegan Sprout that includes an advice column, my personal experiences living a vegan lifestyle, and interviews with inspiring people in the plant-based movement. I also love to cook and bake and can be often found at my local branch of the Toronto Public Library, trolling the shelves for the latest vegan and vegetarian cookbooks.

I am inspired, every day, by this compassionate lifestyle and look forward to playing a role in helping others to make the transition – it’s the tastiest, loveliest, most wonderful thing you could do!

Jenn was a past coordinator of the Veggie Challenge.