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Making the Change to a Healthy Lifestyle Work Part 3 – Cooking Techniques

Updated November 3, 2021

By Mary McDougall

Sautéing Without Oil

To sauté implies the use of butter or oil. The McDougall Program eliminates the oil and instead uses liquids that give taste without hazard. Surprisingly, plain water makes an excellent sautéing liquid. It prevents foods from sticking to the pan, and still allows vegetables to brown and cook.

For more flavor try sautéing in:

  Vegetable broth
  Soy sauce (Tamari)
  Red or white wine (alcoholic or non-alcoholic)
  Sherry  (alcoholic or non-alcoholic)
  Rice vinegar or balsamic vinegar
  Tomato juice
  Lemon or lime juice
  Mexican salsa
  Vegan Worcestershire sauce

For even more flavor, herbs and spices, such as ginger root, dry mustard and garlic can be added to these suggestions.

Browning Vegetables

Browned onions take on an excellent flavor and can be used alone or mixed with other vegetables to make a dish with a distinctive taste. To achieve the color of browning, as well as to flavor your foods, place 1 1/2 cups of chopped onions in a large nonstick frying pan with 1 cup of water or vegetable broth. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the liquid evaporates and the onions begin to stick to the bottom of the pan. Continue to stir for a minute, then add another 1/2 cup of water or broth, loosening the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Cook until liquid evaporates again. Repeat this procedure 1 or 2 more times, until the onions (or mixed vegetables) are as browned as you like. You can also use this technique to brown carrots, green peppers, garlic, potatoes, shallots, zucchini and many other vegetables, alone or mixed in a variety of combinations.

Baking without Oil

To eliminate oil in baking is a real challenge because oil keeps the baked goods moist and soft. Replace the oil called for in the recipe with 1/2 the amount of another moist food, such as prune puree, applesauce, mashed bananas, mashed potatoes, mashed pumpkin, tomato sauce, soft silken tofu, or non-dairy yogurt. Cakes and muffins made without oil are a little heavier. Be sure to test cakes and muffins at the end of the baking time by inserting a toothpick or cake tester to see if it comes out clean. Sometimes oil-less cakes and muffins may need to be baked longer than the directions advise.

Packaged Help for Cooking

Egg Replacer

Eliminating high-cholesterol, high-fat eggs from your diet means that you need a good binding agent for many recipes. A flour product, called ENER-G takes over this role very effectively in baking.  Most natural foods stores carry this product. (Or you can order it directly from the company at To achieve the best results with this product, mix amounts according to package directions, then beat until very frothy, using a whisk, electric beater or a blender. ENER-G will not make anything resembling scrambled eggs.


Agar-agar is a natural vegetable “gelatin” product made from seaweed. It is sold in most natural foods stores, either as flakes or in powder form. Manufacturers use it to thicken salad dressings, and some ice creams, puddings, jellies and candies. You can also use it to jell liquids. Use 1 1/2 tablespoons of flakes or 3/4 teaspoon of powder to jell 1 cup of liquid. Use less to slightly thicken a homemade dressing. 

Guar Gum Powder

Guar gum powder is a natural vegetable “gelatin” used as a salad dressing thickener. Use between 1/2 and 1 teaspoon per cup of dressing. Allow to stand for an hour or longer. This product is also useful for thickening sauces to a spreading consistency. It can be purchased at most natural food stores.

Soy Milk

Soy milk is made from soybeans and water with a sweetener sometimes added. Regular soy milk contains 4 to 5 grams of fat per serving (40% fat). Low-fat soy milks, called “lite” soy milks contain only 2 grams of fat per serving (20% fat). Westsoy makes a non-fat soy milk. (To reduce the amount of fat in soy milk, and at the same time thin out the strong taste of soy, dilute with an equal amount of water. This will improve the look and taste, especially when used on cereal.) Soy milk replaces cow’s milk on a cup per cup exchange in all recipes.

Rice Milk

Rice milk has a lighter, sweeter taste than soy milk and is much lower in fat content.  Made from fermented brown rice, it is white in color and has a consistency resembling cow’s milk. Rice milk can be found in most natural foods stores or can be made at home. 

Rice milk recipe:

Blend 1 cup of cooked whole grain (brown) rice with 4 cups of water in an electric blender. Add 1 teaspoon of vanilla for flavor (optional). Filter through a strainer to remove coarse rice husks.

Choosing Cookware

Acceptable materials for cookware include glass, stainless steel, iron, nonstick-coated pans and porcelain. An important and easy way to eliminate oil from your cooking is to use non-stick-coated pans. For baking pans, use silicone or a non-stick coating.

When buying cookware you need to pay most attention to the surface that your foods will contact, because always some interaction will cause your food to pick up molecules from the utensil’s surface. Aluminum cookware should be avoided because of the possible association between aluminum ingestion and Alzheimer’s disease. (If you’re stuck with an aluminum pan or pot, put holes in the bottom and plant flowers in it.) For cake pans, loaf pans and baking sheets you can use parchment paper between the metal and your food. Parchment paper also keeps food from sticking to the surface of the pans. You can find it in most grocery stores. Parchment can also be used under (or over) aluminum foil, in order to keep the aluminum from coming in contact with the food. Place a layer of parchment paper over the food in a baking dish, then cover with foil, turning the edges over the pan to hold in the steam.

Recommended Cookware:

(1) saucepan 2 qt. (stainless steel or non-stick)

(1) saucepan 3 qt. (stainless steel or non-stick)

(1) saucepan 4 qt. (stainless steel or non-stick)

(1) 6 qt. stockpot (stainless steel or non-stick)

(1) 8 qt. steamer/pasta cooker (stainless steel)

(1) 12 qt. stock pot (stainless steel)

(1) griddle (non-stick coating)

(1) large frying pan (non-stick coating)

(1) 9 1/4 X 5 1/4 in. loaf pan (silicone or non-stick)

(1) 9 X 13 X 2 in. oblong baking pan (silicone or non-stick)

(1) 8 X 8 X 2 square baking pan (silicone or non-stick)

(2) muffin tins (silicone)

(2) baking trays (non-stick)

(1) 2 qt. covered casserole dish (glass)

(1) 3 qt. covered casserole dish (glass)

(1) 6 qt. covered casserole dish (glass)

(2) 9 X 13 oblong uncovered baking dishes (glass)

(1) 7 1/2 X 11 3/4 oblong uncovered baking dish (glass)

If vegetables stick while cooking in a pan or baking tray, let them cool for 5 to 10 minutes and they will loosen easily. Cooling will also loosen muffins from the tins.

Cooking Basic Starches

The more you know about starchy foods the more likely you are to cook successful meals. Methods for boiling and steaming root vegetables, like potatoes, and for squashes and green and yellow vegetables are simple and can be found in any cookbook. Cooking legumes, grains and pastas are a little more difficult and many people are not familiar with all the varieties available.


The legumes category includes many varieties of beans, peas, and lentils. They are easy to cook, either boiled on a stovetop, simmered in a slow cooker, or prepared in a pressure cooker (except for soybeans, split peas and lentils). The most economical way to purchase legumes is in the dried state in large bags holding from five to 100 pounds. They store well in a cool dry cupboard for months. Before cooking, sort legumes by hand, removing stones and any seeds that are discolored. For a wonderful variety of heirloom dried beans go to

Boiling Legumes

Place legumes in water in a large pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and cook at a gentle boil for recommended times. The longer you cook them, the softer legumes become, the more indigestible carbohydrates are broken down, and the less trouble you will have with bowel gas. Salads call for firmer beans cooked just to the point of being tender. Legumes for soups and spreads need to be cooked longer. Never add salt while cooking – it makes beans tough.

Cooking Times for Legumes 
Beans (1 cup) Water (cups) Time (hrs.) Yield (cups)
Adzuki Beans 4 1-1/2 2
Black Beans 4 1-1/2 2
Black-eyed Peas 3 1 2
Garbanzos 4 3 2
Kidney Beans 4 2 2
Lentils 3 1 2
Split Peas 3 1 2
Lima Beans 3 1-1/2 2
Pinto Beans 3 2-1/2 2
White Beans 3 2 2

Contrary to popular belief, beans do not need to be soaked before cooking. However, cooking times can be reduced by two methods: 1) Soak the beans overnight in enough water to cover them with 2 to 3 inches to spare. After soaking, drain off water and cook according to instructions, but reduce cooking time by 1 hour. 2) For a quick preparation that saves both time and energy, bring beans to a boil with the amount of water suggested above for 2 minutes, then remove from heat, cover, and let rest for 1 hour. Do not drain. Then proceed with the directions given above, but reduce cooking time by 1/2 hour. If you use the longer cooking times with these methods you will end up with more thoroughly cooked beans.

Slow Cooking Legumes

Slow cookers are convenient and they are an easy way to cook dried beans. Place legumes in the slow cooker, and cover with the amounts of water listed above. Cook for 6-8 hours on high or 10-12 hours on low.

Pre-cooked Legumes

Beans and lentils can be bought already cooked and packaged in bottles or cans. Black-eyed peas and soybeans can be found cooked and frozen. Even though the precooked packaged varieties are more expensive, you are paying for the convenience. Look for beans bottled or canned in water only or in water and salt. Drain and rinse beans before using in a recipe. In some recipes, you do need to start with dried beans because the cooking liquid is the basis of a sauce. Canned and bottled beans may be used in recipes calling for cooked beans.

The Unmentionable Gas

Bowel gas is produced by the action of intestinal bacteria on foods.  Carbohydrates that have not been absorbed in the process of normal digestion by enzymes in the small intestine are moved undigested into the large intestine (colon) where bacteria break them down by the process known as fermentation.  Five gases – nitrogen, oxygen, hydrogen, carbon dioxide, and small amounts of methane – account for 99% of bowel gas.  These gasses are odorless.  The strong odor of bowel gas comes primarily from products of bacterial putrefaction of animal proteins and fats in the large intestine.  Avoiding animal products in your diet means cleaner and fresher air in your immediate vicinity.

The most common source of undigested carbohydrate is lactose from dairy products, such as milk, skim milk and yogurt (cheeses contain little lactose). The second leading gas-producing foods are legumes, whether they come as beans with hot dogs, or in a low-fat vegetarian chili. They contain two relatively indigestible sugars, raffinose and stachyose, that end up in the large intestine, where they are decomposed into gases by bowel bacteria.  For people following the McDougall Program, adjustment to the new high-fiber foods occurs in time, and the amount of produced gas diminishes in about 2 weeks.  

Solutions to the Embarrassment of Gasses

Avoid Gassy Foods: Milk products are troublesome for most non-Caucasian people (Asians, African Americans, Latinos, Indians, Inuit, etc.) who can’t digest lactose; about 20% of Caucasians also have this trouble. Legumes-beans, peas, lentils, etc.- bother all races of people indiscriminately. Some individuals notice trouble with onions, bagels, pretzels, prunes, apricots, cabbage, carrots, celery, green peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, bananas, Brussels sprouts and wheat germ. But this list of offenders depends on personalized sensitivities and, therefore, could incriminate almost any food.

Thorough cooking: Almost everyone seems to have a method of “de-gassing” beans.

Many cooks claim to have inherited the secret process from an authoritative grandmother. Thus, I’ve heard some say “add potatoes to beans during cooking”, or “soak beans first, then discard the rinse water”. My personal experience has found these methods of no benefit. Soaking helps, whether or not you discard the original rinse water, simply because soaking starts the breakdown of the carbohydrates and assists cooking. Thorough cooking helps by breaking down indigestible complex carbohydrates into simpler, more digestible forms.

Sprouting beans: One reliable way to “de-gas” legumes is to sprout them first. Cover beans with water for 12 hours, drain off the water, lay damp paper towels on the bottom of a baking dish, spread out beans on the moist towels, then let them sprout for the next 12 hours. When you notice tiny white shoots (1/16″) beginning to appear they are ready to cook. (There will not be green shoots and leaves.) The tiny plant is utilizing the indigestible sugars for growth. Needless to say, beans will take less time to cook after sprouting.

Beano: An acceptable product on the market, Beano, contains enzymes that are capable of breaking down the indigestible sugars in beans, peas, and lentils. Add a couple of drops to the first bite of food and then you can eat the rest without the problem of bowel gas. (Or so the label says….)

Activated Charcoal: For those who have found no other solution and need help, activated charcoal, sold in 260 mg capsules, has been shown to relieve discomfort and reduce the volume of gas. Activated charcoal for this purpose is popular in India and Europe, and has only recently been gaining acceptance in the United States. The exact mechanism of action is unknown, but it may inhibit gas-producing bacteria, or enhance bacterial consumption of gas, or act by absorbing hydrogen and carbon dioxide.


Rice is the most familiar grain to Americans and the most commonly consumed food in the world. A large variety of whole grains are available to choose from in natural food stores. Experimenting with these different grains will pay off because you will discover new favorite foods that rate high on both the taste and the nutrition scale.

Whole Grains (1 cup) Water (cups) Time (min.) Yield (cups)
Barley 2 60 3
Buckwheat 2 15 2-1/2
Bulgur Wheat 2 15 2-1/2
Cornmeal 4 30 3
Millet 3 45 3-1/2
Quinoa 2 15 3
Rice (brown) 2 60 3
Rye 2 60 2-1/2
Wheat Berries 3 120 3

Boiling is the usual way to cook these grains. Bring water to a boil in a sauce pan. Slowly add the grain, return water to a boil, cover, reduce heat to low, and cook until the water has been absorbed. Do not stir. For fluffier texture, allow the grain to rest uncovered for 15 minutes after cooking. This helps dry the grain. For variation, try a mix of two or more grains, or use vegetable stock instead of water. Grains can be cooked easier and more reliably in a rice cooker. Unfortunately, many brands of rice cookers have aluminum insert bowls. National (made by Panasonic) and Hitachi make rice cookers with a nonstick coating and stainless steel covers, protecting your food from exposure to aluminum. There are several more varieties on the market with non-stick bowls.

Bulgur may also be prepared by pouring boiling water over it in a bowl. Cover bowl with a kitchen towel and wait for 1 hour. Pour bulgur and water into a mesh strainer and press out excess water.

Five Grain Rice Recipe

Use this mixture in place of plain rice for variety.

2 cups brown rice

1/4 cups barley

1/4 cup millet

1/4 cup wheat berries

1/4 whole rye or wild rice


Pastas are made from flour and water. Wheat is the most common flour ingredient, but there are combinations with other grain flours. Some pastas are entirely wheat free, like those made from quinoa, corn and rice. All flours have had some of the fiber removed in the processing, and some of the more refined should be considered “white” flours. The 100% durum semolina pastas have the most flavor and body of the “white” flour pastas. The flour with the highest content of dietary fiber is whole wheat flour, and you will notice this by the coarser texture of these pastas. The most important clue to use when choosing pasta is to find one made of only flour and water, containing no eggs or oil. Good quality pasta makes a very palatable companion to simple, oil-free sauces.

Some Kinds of Pasta
  Semolina pasta-made from semolina wheat flour
  artichoke pasta- made from dehydrated artichoke flour and wheat flour
  buckwheat soba – made from buckwheat flour and wheat flour
  corn pasta–made from cornmeal and water
  quinoa-made from corn, quinoa, and sesame flours
  rice-made from ground brown rice 
  soy pasta – made from soy flour and wheat flour
  spinach pasta – made from ground dehydrated spinach and wheat flour
  tomato pasta- made from ground dehydrated tomatoes and wheat flour
  whole wheat pasta – made from whole wheat flour.

Cooking Pasta

For 1 pound of pasta, you need about four to five quarts of water. Do not add oil or salt to water. One pound of pasta will serve four people with normal appetites. Bring water to a rolling boil. Drop pasta into the water; it is not necessary to break long strands; they soften and sink into the water. Cook at a rolling boil, uncovered. Stir pasta occasionally. Test for doneness after 5 minutes, by biting into a piece. Pasta should be firm, never soggy: “al dente”, as the Italians say. Cooking time will vary, but should take no longer than 12 minutes. When pasta is done, drain in a colander, rinse with cool water to help prevent sticking, and put in a bowl. Serve immediately, or mix with sauce before serving. Mixing with a sauce keeps strands of pasta from sticking together as they cool.

Seasoning Foods

Place the Salt Shaker on the Table

Salt is the taste missed most when people switch to a healthful diet. If you feel the food is bland, then salt is what you are missing. Even if you never salted your food in the past, the amount in the prepared and packaged food you used to eat is substantially more than is available in an unsalted starch-based diet, giving only 100-300 mg daily. The way to improve the taste is to add salt, so the salt-appreciating taste buds on the tip of your tongue will be delightfully stimulated. Delightfully, please note, not dangerously!

The best way to keep intake under your control is to avoid, as much as possible, cooking with salt. Salt sprinkled on the surface of a food comes in direct contact with the tongue, providing the greatest pleasure for the smallest amount used. A few light sprinkles of salt will be enough for most people. Each half teaspoon of salt adds only 1150 mg of sodium. This generous amount used daily will please most people’s palates. Altogether this amounts to a total of 1450 mg a day; 550 mg below the 2000 mg “low-sodium” diet served to patients dying of “heart disease” in your local hospital’s intensive care unit. To bring the sodium intake up to the average of more than 5000 mg used daily by most Americans, you would have to pour more than 2 teaspoons of salt on the surface of your starch-based meals. This amount of salt would make the food unpalatable for most people.

If at first the food still tastes a little bland, be patient. You will soon adjust to less salt and new flavors. Appreciation of the salty taste of foods is a learned behavior. Enjoying a lower salt intake is simply a matter of changing your habitual use and exposing your taste buds to lesser amounts. Satisfaction begins in about 4 days.

Herbs & Spices

When deciding whether to use fresh herbs or dried ones, consider how long the food is going to cook. For a long cooking time, dried herbs are generally used. For a short cooking time, use fresh herbs, if they’re available, to really appreciate the flavors these can add to foods. For equal flavor you will need more fresh herbs than dried ones, because the dried ones are more concentrated. However, in time dried herbs lose their potency. Keep your herbs and spices in the cupboard or drawer away from light for longer shelf life. Replace older ones yearly.

There are particular combinations of spices identified with ethnic dishes. You can take advantage of these spices to vary recipes and create new ones.

Mexican Italian Asian Greek Indian


Chili powder











Soy sauce



Red pepper

Dry mustard


Lemon juice








Curry Powder




Red peppers


Soy Sauce

Soy sauce provides a flavorful alternative to plain table salt. Don’t be fooled into thinking there is no sodium in soy sauce. The regular variety has 800 mg of sodium per tablespoon, the low-salt varieties have 500 mg per tablespoon. When choosing a brand of soy sauce, avoid the ingredient monosodium glutamate (MSG). Many people have allergic reactions to this substance, and, of course, it represents another source of sodium. Soy sauce is also sold under the name Tamari, which is gluten-free. There are variations to the taste of soy sauces, depending upon the producer. 


Sweet is the other pleasurable taste appreciated by the sensory buds on the tip of the tongue. You may wish to take advantage of this by adding a small amount of sweetener to the surface of your oatmeal. A teaspoon of cane sugar yields only 16 calories. This small amount is unlikely to make a difference between gaining or losing weight. But those few sweet tasting calories may be the difference that allows you to eat your oatmeal with pleasure. Other concentrated sweeteners include maple syrup, honey, molasses, brown sugar and concentrated fruit juice. 

Simple sugar is basically a sugar. There is little difference in nutritional effect between honey, maple syrup, molasses, brown sugar or white sugar. They are all simple carbohydrates, best described as “empty calories.” They contain no fiber, protein or fat, and contribute little or nothing to vitamin and mineral needs. Artificial sweeteners have their drawbacks too. Their taste is not as pleasant as is that of natural sugars. They can cause unpleasant reactions, such as headaches in some sensitive people. A few people claim even more severe reactions. When you understand that sugar is a minor health hazard, unless used in very large amounts, then you’ll realize there is little reason to resort to artificial sweeteners.