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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.
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.
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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.
Peanut oil is mostly fat, but it does contain small amounts of other nutrients like vitamin E. Here’s the breakdown of the nutritional value in 1 tablespoon of peanut oil4:
Peanut oil is mostly composed of unsaturated fatty acids—including monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs)—which make up around 80% of peanut oil6. The other 20% comes from saturated fat.
The monounsaturated fat oleic acid7 is the main fat in peanut oil. It’s also rich in linoleic acid, a type of omega-6 polyunsaturated fat.
Because it’s so high in MUFAs, which are generally considered “heart healthy8,” peanut oil is advertised as a nutritious fat option. However, even though peanut oil can be a healthy choice in moderation, there are some downsides to consider, which we’ll dig into later in the article.  
There are several forms of peanut oil, each with a different flavor and level of processing: 
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.
Unrefined peanut oil can offer a few health benefits, such as:
Studies show that oleic acid—the main fat found in peanut oil—has anti-inflammatory13 properties and may have a positive effect on body weight.
A recent review14 published in Advances in Nutrition found that diets enriched in oleic acid may protect against obesity by interacting with AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK)—an enzyme that plays an important role in appetite regulation and energy intake.
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.  
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.
Keep in mind that the refining process12 does result in losses of beneficial compounds like vitamin E, so it’s likely that unrefined peanut products—like cold-pressed peanut oil—will have higher levels of vitamin E and other protective substances like phytosterols.
Peanut oil is a good source of phytosterols17 (fatty compounds that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties) such as beta-sitosterol, campesterol, and stigmasterol. 
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. 
Although unrefined peanut oil may provide a few important nutrients, peanut oil has some downsides to consider: 
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.
Because most Western diets are very high in ultra-processed foods made with vegetable oils and low in whole foods like seafood, it creates an imbalance between omega-3s and omega-6s, which can stoke inflammation20 and increase disease risk.
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.”
If your diet is too high in refined oils, like refined peanut oil, it could increase your risk of certain health issues.
A 2020 study21 published in the Journal of Nutrition found that Chinese adults with high intakes of cooking oils like peanut oil and refined blended plant oils were at a higher risk for developing Type 2 diabetes compared to those who didn’t consume those oils. 
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.
When oils that contain polyunsaturated fats, like peanut oil, are heated to high temperatures, it generates toxic compounds called lipid oxidation products (LOPs)22, which damage cells and increase the risk of heart disease, certain cancers, and neurological diseases.
This is just one of the many reasons health experts recommend limiting your intake of fried foods. 
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. 
In order to make sure you’re taking in enough nutrients, including an array of healthy fats, it’s essential to follow a diverse diet that’s rich in foods known to promote health like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, and seafood.
If you’re wondering how peanut oil stacks up against other oils, here’s the scoop:
Olive oil23 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 Fahrenheit24 and contains fewer omega-6 fats.
They’re comparable. Compared to peanut oil, canola oil is lower in omega-6 fats but has a slightly higher smoke point of 450 degrees Fahrenheit25. Canola oil is used in a similar way as peanut oil and is often used in high-heat cooking methods like deep-frying and stir-frying. 
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 Fahrenheit26 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.
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. 
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. 
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.
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