Non-stick cooking spray takes advantage of the bio-molecular properties of food. Oil is a non-polar substance, which means that it won’t bind to polar substances, like water or your stainless steel cooking pan!
To wrap your head around non-polar and polar interactions, think of the non-polar molecules as people without Facebook accounts and the polar molecules as people with Facebook accounts. Within Facebook, the non-Facebookians cannot interact with the Facebookians.
This works the same way with the biomolecules — polar molecules can interact and have a great time, while non-polar molecules are left in the dust to interact amongst themselves. In the case of the baking dish and the non-stick spray, the baking dish is polar and the non-stick spray is non-polar.
Most non-stick sprays are made of essentially the same ingredients: oil, water, propellant and an emulsifier to force those non-polar and polar dudes together. In our Facebook example, an emulsifier would be old-school social activities, like a game night or a walk in the park — a common denominator that everyone can get on board with, no matter if they had a Facebook account.
Some brands, like PAM, add dimethyl silicone, an anti-foaming agent. Because I’ve never seen a non-stick spray foam, I can’t attest to why this is necessary. The chemical’s Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS, which defines the safety standards in chemistry labs) notes that it has little chance of harming you.
Taking all that into consideration, non-stick spray is safe. Moreover, it’s a smart choice in comparison to spreading olive oil or canola oil on your pan.
Although non-stick sprays are made with canola oil, the amount that is dispersed per spray is so small that it contributes a negligible amount of calories. For a one-second spray, that’s about seven calories — less than a gram of fat.
However, if you pour a half-teaspoon of canola oil into the dish and spread it around, that’s 60 calories. Not to mention that oil is rarely measured with preciseness when you’re pouring it from the jar, and oftentimes the amount poured exceeds the necessary amount.
If you cut 50 calories per meal per day for a year by using non-stick spray instead of pouring oil, that’s 54,750 calories cut out in total. That equates to around 15 pounds lost. Even if you just substitute the cooking spray for one of your meals per day, that’s still 5 pounds gone in a year.
If you’re still hesitant about buying the non-stick spray because of the propellant or because your great aunt’s hairdresser told you that it causes cancer, there is a happy medium.
At most quality cooking stores, you can purchase an oil spritzer. Fill it with your favorite oil (healthy ones include grape seed, canola and flaxseed), pump a couple times to build pressure and spritz your pans.