Using cooking spray as a replacement for oil and butter can help cut back the calories. Since butter and oil have 100 to 120 calories per tablespoon (respectively), switching to a spray can mean fewer calories (and grams of fat) in your cooking.
Many brands use actual oils (such as olive and canola) as the primary ingredient, others rely on other types of oil and artificial flavorings– check ingredient lists on your brand of choice.
When used in a nonstick pan, a light coating of spray can allow for grilled cheese, French toast and eggs that aren’t glued to the pan. Spray is also good option to help give oven-baked breadings a crispier crust. A neutral flavored spray (like canola oil) can also be used to grease baking dishes and cupcake pans.
The calories will go down but cutting out butter or olive oil in cooking will create a flavor deficit that a spray can’t seem to satisfy.
It’s also a common misconception that these types of spray are completely free of calories and fat – they aren’t. A serving is typically measured by a spray lasting a fraction of a second; a longer spray means more calories, and most people spray for more than one second.
It’s also common for cans to be filled with additives like soy lecithin (a no-no for soy folks with soy allergies) and propellants like nitric oxide. Propellents called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were once commonly found in spray cans but are now used less often. Excessive exposure to CFC is harmful to your health and the environment so check those labels and looks for CFC-free brands.
The Verdict: A spray here and there won’t do you any harm, but don’t get too trigger happy! Consider ways to incorporate measured amounts of real cooking oils into your daily routine as well.
Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc., which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition. See Dana’s full bio »