Is Peanut Oil Healthy? A Deep Dive Into Its Nutrition Profile
Shopping for healthy cooking oils can get a little…complicated. Not only are there a ton of oils to choose from, but conflicting information about fats can make it difficult to decide which oils you should add to your cart and which you should leave on the shelf.
Some people think vegetable oils, like peanut oil, are healthy because they're low in saturated fats, but these oils come with a few downsides. Let's dig into the science behind peanut oil to find out whether this popular fat can fit into a healthy diet.
What is peanut oil?
Peanut oil is an oil made from peanuts. Even though most people think of peanuts as nuts, they actually belong to the legume or pea family of plants.
The peanut plant (Arachis hypogaea L.) is native to South America1 but is now grown all over the world, including across the United States. These plants produce bright yellow flowers above ground but develop their fruit underground, which is why peanuts are also known as groundnuts. Peanuts have a mild, earthy taste and creamy texture, thanks to their high fat content.
Because peanuts are high in fat, they're used to produce cooking oil along with other fat-based products like soap and animal feed.
Peanut oil has a high smoke point—the temperature at which an oil begins to smoke—of around 445 degrees Fahrenheit 2(229.4 degrees Celsius2), which is why it's commonly used in high-heat cooking methods like frying and stir-frying. When an oil reaches its smoke point, the fats start to break down3 and form harmful compounds such as alcohols, aldehydes, and ketones, which affect the flavor of the oil. This is why oils with higher smoke points are preferred for high-heat cooking.
Fast food establishments use peanut oil to fry foods like french fries and chicken, and it's regularly used as an ingredient in African, Chinese, Indian, and Southeast Asian dishes.
Different forms of peanut oil.
There are several forms of peanut oil, each with a different flavor and level of processing:
- Refined Peanut Oil: This type of peanut oil is commonly used in the restaurant industry to fry foods. Like other refined oils, refined peanut oil goes through a chemical refining process9 that includes bleaching, heating, and deodorization in order to remove allergens, improve the oil's stability, and produce a more neutral taste and color. Because the refining process removes allergens, refined peanut oil is safe for most people with peanut allergies.
- Peanut Oil Blends: Refined peanut oil is sometimes blended with less expensive oils like soybean oil. These blends are specifically made for high-heat cooking and are often sold in bulk sizes.
- Cold-Pressed Peanut Oil: Cold-pressed peanut oil is considered an unrefined oil because it doesn't go through the same refining process as refined peanut oil. Instead, the oil is extracted using mechanical methods that retain bioactive molecules7 like vitamin E and phytosterols. This type of peanut oil contains peanut protein, so it's not safe for people with peanut allergies.
- Roasted Peanut Oil: This gourmet peanut oil is unrefined and derived from roasted peanuts, which gives it an intense, nutty flavor. Because it has a lower smoke point than refined peanut oil, it's used in lower-heat cooking as well as in sauces, marinades, and dressings.
- High-Oleic Peanut Oil: High-oleic peanut oil is made with peanuts that have more oleic acid (which has been shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases10) compared to regular peanuts. Regular peanut varieties11 contain about 52% oleic acid and about 27% linoleic acid, while high-oleic peanuts contain about 80% oleic acid and only about 4% linoleic acid.
In terms of nutrition and potential health benefits, there's a difference between refined and unrefined peanut oil. Although the chemical refining process produces oil with desirable qualities like a longer shelf life, lower allergy risk, and a more neutral taste and color, it also strips12 the oil of nutrients7 that contribute to its health benefits.
This is why dietitians, like Whitney Crouch, RDN, CLT, recommend you choose your peanut oil wisely. "Refined peanut oil doesn't provide the same level of phytosterols and vitamin E, as unrefined peanut oil and has a less favorable, more inflammatory fatty acid profile," Crouch tells mindbodygreen.
Health benefits of peanut oil.
Unrefined peanut oil can offer a few health benefits, such as:
It's high in oleic acid.
Additionally, studies15 suggest that when dietary saturated fats are replaced with monounsaturated fats or polyunsaturated fats, like those in peanut oil, it may help reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. However, this isn't to say that saturated fats can't fit into a heart-healthy diet. Remember, it's your diet as a whole that matters most when it comes to disease prevention—not just the oils you cook with.
It's a good source of vitamin E.
One tablespoon of peanut oil provides 14% of your daily vitamin E needs5. Vitamin E is the collective term for a group of fat-soluble compounds that function as antioxidants in the body. Antioxidants16 help protect cells by inhibiting oxidation—a chemical reaction that generates harmful compounds that can damage lipids, proteins, and DNA.
More than 90% of U.S. adults fall short of the RDA for vitamin E. Having low blood levels of vitamin E could negatively impact cellular health and even increase the risk of heart disease.
It provides phytosterols.
Unrefined peanut oil is rich in the phytosterol beta-sitosterol, which has been linked to a number of health benefits. For example, diets rich in phytosterols like beta-sitosterol may help reduce "bad" LDL cholesterol18 by reducing19 cholesterol uptake in the digestive tract and increasing cholesterol excretion.
What's unhealthy about peanut oil?
Although unrefined peanut oil may provide a few important nutrients, peanut oil has some downsides to consider:
It's high in omega-6 fats.
Although the body needs both omega-6 fats and omega-3 fats, omega-6s20 tend to be dominant in most people's diets. Omega-3 fats, which are mostly concentrated in seafood, have powerful anti-inflammatory properties and are important for cognitive health and immune function. Omega-6 fats, which tend to be more pro-inflammatory, are found in vegetable oils like canola oil, soybean oil, and peanut oil. Peanut oil is high in the omega-6 fat linoleic acid.
Even though you don't have to completely avoid oils high in omega-6 fats, it's important to follow a balanced diet high in omega-3s.
Crouch suggests focusing on taking in plenty of whole foods and limiting your intake of omega-6s to promote an optimal omega-6 to omega-3 ratio. "I don't avoid omega-6-rich oils completely," she says. "Instead I view my nutritional intake as a whole and ensure that I'm taking in more health-supportive fats from healthful foods like fatty fish and enjoy fried foods on special occasions."
It may increase the risk of certain health conditions.
If your diet is too high in refined oils, like refined peanut oil, it could increase your risk of certain health issues.
The researchers suggested that because these oils were almost exclusively used for high-heat cooking methods like deep-frying and stir-frying, heat-associated changes to the oil like the formation of trans fats and lipid peroxidation could contribute to inflammation, which plays a role in diabetes.
This is just one of the many reasons health experts recommend limiting your intake of fried foods.
It contains aflatoxins.
Aflatoxin exposure can lead to hepatotoxicity, teratogenicity, and immunotoxicity23, and has been associated with an increased risk of liver cancer.
There is some carryover of aflatoxins from the whole peanuts to the oil, with one study showing a 15-35% carryover and another showing 1-12% in roasted peanuts.
The use of the industrial refining process, along with high-quality peanuts, have been found to produce a product that is aflatoxin-safe.
So, is peanut oil healthy?
Moral of the story: Peanut oil can be a part of a healthy diet, but it shouldn't be your main source of fat.
Fried foods, no matter if they're fried in peanut oil, lard, or another vegetable oil, should be limited in order to reduce disease risk and promote overall health.
Unrefined peanut oil provides a good source of vitamin E and phytosterols and can be used to make flavorful salad dressings, marinades, and sauces, but it's important to include other sources of fat in your diet as well.
Peanut oil vs. other oils.
If you're wondering how peanut oil stacks up against other oils, here's the scoop:
Peanut oil vs. olive oil
Olive oil24 is preferred; it's one of the healthiest oils you can eat. Unlike peanut oil, olive oil has been directly linked to a number of health benefits, from lowering the risk of heart disease and stroke to protecting against death from all causes. Compared to peanut oil, olive oil has a lower smoke point of around 410 degrees Fahrenheit25 and contains fewer omega-6 fats.
Peanut oil vs. canola oil
Peanut oil vs. coconut oil
Coconut oil is much higher in saturated fat than peanut oil and is very low in omega-6s. Refined coconut oil has a smoke point of 450 degrees Fahrenheit27 and is commonly used in high-heat cooking. Both can be healthy in moderation; it depends on your health goals. Those who are looking to reduce their saturated fat intake will want to be careful with coconut oil.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is peanut oil healthy for diabetics?
When eaten in moderation, peanut oil can be included in a healthy diet for those with diabetes. However, some research suggests that diets high in peanut oil—especially when consumed in deep-fried and stir-fried dishes—may increase the risk of diabetes in certain populations.
Is peanut oil healthy for frying?
Refined peanut oil has a high smoke point, which makes it ideal for frying. But keep in mind that you should limit your intake of all fried foods because diets high in fried foods are harmful to health and can increase disease risk.
Is peanut oil inflammatory?
Peanut oil is high in omega-6 fats, which can create a pro-inflammatory environment in the body if too many are consumed. Also, lipid oxidation products (LOPs)—which are formed when peanut oil is heated to high temperatures—can trigger inflammation in the body.
Peanut oil is a fat that's commonly used in high-heat cooking methods like deep-frying. Unrefined peanut oil products like cold-pressed peanut oil can be used to make nutritious dressings and marinades, but refined peanut oil and deep-fried foods made with it should be kept to a minimum in order to promote overall health. Looking for more ways to incorporate healthy fats into your diet? Check out this master guide to the best cooking oils to use—and which ones to avoid.
Jillian Kubala, MS, RD is a Registered Dietitian based in Westhampton, NY. She holds a master's degree in nutrition from Stony Brook University School of Medicine as well as an undergraduate degree in nutrition science.
In addition to her private practice where she uses a unique and personalized approach to help her clients achieve optimal wellness, she works as a freelance writer and editor and has written hundreds of articles on nutrition and wellness for top digital health publishers.
Jillian and her husband have a backyard farm where they grow their own food and keep chickens. She runs a small cut flower business specializing in organically grown dahlias.